Pakistan Election a Big Sham, No Surprise

This past Saturday, Pakistan held its presidential election. It's no surprise that the good General came out on top. In Pakistan, presidents are chosen by an electoral college, consisting of the Senate, the National Assembly, and the Provincial Assemblies and these governing bodies were elected in 2002 during a rigged election. Musharraf's re-election was a guarantee.

Musharraf now needs approval from the Supreme Court, which will look at the legality of his re—election beginning on October 17. Under the Pakistani constitution, one is prohibited from running for president while still acting as an army chief. Most argue that it's unlikely the Supreme Court will rule against Musharraf.

The White House commented that "Pakistan is an important partner and ally to the United States and we congratulate them for today's election." This response doesn't raise eyebrows: the U.S. stands behind Musharraf quite often and has even helped broker the recent "power—sharing deal" between former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and Musharraf. This partnership will allow Musharraf to remain in power for another five years, as her support stands to legitimize Musharraf's rule.

No wonder the British publication, the Independent called the election a "charade masquerading as democracy."

—Neha Inamdar

A Label of One's Own

If he's not careful, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson is going to end up in the racial rogue's gallery right next to me, misunderstood and villified by those too blinded by America's moribund racial discourse to know that they're in violent agreement with us. In fact, Robinson's own words show that he, too, suffered from the same myopia from which he seems now to be in the early stages of recovery.

In a now infamous column written earlier this year, I pointed out the obvious: Barack Obama isn't black. He's an immigrant black, or a la Stephen Colbert either a nouveau black or a 'late to the scene' black...call him what you will, just don't call him black and think you've conveyed any useful information. But neither should you think you've conveyed a put down. Just consider it a community service to have bothered to define your terms.

The point isn't that immigrant blacks aren't 'authentic' or that they haven't suffered through the slavery experience and are therefore unworthy of blackness, concepts which I reject as puerile and unworthy. The point is that the term 'black,' in the American socio-political context, simply doesn't make room for them. It leaches them of all context except an inapplicable one - descent from American slaves and the legacy of Jim Crow. Other than skin color, 'black' doesn't tell you anything you need to know about immigrant blacks - the function of a label, if I'm not mistaken - and in fact misleads you with false information. Be honest: when someone is described to you as black or African American, doesn't it make a difference to learn that their parents came here from Jamaica or that they recently arrived from Ethiopia and speak only Amharic? Trick question, because if it doesn't it should; there's no reason to assume a political or cultural consonance between immigrant blacks and the slave-descended. So why use the same term? Labels ought to illuminate more than they obscure, a test which the label 'black' fails pretty abysmally in 2007. We don't need yet another word for blacks (colored, Negro, Black, African American - a person could get dizzy.) What we need is to interrogate the label wherever we encounter it until 'black' or 'African American' means what Asian, for example, does: not much until you have more information. Are they Viet Namese, Korean or Tibetan? Now those are labels that actually illuminate a few things whereas 'Asian' only gives you over-broad physiognomic hints. If 'Asian' matters in any particular situation - quick! what's the Asian attitude toward affirmative action? - you can't procede until you know which flavor, which region of America. Ironically, if only to me, many of the hundreds of insulting emails I received in the wake of that column began something like "I'm from Ghana. You are a m(*&^..." or "My parents came from Trinidad and your mama is a m(&^..." If black skin is all that counts, all it takes to helpfully occupy the same term, why mention their homelands? How odd, their insistence on minimizing what is surely more important to their identity than the cotton my ancestors picked. How odd, to help keep whites' racist essentializations alive and well. Eugene Robinson, who criticized my take on Obama, is beginning to agree though he isn't fully 'there' yet.

In his latest column, he wrote, "black America" is an increasingly meaningless concept -- nearly as imprecise as just plain "America." ...Let's start by opening our eyes and recognizing that if there ever was a monolithic "black America" -- absolutely and uniformly deprived and aggrieved, with invariant values and attitudes -- there certainly isn't one now."

It isn't new for blacks to point out that their community isn't an affirmative action-supporting, 'hood-living, OJ-supporting one-note wonder. Unfortunately, though, that's usually a Potemkin village erected only to highlight white disinterest in black complexity; any black who stray off the plantation (Clarence Thomas, Sec. Rice), intermarry or offer internal critiques of the party line are swiftly punished and ex-communicated. So much for diversity. What is new is an apparent willingness for a leading thinker to follow that train of thought to its logical conclusion - a redefinition of the term 'black' and a possible wholesale realignment of the politics of blackness. The piece deserves a read.

Unfortunately, Robinson, like most blacks, ignores entirely the existence of immigrant blacks, a glaring omission in a discussion of black diversity and suggests that it might best be those immigrants who lead the charge for a label of their own. Their quiescence is a testament to both the strangle hold that traditional blacks enjoy on the race discourse and, one has to believe, an immigrant buy-in to that discourse such that it needs its consciousness raised as to its own marginalization. What must they think when they read reports like this one (emphasis added):

'Any black student will do'
A disturbing report shows some African Americans are being squeezed out of the US university population. Joanna Walters reports.
When Shirley Wilcher went to a reunion at her prestigious alma mater, Mount Holyoke in Massachusetts, she got quite a shock. The number of black graduates whose parents were born outside the US seemed to have grown dramatically compared with those whose families had been in America for generations - back to the times of slavery - like herself. She suspected that, in the process of becoming more diversified, top universities had recruited more black students but, increasingly, they were not those from post-slavery African-American US backgrounds who were supposed to be the main beneficiaries of the civil rights movement and controversial policies such as affirmative action.
Wilcher demanded data from reluctant admissions officials and her suspicions were confirmed: student recruits from what is termed the native, or domestic, US African-American population had been dropping. Not only were blacks overall still under-represented, but within the black student population African-Americans were being squeezed out.
"It's shocking. Awfully short-sighted, at best. I'm disappointed," she says.
Wilcher is the executive director of the American Association for Affirmative Action, which promotes policies that discriminate in favour of black students in an effort to correct the long legacy of racism in the US. And there was wider confirmation of her informal research to come.
A report just released shows African-Americans losing out at selective colleges across the country, particularly at elite universities, and their places being taken by first- or second-generation American immigrants, at least one of whose parents was born in the Caribbean or Africa.
The joint University of Pennsylvania-Princeton report found that although immigrant-origin black students make up only 13% of the black population in the US, they now comprise 27% of black students at the 28 top US universities surveyed.
And in a sample of the elite ivy league universities the figures were even more dramatic. More than 40% of black students in the ivy league now come from immigrant families.
"Immigrant and second-generation blacks are over-represented at these schools, while overall black students are still too few," says Dr Camille Charles, sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the report's co-authors, "which means the problem of access for African-Americans - that group which has the longest history of oppression in the US - is of even greater concern than we thought."

My, oh my. Where to begin with such madness?

Let's just say that the above is what I mean by the way 'black' and 'African American' are used on the socio-political ground, whatever its politcally correct definition. When those terms are not meaningless they're worse; they're tools for silencing immigrant blacks even as blacks fight to keep their 'brothers' in their place.

Come on over to the dark side, Eugene. But don't forget your flak jacket.

Making a Killing: A Blackwater Timeline

An investigation ordered by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki into Blackwater's September 16 shooting in Baghdad, in which 17 civilians were killed and another 24 were wounded, has determined that the company's operators opened fired indiscriminately and without provocation. The official Iraqi report on the incident demands that the U.S. government pay $8 million in compensation to each of the victims' families and sever all Iraq-based contracts with Blackwater within the next 6 months. It also demands that the Blackwater operators involved in the shootings be handed over to Iraqi authorities for possible prosecution in Iraqi courts.

It's unclear if the U.S. government will comply and perhaps even more unclear if it could meet the Iraqi government's demands even if it wanted to. Civilian employees of the State Department rely on Blackwater for protection. If the company were banished from Iraq, U.S. diplomatic operations would be paralyzed, at least until another private contractor could be hired for the job. Even if this were to happen, it's doubtful that booting Blackwater would make much difference. More than likely, its operators would quickly find work with competitors like Triple Canopy and DynCorp, who would have to fill the Baghdad security void in Blackwater's absence. The private security sector is a small one after all. Even Andrew Moonen, the Blackwater operator who got drunk in the Green Zone last Christmas Eve and murdered one of the Iraqi vice president's security guards, found a new job with Combat Support Services Associates, which put him back to work in Kuwait just two months after the shooting.

So, will Blackwater survive this latest scandal? It's impossible to know for sure, but there's little reason to believe otherwise. The company, which started as a small-scale provider of firearms training in 1998, has grown into a billion-dollar Goliath, complete with an army of lobbyists and sympathetic politicians to press its agenda on Capitol Hill. Guided by its reclusive founder, Erik Prince, the company, over its short history, has deflected controversy with ease, all the while simultaneously expanding its reach into new markets and generating ever more profitable government contracts. What follows is a timeline that documents Blackwater's rise and its history of misconduct in Iraq and Afghanistan.

1965
Prince Corporation is founded in Holland, Michigan, by Edgar Prince, father of future Blackwater founder Erik Prince. The company specializes in auto parts.

June 6, 1969
Erik Prince is born.

1973
Prince Corporation begins marketing the "lighted sun visor" to car companies, a wildly successful innovation that nets the company billions of dollars.

February 1979
Erik Prince's older sister Betsy marries Dick Devos, CEO of Amway and a billionaire contributor to the GOP and right-wing political causes. Devos was the Republican candidate for governor in Michigan in 2006.

1988
Gary Bauer and James Dobson found the socially conservative Family Research Council, funded primarily by the Prince family. Erik Prince interns there, before moving on to an internship in President George H.W. Bush's White House.

1992
Erik Prince earns a commission in the U.S. Navy. He goes on to become a Navy SEAL and serves in Haiti, Bosnia, and the Middle East.

March 2, 1995
Edgar Prince dies of a heart attack.

July 22, 1996

Prince Corporation is sold for $1.35 billion. Erik Prince retires early from the U.S. military.

December 26, 1996
Erik Prince's Blackwater Lodge and Training Center Inc. is incorporated in Delaware.

No Wontons for Fred Fielding This Week

Every month, the right-wing legal group, the Federalist Society, meets at a D.C. Chinese restaurant, where they hear from an impressive array of conservative luminaries, including the occasional Bush administration official who comes to brief the faithful on various legal developments. This Friday's scheduled guest was Fred Fielding, who we now know is not Deep Throat (as had long been suspected) but who is currently the White House counsel.

This morning at 10:02 a.m., the Federalists sent out word that Fielding would be a no-show. One hour, 52 minutes later, the Washington Post uploaded a story blaming the Bush administration for blowing the cover off a private intelligence company's Al-Qaeda spy operation. The company had given the administration an advance copy of the latest bin Laden video, with warnings to keep it under wraps. Naturally, the administration leaked it to cable news outlets, allegedly destroying years of undercover work by the company. The first White House official to get the video? Yes, that would be Fred Fielding, who probably didn't need a fortune cookie to see his future this week.

Favorite story of the week:

After a humiliating defeat in Mexico's presidential election last year, Roberto Madrazo appeared to be back on top: He'd won the men's age-55 category in the Sept. 30 Berlin marathon with a surprising time of 2:41:12.
But Madrazo couldn't leave his reputation for shady dealings in the dust. Race officials said Monday they disqualified him for apparently taking a short cut -- an electronic tracking chip indicates he skipped two checkpoints in the race and would have needed superhuman speed to achieve his win.
According to the chip, Madrazo took only 21 minutes to cover nine miles -- faster than any human can run. "Not even the world record holder can go that fast," race director Mark Milde said.
In a photograph taken as he crossed the finish line, Madrazo wears an ear-to-ear grin and pumps his arms in the air. But he also wore a wind breaker, hat and long, skintight running pants -- too much clothing, some said, for a person who had just run 26.2 miles in 60-degree weather.
Madrazo's outfit caught the attention of the New York-based marathon photographer Victor Sailer, who alerted race organizers that they might have a cheater on their hands.
"It was so obvious to me, if you look at everyone else that's in the picture, everyone's wearing T-shirts and shorts, and the guy's got a jacket on and a hat or whatever," Sailer said. "I looked at it and was like, wait a second."

Thank heavens for vigilant cameramen.

Madrazo's history of corruption and lies while in Mexico meant everyday citizens were unsurprised by the news of his marathon shenanigans. It's all in the AP article.

Another Nail in the Coffin for the Gitmo Tribunals

More evidence has emerged that the military tribunals set up by the Pentagon to review the legal status of Guantanamo detainees are nothing more than kangaroo courts. Last week, federal public defenders in Oregon filed an affidavit describing an interview with an army reserve officer who has sat on 49 Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRT). The officer, a prosecutor in his civilian life, is the second to speak out publicly against the tribunals.

According to the affidavit, in at least six cases where the CSRT unanimously found the detainee did not qualify as an enemy combatant, the military ordered a new CSRT or forced the first one to re-open the case. The findings were then reversed with no new evidence, according to the officer, whose name was withheld. Tribunal members were poorly trained, pressured by higher-ups to rule against the detainnes, and despite congressional rules requiring the military to allow detainees to present evidence in their favor, the only witnesses allowed to testify on their behalf were other Gitmo prisoners. (Surely those Uighurs were a big help!)

The lawyers filed the affidavit in the case of Adel Hassan Hamad, a Sudanese father of four who worked at a charity hospital in Pakistan, where he was captured and sent to Cuba in 2002. The military actually ruled that he could be released a few years ago, but he is still languishing in captivity. It's this kind of stuff that makes it hard to imagine that the Supreme Court, conservative as it is, will rule that the tribunals are a perfect substitute for real constitutional rights.

Bad Moon Rising

Along with the esteem and credibility this administration has cost us in the world, will it also end African Americans' storied role in the armed forces? Blacks are fleeing in droves from the recruiters' offices they once thronged. According to the Boston Globe:

Defense Department statistics show the number of young black enlistees has fallen by more than 58 percent since fiscal year 2000. The Army in particular has been hit hard: In fiscal year 2000, according to the Pentagon statistics, more than 42,000 black men and women applied to enlist; in fiscal year 2005, the most recent for which a racial breakdown is available, just over 17,000 signed up.

No other groups' enlistment figures have dropped more. No wonder, with 83% of the black community opposing the war and this administration. One has to wonder about the long term implications most, though. The military, for all its racial problematics (which the article thoroughly lays out) has long been the black and working class safety valve; if you couldn't go to college, you could serve your country, be respected, and make a good living. You could help out the folks back home and make yourself much more employable after either a hitch or a career. One can only wonder how this turn of events will affect already bad black socio-economics and even crime rates because it's doubtful that the majority of those blacks who pass on the uniform will either head off for college or a high paying job. We'll all be dealing with the ripple effects of the Bush years for a long, long time.

The United States' war on Latin American populism has been around for decades, but this time it is being played out in the last place that the U.S. could have predicted: Costa Rica. This peaceful (they don't have an army) and U.S.-friendly country voted Sunday on whether or not to ratify the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Costa Rica is the only country in the region that has not done so.

The country is divided. President Oscar Arias won the general election last February based on a platform supporting the referendum, although he doesn't have much of a mandate; Arias beat his opposition by only 2 percent. Costa Ricans are split almost evenly between those who wish to ratify this neo-liberal agreement and those who side with the rising tide of leftist politics in Latin America. Last weekend, 100,000 Costa Ricans opposed to the agreement marched in the capital of San Jose.

The arguments for each side mirror the ideological arguments surrounding the issue in both North and South America. Supporters, including the president, say that the pact is necessary in order to create jobs and expand its fledgling technology sector. Opponents fear that it will make the rich richer, the poor poorer, and saturate the market with cheap imports from multinationals, hurting local business.

This is an ideological battle on the most general grounds as well, between privatization and nationalization. As part of the Act, the United States is demanding that Costa Rica privatize its nationalized telecommunications and insurance sectors. This might seem like a somewhat innocuous political battle in a tiny country that has little to no influence on the global economy, but symbolically this is an incredibly important decision. Costa Rica is now centrally positioned not only geographically but as a battlefield in the opposing ideologies of North and South America.

—Andre Sternberg

Marijuana Laws Cost Taxpayers Billions

A new study finds the marijuana prohibition costs taxpayers $41.8 billion a year in law enforcement, diverts $113 billion from the legal economy, and loses a whopping $31.1 billion in revenue annually. The Marijuana Policy Project reports the sad numbers. I mean, think how many wars we could fund with that kind of money. Not to mention the cost of all the enviro-damage from growing in national parks and supposedly pristine wilderness areas. Not to mention the good medicine never taken.

And—shhh—don't tell the boozers, but Lawrence Welk—or Myron Floren—was on the toke many, many moons ago. Clearly the weed's been mainstream forever. Check out the video, sans bubbles:

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, "The Fragile Edge," and other writings, here.

It's a Curse but is it Really That Bad?

I'm not sure my eyes are working properly. Can it really be that a British mom wants to give her severely disabled 15 year old daughter a hysterectomy to "save her the pain and discomfort of menstruation"? One can only imagine how difficult caring for such a disabled child must be but major surgery to avoid four or five days each month?

The mom defends her decision (which is far from settled) saying,

"Katie wouldn't understand menstruation at all. She has no comprehension about what will be happening to her body. All she would feel is the discomfort, the stomach cramps and the headaches, the mood swings, the tears, and wonder what is going on."

If Katie doesn't understand menstruation, I doubt she understands defecation, the flu she's probably gotten lots of in sunny old England or the conversations going on around her either. I know this sounds cruel and cavalier but there seems a big difference between this case and the "pillow angel" case from earlier this year. In that case, the brain damaged child was immobile; having her reach full growth would certainly have made it much harder for her parents to include her in activities, especially outside the home. I don't know what the right answer was, but choosing to stunt her growth can certainly be seen as the best of only bad options. That one didn't seem nearly as disturbing as this one where they have the option of just dealing with her periods along with the myriad other issues already burdening them.

Given the mother's word choice, Katie hasn't begun to menstruate yet; why not at least wait to see if she has easy periods or the kind that send women round the bend?