Touareg Rebellion & Unrest in Mali

  1. The history of the Touareg people: a trans-border nation, traditionally nomadic, with no country and unrepresented by the governments that govern them. 

    In the past few weeks, Touareg groups in Northern Mali – newly invigorated, perhaps, by their participation as paid mercenaries in the Libyan conflict – have engaged in armed conflict with the Malian government. The Touareg seek an autonomous region in their homelands in the Sahara.

    As a complicating factor, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM) has a strong presence in Touareg areas of Mali. The seriousness of the relationship between AQIM and the Touareg is not clear, but the Al Qaeda in Northern Mali are a growing problem – with kidnappings of westerners and conflicts with neighboring groups. Rumors are rife, reporting is minimal, but civilians are fleeing to neighboring countries and refugee camps are growing. 

    Here’s a summary of news and first hand reporting from Mali. 

  2. The New York Times shares reporting and photos on the ground in Northern Mali, where Touareg rebels are attacking army bases and taking control of villages and towns.
  3. After the Touareg rebels participated in the Libyan conflict, they are better-armed and battle-tested: 

    “They had the advantage of being more numerous, being better armed and having better logistics, including satellite phones,” a Malian government soldier told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “It is the sad truth.”

  4. As a result of violence, civilians are fleeing the area, moving south within Mali and into neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso. The International Committee of the Red Cross reports: 
  5. “”People are fleeing the violence in large numbers, in great haste, and in utter destitution,” said Jürg Eglin, the head of the ICRC’s regional delegation for Niger and Mali. “We are joining forces with the Mali Red Cross and the Red Cross Society of Niger to provide them with food and shelter, and to improve their access to water. The latest assessments made by our staff in northern Mali are particularly alarming.”
  6. Share
    8,000 #Touareg #refugees have fled #Mali and reached neighboring Burkina Faso.
  7. In an area plagued by drought and famine, neighboring countries are unprepared to support refugee camps.

    Translation of tweet below: “In the camps of Malian refugees in Burkina Faso, one lacks everything.”
  8. Share
    #Mali Actu : Dans les camps de réfugiés maliens au Burkina Faso, “on manque de tout”
  9. Reports of war crimes and summary executions follow the violence.
  10. Share
    #Mali Mali: Mali says soldiers, civilians executed during Tuareg clashes #crisismanagement
  11. Meanwhile, the Malian president, Amadou Toumani Toure, answers to complaints from military supporters and “searches for a solution” through regional mediation. 
  12. Share
    Mali /Burkina Faso : Amadou Toumani Touré et Blaise Compaoré cherchent une issue à la crise malienne:” #Mali #Burkina
  13. In more quotidien concerns, the Malian musical group Tinariwen was unable to accept their Grammy award as a result of the violence.
  14. Share
    RT @philinthe_: 4,000 displaced from #Tessalit, #Mali, including band @TINARIWEN who were unable to accept grammy yesterday bcos they are living in desert

What Happened to Electability?

Where did “electability” go as a top criterion for primary voters?

Last night, Rick Santorum won three primaries (although one was a beauty contest, apparently). This is a fascinating shift from primary voters – some from just a few weeks ago – who viewed electability as a compelling concern.

Perhaps this is because Romney supporters thought he had it in the bag? Or because only the far-to-one-side voters show up when the election appears to be in the bag?

At this stage, Republican candidates are focused on appealing to the base, and that base is fractured. With Santorum appealing to evangelical voters, Ron Paul bringing libertarian and Tea Party supporters to the table and Gingrich appealing to … someone, the most centrist (and most electable) candidate – Romney –  is appealing to voters who aren’t listening.

Recent skirmishes about abortion, birth control and foreign policy issues (like Iran) are airing Republicans’ dirty laundry to a gawking public. The evangelical and Tea Party voters turning up for the primaries don’t represent most of American voters’ views – and for both the GOP and for civil society at large, that’s a pity.

This race to the base – a battle of extremes – is destructive to either party’s ability to lead real change. It sets unrealistic expectations, hampers representatives’ ability to negotiate compromise and belies a rich American history of the politics of the middle. Where do we go from here?  More broken politics and dying discourse.

Andrew Cuomo: Next, walk on water in The Economist

Really interesting article about someone who is actually getting stuff done. A model for the future of the Presidency? Andrew Cuomo: Next, walk on water | The Economist.

NDAA: Indefinite Detention in America

In the (justified) kerfuffle about SOPA, the New Year’s Eve signing of the National Defense Authorization Act has gotten lost. Which is a crime.The United States has entered the new year with a government that can indefinitely detain American citizens. This is not an arrest, it’s a detention – in the name of terrorism and national defense, the U.S. government can nebulously hold its citizens, without trial, without due process. This is one of the reasons the colonies rebelled against King George.The Obama administration signed this bill on a holiday to minimize the attention paid to its more objectionable provisions – but the disregard for basic American founding principles deserves attention, and objection.

The Obama administration used a signing statement to announce they will not use those powers widely. How reassuring! But signing the bill makes these powers legal for any subsequent president to use. And from rendition to waterboarding, the government’s recent history on civil liberties is less than impressive.

While the indefinite detention of citizens has occurred for years, at least when it’s not legal, it’s easier to contest the detention of American citizens. The increased transparency of legality is not reassuring. The central problem is not the bill itself – it’s a system where neither Congress nor the executive branch can be trusted.

Healthy, loud and even angry dissent is the cornerstone of functioning democracy – and this law makes dissent a whole lot scarier.

Image credit: Awkward.Turtle on Flickr

Rupert Murdoch & Other Great Thinkers on SOPA

For opponents of the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) front, yesterday was a big day. The Obama administration released a statement opposing the proposed regulations and bill sponsor Lamar Smith weakened the bill, removing the provision regarding Domain Name System (DNS) blocking.

Both developments are excellent news for bill opponents, demonstrating that pressure from technology companies, civil rights activists and consumers is chipping away at the bill’s support and at some of the most extreme provisions. DNS blocking, in particular, would have allowed the U.S. to block foreign websites with illegal content.

The Obama administration outlined concerns about the broad provisions of the bill and the potential for exploitation by both private companies and regulatory bodies. This is cheering after the bill’s so-far bipartisan political support and broad corporate patronage.

By opposing SOPA the administration is not only making a stand in favor of free expression but is protecting the open regulatory space in which the technology sector thrives.  – ensuring that marketplace and the bill is a strong statement in favor of the growing technology sector and for online expression.

SOPA’s intended purpose –  protecting copyrighted content through stringent regulations targeting web communications companies – has begotten a proposed regulatory regime enabling copyright holders to attack the sites, companies and services that connect people, like Google, Craig’s List and YouTube. New tweeter Rupert Murdoch shares his insight into SOPA:

This is sort of like saying, “Hey, people in China sure do pirate a lot of Hollywood movies. Let’s shut China down!” SOPA would force Google to be responsible for filtering every single site it linked to – making web search onerously complicated and reducing space for new innovation in digital commerce.

More importantly, creating the processes for filtering and shutting down digital intermediaries (like Google) to block some bad actors is ripe for exploitation by much more serious bad actors. Who’s the benevolent oversight body here? The federal government? This is big government, at its most appalling.

The Tech Community & the Portland Economy

Companies less than five years old account for all of the net job growth in our country between 1980 and 2005. – The Startup America Partnership

Small businesses are engines of job creation – and the tech sector is unique in its ability to foster small businesses that become big businesses, really fast. Nationwide, this one of the few sectors in the American economy that’s growing – creating jobs, issuing new IPOs for companies like LinkedIn and Facebook (any minute now!).

My town of Portland is investing in tech to create jobs and spur economic growth. A recent Portland Development Commission grant of $500,000 funded investment in early stage companies based here, earning matching investment from private investors.

Sam Adams, the current mayor of Portland, has embraced the tech community – spearheading the PDC grant program and supporting partnerships with the Portland State Business Accelerator, Portland Incubator Experiment, Oregon Entrepreneurs Network and other tech associations.

As the 2012 mayoral election approaches, candidates are following Mayor Adams’ lead and building relationships with the tech community. Eileen Brady has emerged as an early tech front-runner, with endorsements from prominent folks like Merrick (just one name!), Josh Friedman, Nitin Khanna and Scott Kveton. She has followed this early splash with continued conversations about the ways her administration would support tech, like improving the regulatory environment and focusing on partnerships with educational institutions to foster innovation and develop the qualified workforce.

As a member of the Portland tech community, I’m eager to see more news stories like this one and this one and this one – about tech companies bringing growth and innovation to the Portland economy. With support from city and state regulators, tech can play a leading role in economic recovery. At this stage, it isn’t so important what Eileen’s specific initiatives are for the tech community – I’m more excited that she has made tech a focus both for her campaign and for her growth strategies for the Portland economy.

Learn more in person: Brady will be hosting a tech meetup,Tuesday, January 24th from 6:30-9pm at the Doug Fir (suggested contribution $15).

Image credit: danoStL on Flickr

A Strategy for Occupy in 2012

As the police (and winter) chased occupiers out of parks over the last few months, the Occupy movement has lost momentum, and clarity of purpose. Holding the parks became the point for awhile, but the occupiers were never going to hold the parks for long.

From a public relations perspective, the Occupy movement is in a better position without the parks. Clashing with the cops dehumanizes protesters in the eyes of the wider public (just as much as it delegitimizes the police in the eyes of protesters). The clashes in the parks distract from the clear sound of the protester’s voice – and it’s time to make that voice clear again.

Put a Face on the Movement

At the moment it’s too easy to dismiss the Occupy movement with the same language Nixon used to describe Goldwater: Hippies, unemployed, lazy, drug addicts, Communists, Socialists, Fascists, etc. Language dragged out of the political archives because it invokes visceral, patriotic, nationalistic reactions and dehumanizes the described. It’s time for the Occupy movement to prove its averageness – and to offer the curious onlooker a way to identify with the movement.

Unfortunately, that does mean a little bit of centralization: Providing a clear voice for the movement that represents the best possible consensus of the occupiers. And that means voting when necessary, and outlining diverse ways for supporters to participate. Ultimately, it means thinking clearly through the different types of people who already do and who might identify with the movement: Students, the unemployed, the poor, whoever – and thinking about how they view their own place in the world. They may not view themselves as the type of person who clashes with police in parks – but they may take more subtle action.

Convincing those people to participate means clearly appealing to their position and clearly describing the movement’s priorities. But here’s what it doesn’t mean: It does not mean the movement is responsible for finding all the solutions. it just means that the movement will have a cohesive center that has a few clear priorities that legislators and the powerful will be held accountable for.

Get Outraged About the Outrageous

The easiest place to find those clear messages to agree upon are in the truly outrageous areas of the American political discourse: Income inequality and the death of the middle class. Watching Kim Kardashian on TV must be a little bit like listening to Marie Antoinette tell the peasants to eat cake. The American middle class is an idealized and almost fetishized institution, but the middle class is shrinking and the numbers of poor are growing. Meanwhile the American public supports tax cuts for the richest Americans because they still believe in the biggest piece of the American dream: that someday maybe they’ll be rich. That someday maybe they’ll benefit from that tax cut.

It’s time to explain that Occupy isn’t some kind of half-baked Robin Hood operation. No one is suggesting we should behead Bill Gates and take all his money. But there are clear ways in which the tax, regulatory and public policy machines in the United States support the continued concentration of wealth in the – well – 1%. So here’s a clear policy agenda, from this Occupier, in hopes of clarifying the discussion.

  1. Simplify tax code. Ensure you don’t need a lawyer and tax accountant to understand the tax code.
  2. Roll back the Bush tax cuts. We can’t afford them. Any further justification, or discussion, is stupid.
  3. Reduce the military budget. The military stage of the Iraq war is over; combat expenditures are reduced. Take a rational look at the peacetime budget.
  4. Refocus tax and finance regulation and enforcement. Focus IRS investigators on large-time fraud. Give the SEC some muscle. Give the Consumer Protection Commission enforcement capacity.

I haven’t mentioned the entitlement programs not because I don’t think they need work, but because I think they’d be advanced compromise, and this country is barely ready for beginner’s compromise.

Image Credit: WilliamBanzai7