Just six months remain before the Somali Transitional Federal Government?s time is up to ready the country for more permanent governing structures and institutions after more than 20 years of civil war. Marking the start of that countdown, British Prime Minister David Cameron convened a high-profile conference today in London to map out plans for concluding the transition and rally support for the many costly initiatives currently underway inside Somalia.
The conference also comes at a significant moment militarily in the long war. African Union peacekeepers, working alongside the army of the Transitional Federal Government, or TFG, have chalked up some important recent victories against Somalia?s al-Qaeda linked al-Shabaab militia. Shabaab still controls large swaths of central and southern Somalia, but A.U. peacekeepers and the TFG now hold the capital of Mogadishu. While the threat from Shabaab has morphed?from street battles to guerrilla tactics like roadside bombs?and is far from defeated, control of Mogadishu carries significant value because it?s the place where all Somali interests and grievances converge.
?For decades, the world focused on what we could prevent from happening in Somalia?conflict, famine, terrorism,? said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who represented the United States in London. ?Now, we are focused on what we can build.?
But what?s the good of a ?transition? that primarily focuses on surface-level tasks?in and of themselves no small feat in Somalia?like replacing the current leaders and building more representative, streamlined institutions? To Somalia expert Ken Menkhaus, such a process would produce little more than new names and faces but with ?the same frustrating outcome.?
?Changes in political leadership and decision-making structures will have limited effect if no effort is made to weaken the political cartels and networks that work behind the scenes in Somalia to divert funds and stymie effective rule of law,? Menkhaus, a professor at Davidson College, wrote in a briefing paper published by the Enough Project today.
After seven years and with little to show for its tenure, the TFG has provided ample illustrations of how not to garner support for Somalis or build institutions and credibility to extend security and services beyond the limited areas controlled by foreign peacekeepers and government-aligned armed groups. The past several years have also showcased the apparent lack of understanding by many international-led efforts of the necessity for an inclusive, transparent process to ensure that Somali people?long wary of outside interventions?feel represented.
The delegates at today?s conference broadly acknowledged these pitfalls, firmly noting that ?there must be no further extensions? of the TFG?s mandate and of the need to ?spend more time on the ground in Somalia in order to work more closely with Somalis on the challenging tasks ahead.?
Moving beyond Somalia?s big day in the spotlight, international efforts to prepare for the end of the transition in August 2012 and pave the way for a government with a stabilizing effect on the country will have to strike a balance between keeping an eye on the calendar and encouraging dialogue and inclusivity to ensure Somali initiative and buy-in.
?Back-room deals and decisions driven by expediency and deadline-induced panic have been the norm over the past two decades of diplomacy in Somalia and have consistently produced failure,? wrote Menkhaus. Certainly, with just six months to go, the temptation to look for shortcuts will be strong.
Meanwhile, the London conference appeared to be a motivating factor for the United Nations Security Council to approve an African Union proposal to expand the AU’s peacekeeping mission in Somalia, raising the troop strength from 12,000 to nearly 18,000. After deliberating the expansion since December, the Security Council signed off on the plans yesterday, which, with a price tag of about $300 million, more than doubles the mission?s current budget. This move, too, consolidates pressure on the TFG and its successor. As peacekeepers from an array of African countries risk their lives to roll back al-Shabaab, the Somali government must be ready to quickly step in and fill the void.
Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele recently debated MSNBC’s John Heilemann about comparisons between same-sex and interracial marriage, arguing that people who are black have a significantly different experience from those who are gay because of the visibility of their identities. Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher followed up with Steele about this interview, and Steele explained that though he still opposes marriage equality, he supports “full privileges and benefits” for the LGBT community:
STEELE: I?ve been very supportive of gay rights activists? I do not support gay marriage because of my own religious tenets and my faith tradition, but at the same time I do believe in making sure that gay individuals have full privileges and benefits, whether it?s insurance and health and all the other things that couples would have in a relationship, and I would argue the same for heterosexual couples. I don?t understand why you have a man and a woman who live together for 7, 8, 10 years, whatever, why they can?t enjoy the same type of benefits.
Despite this concession, Steele did not back down from his point that many African Americans object to their own oppression being compared to the plight of the LGBT community. Listen to an excerpt from the interview:
In his discussion with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) on MSNBC yesterday, The Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart argued that African Americans might not fully understand the LGBT community’s struggles: “It?s an issue of whether ? if I were to get married to my partner and we were to have children, that my children would have the same protections that your children have because you?re able to legally marry… In that regard, we?re talking overall [about] a civil rights issue and what African Americans continue to struggle with is exactly what lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are struggling with today.”
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) disputed the notion that he’s spending too much time legislating social policy during this morning Politico forum, as he continued to distance himself from a measure that would have required women to undergo an invasive transvaginal ultrasound before receiving an abortion. Under the proposed policy, most women seeking seeking an abortion would have been forced to have a procedure, “in which a probe is inserted into the vagina, and then moved around until an ultrasound image is produced.?
The governor explained that he has focused on “getting our budgets under control” and “jobs,” not social policy, and claimed that he hadn’t read the original provision before publicly endorsing it. McDonnell also added that Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a conservative powerhouse within the Republican party, advised him that the measure was unconstitutional:
MCDONNELL: We realized there were different kinds of ultrasounds and so what I recommended to the General Assembly, and they adopted the other day, is let’s make the requirement for the abdominal ultrasound… I also got legal advice from various people, including my Attorney General, that these kinds of mandatory invasive requirements might run afoul of Fourth Amendment law. So those were the reasons…After talking to lawyers and doctors on my own, after we started hearing some concerns int he legislature, I personally looked at it. I mean, normally a governor would review these hundreds of hundreds of bills when they get to your desk. You’re so busy advocating your own agenda, you don’t read every legislator’s bill. But I was certainly supportive of that concept.
Until the bill attracted national media attention and frustrated some in the Republican party, however, “McDonnell and his aides had said the governor would sign the measure if it made it to his desk.” Since then, he issued a statement claiming that ?Mandating an invasive procedure in order to give informed consent is not a proper role for the state? and offered an amendment that would not force women to receive the procedure. Studies have shown that viewing an ultrasound does not change a woman?s mind before an abortion and only adds to the cost of the procedure.
The Virginia House and a Senate committee have passed the ultrasound bill with the governor?s substitute language.
Conservative talker-endorsed precious metal retailer Goldline International agreed to a court order this week to repay defrauded customers $4.5 million and overhaul its business practices. The injunction, handed down by the Los Angeles County Superior Court, was obtained by the City Attorney of Santa Monica, California — where the company is based — who had filed 19 criminal counts of fraud and theft against the company last year. Those charges have now been dismissed.
Goldline’s entire business model was essentially a scam, the city attorney found. It was a bait-and-switch: Consumers wanted to buy gold bullion, but salespeople preyed on their fears — including falsely claiming that the government could seize bullion — and misled them into buying vastly overpriced gold coins instead. Consumers typically paid more than 55 percent above the actual value of the coins, which are much harder to sell down the road, instantly wiping out a large portion of their savings.
At the time, Goldline called the charges “preposterous” and vowed to fight them. But in addition to the $4.5 million, the court order requires Goldline to put $800,000 into a fund for future claims, and submit to a court-appointed monitor who will have full access to company’s operations, at Goldline’s expense. In addition, it will have to disclose its actual markups and stop misleading costumers.
The company is best known for its ties to conservative talk radio hosts like Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Mark Levin, who were central to the company’s marketing model. Two former GOP presidential candidates — Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson — have even endorsed the gold retailer.
Yuri Beckelman, who conducted a separate investigation into Goldline when he served as former congressman Anthony Weiner’s Legislative Director, told ThinkProgress the endorses should have known better. “It’s unrealistic to think Glenn Beck and other Goldline spokespeople had no clue what was going on. They have a responsibility to their listeners when endorsing products, especially in tough economic times, now it’s up to their fans to hold them accountable.”
“Goldline can try to spin it any way they want,” Beckelman added. “But when you agree to change your business model and then pay a court ordered attorney to monitor your progress for the next five years, you’re admitting that what you were doing was wrong.”
Back in December 2008, laid off workers at Republic Windows and Doors — a factory in Chicago — occupied their workplace to demand back vacation and severance pay, and to protest the fact that they were given just three days notice of impending job cuts. Eventually, the bank’s lender, Bank of America, relented, giving the workers what they were owed. At the time, then President-elect Obama offered his support to the protesting workers, saying, ?the workers who are asking for the benefits and payments that they have earned, I think they?re absolutely right.?
More than three years later, the same factory has had to be occupied again. Now owned by California-based Serious Energy, the factory was going to be closed until workers locked themselves inside. Now, Serious has vowed to keep the factory open for 90 days, giving workers time to either find a new buyer or purchase the business themselves:
Workers at a window factory on Goose Island ended a sit-in early Friday morning after the company agreed to keep the plant open for 90 days, union leaders said.
California-based Serious Energy will work with the workers to find a new ownership.
“We are committed to finding a new buyer for the plant or if we can, buy the place ourselves and run it. Either way, we are hopeful,” Armando Robles, president of UE Local 1110, said in a statement.
?We can run this company,? said Juan Cortez, a worker at the factory for 23 years. ?We got smart people [to] manage the money. We can find customers. We know how to run the company.?
The protesting workers were joined by members of the Occupy Wall Street movement. But such moves by workers are becoming increasingly rare. Work stoppages last year were the second lowest on record, according to data from the Labor Department.
“Peruvian glaciers have lost more than one-fifth of their mass in the past 35 years, reducing by 12 percent the water flow to the country?s coastal region, home to 60 percent of Peru?s population. And if warming trends continue … many of the Andes? tropical glaciers will disappear within 20 years, not only threatening the water supplies of 77 million people in the region, but also reducing hydropower production, which accounts for roughly half of the electricity generated in Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador.”
Huantsan, at left, in 2010 (credit: Sophie Denis) and in 1979, at right
by Peter Lehner, cross-posted from the NRDC Switchboard
Soon after my return from Chile, I came across an article in the American Alpine Journal, where climbers report new routes up the mountains of the world. I was struck by a report from Sophie Denis, who recorded her group’s ascent of Huantsan, a mountain in the Peruvian Andes. Her photo of the west face of the mountain shows a sheer, steep face of bare brown rock, with a small cap of frosty glacier at the top.
I know this mountain. But the picture didn’t look like the Huantsan I remember. Back in the summer of 1979, I led a group that made a first ascent of the west face of Huantsan. We were experienced New England climbers, but had little experience with the high altitudes of the Andes. It was a tough, 35-day effort, icy and precarious. Two members of our group spent three nights on an ice ledge just 20 inches wide.
“The mountain ? rose out of the green Rajuqolta Valley like a white fountain,” we wrote in our submission to the American Alpine Journal.
As you can see in these photos, both taken at the same time of year–2010 on the left, my group in 1979 on the right–Huantsan can no longer be described that way. The change in snow cover is astounding, and sobering.
Throughout the Andes, glaciers are in retreat, a phenomenon that has become more pronounced and rapid in recent decades. Scientists suggest that global warming is primarily responsible. Peruvian glaciers have lost more than 20 percent of their mass since we made our climb of Huantsan. Bolivia’s 18,000-year-old Chacaltaya Glacier disappeared completely in 2009–scientists monitoring the ice mass thought it would hold out until 2015.
Vanishing glaciers are not merely a cosmetic issue. Glacial melt water provides an important source of drinking water as well as hydroelectric power for Latin American cities. As the glaciers continue to shrink, residents could face water and power shortages, and cities would need to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in new water and energy supplies. The changing hydrology could also have a profound effect on agriculture as well as mountain wildlife.
In Peru, people say that they will need to change the name of this mountain range, now the Cordillera Blanca (White Mountains). Scientists predict that many low-altitude glaciers in this range could vanish completely in the next 10 to 20 years–a disappointment, perhaps, for avid climbers, but a deeply serious concern for the nations of the Andes.
Global warming, in this part of the world, is not easily dismissed as a “political” issue. The truth is right there on the mountain, for everyone to see.
Peter Lehner is Executive Director of Natural Resources Defense Council. This piece was originally published at NRDC’s Switchboard blog.
Note: The quote at the top is from Yale e360′s 2009 piece, “Retreat of Andean Glaciers Foretells Global Water Woes.”
Well here's a perfect symbol of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign: he's giving a speech on tax cuts for the wealthy today at the state-of-the-art 65,000 seat Ford Field ... but there's going to be 63,800 empty seats. After ditching three earlier plans to try to make the field look crowded, this (via Mark Halperin) is what they've come up with:
Mitt Romney leads in two polls and now in this forecast.
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Mimi Kennedy (actress, Midnight In Paris) makes a point about how Hollywood exports violence abroad, and Jordan Zakarin (writer/editor, The Huffington Post) shares his thoughts on the cozy relationship between the film[...]
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Under President Obama, judicial vacancies?and ?judicial emergencies??have become a common feature of the federal bench. Vacant seats have gone unfilled for years, and as a result, district courts around the country have been unable to operate at full capacity. Liberals are quick to blame Republicans, and for good reason; from the moment Obama entered office, GOP senators were committed to an unprecedented campaign of obstruction. Legislation and nominees were held up for the most trivial of complaints, and sometimes, no reason at all.
But the president bears responsibility as well; neither judicial nor executive branch nominations were ever a priority for his administration, and at this point?reports the Chicago Tribune?Obama is on track to have an incredibly ineffectual presidency when it comes to filling the federal bench:
Barack Obama is close to becoming the first president in at least half a century to finish a full term without making an appointment to a U.S. appeals court, considered second in importance only to the Supreme Court. [?]
?It is now getting almost too late for this presidential term, especially in the thick of an election year,? said University of North Carolina law professor Michael Gerhardt, who has studied nominations and was special counsel to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy during the Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan Supreme Court confirmations.
?That would leave the second most important court in the land without the kind of balance he might have achieved,? Gerhardt added.
What?s more, because of election year tussles, it?s unlikely that a nominee would be confirmed, even if the administration brought one forth. It?s hard to overstate how insanely irresponsible this is; right-leaning federal courts have already jeopardized liberal priorities like universal health care, campaign finance reform, and abortion rights. By neglecting nominations for so long, and allowing the bench to stay fallow, Obama has given a tremendous opportunity to the right-wing.
Should he lose reelection, a Republican president?with, in all likelihood, a Republican Senate?could reshape the federal courts into a revolutionary guard for conservative policy. The Right would then be in a position to roll back civil rights, reproductive rights, the rights of consumers, and the entire basis for federal involvement in the economy.
Put another way, we?re looking at what might become the greatest unforced error of any president in recent history. American life could take a turn back to the Gilded Age, and Barack Obama would deserve a lion?s share of the blame.