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Afghanistan After America

Dexter Filkins, a former New York Times reporter who covered the war in Afghanistan, has a long and sobering but well worth reading piece in The New Yorker.  Pondering the question of whether civil war will hit Afghanistan when the U.S. leaves, he writes:

After eleven years, nearly two thousand Americans killed, sixteen thousand Americans wounded, nearly four hundred billion dollars spent, and more than twelve thousand Afghan civilians dead since 2007, the war in Afghanistan has come to this: the United States is leaving, mission not accomplished. Objectives once deemed indispensable, such as nation-building and counterinsurgency, have been abandoned or downgraded, either because they haven’t worked or because there’s no longer enough time to achieve them. Even the education of girls, a signal achievement of the NATO presence in Afghanistan, is at risk. By the end of 2014, when the last Americans are due to stop fighting, the Taliban will not be defeated. A Western-style democracy will not be in place. The economy will not be self-sustaining. No senior Afghan official will likely be imprisoned for any crime, no matter how egregious. And it’s a good bet that, in some remote mountain valley, even Al Qaeda, which brought the United States to Afghanistan in the first place, will be carrying on.

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DRONE WATCH: Families Sue US for Drone Deaths

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit yesterday against Obama administration officials for authorizing the targeted killings of three US citizens by drone strikes in Yemen last year.  The Christian Science Monitor reports the complaint

“… charges that the US practice of maintaining “kill lists” that target suspected terrorists – including US citizens – violates the citizens’ constitutional right to due process of law and the right to be free from unreasonable seizure by the government.

“This suit is an effort to enforce the Constitution’s fundamental guarantee against the deprivation of life without due process of law,” Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU said.”

The suit was filed on behalf of the families of  Anwar al-Awlaki, a US-born member of the militant Islamic group Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula; Samir Khan, a US citizen since 1998; and Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman.

Pardiss Kebriaei, a CCR staff attorney, said in a statement:

“The US program of sending drones into countries in and against which it is not at war and eliminating so-called enemies on the basis of executive memos and conference calls is illegal, out of control, and must end.”

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BREAKING: Russia and China Veto UN Resolution on Syria

Reported by the Washington Post:

Russia and China on Thursday vetoed a U.S.-backed U.N. Security Council resolution threatening the Syrian government with sanctions, upending four months of diplomatic aimed at stemming a crisis that has left more than 14,000 dead. …

The vote, and the increasingly bloodshed in the Syrian capital, were a clear sign that a political resolution to the conflict in Syria remains out of reach.

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End in sight for Tennessee mosque fight

From CNN:

A federal judge ordered a Tennessee county to conduct a final inspection of a new mosque, clearing the way for worshippers to possibly begin using the building in time for the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on Thursday.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Todd J. Campbell is the latest development in a two-year battle over the opening of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, near Nashville, that has been marked by legal challenges and anti-Muslim sentiment.

Read more here

+Leave a Comment | Faith & Politics

Free range farm workers?

Many of us take great care of where our food comes from, whether it is organic and has been treated humanely. But do we take the same care over the workers who grow and pick that food? Apparently not, according to Salon:

The food industry employs one in five private sector workers. Yet only an estimated 13 percent of those workers make a living wage. Thanks to lobbying by the National Restaurant Association (once led by Herman Cain), the national minimum wage for tipped workers is $2.13 per hour. Many warehouse and farm workers are paid by the piece, which can amount to even less. And so, in a situation riddled with irony, food-system workers rely on food stamps at double the rate of rest of the U.S. workforce.

In the food industry, as in America overall, the concerns of low-wage workers tend to get swept under the table. A generation of hipsters has built its identity around sustainable food. Maybe it’s time to start a new trend. The next time you order that hormone-free hamburger on a stone-ground bun with organic ketchup, ask for a side of worker justice.
 
Learn more here

 

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So just who is middle class?

The Associated Press reports on Presidential candidates attempts to sway the middle classes, and the lack of clarity about just who the middle class actually are:

In a recent speech, President Barack Obama referred to the "middle class" 14 times, defining it as a family that makes up to $250,000 a year. Republican challenger Mitt Romney has looked at it from the other direction, saying that someone who falls into poverty "is still middle class."

In the fuzzy labels and loose speech of this political season, "middle class" has ballooned to cover just about everyone. So what does the term really mean?

There's no official definition.

If anything, a slew of economic data suggests a middle class that's actually shrinking. Mid-wage manufacturing and other jobs are disappearing due to automation and outsourcing, while lower-income positions and poverty spike higher. The White House's chief economist, Alan Krueger, said in January that the middle class fell from 50 percent of U.S. households in 1970 to 42 percent in 2010, as more families moved to the extreme ends of income distribution.

But it's not just about economic ranges. And politicians are not bound by such gauges anyway.

Learn more here

+Leave a Comment | Economic Justice

Syria: "Spinning Out of Control"

As more details of this morning’s bombing in Damascus are known, the casualty list is growing.  Among those killed were  Syria’s Defense Minister, Deputy Defense Minister (who was President Bashir’s brother-in-law), and a senior general who was also a former Defense Minister. The head of the National Security Office and the Interior Minister were among those seriously wounded.

In an early afternoon story, the Associated Press quoted U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta saying that the crisis in Syria is "rapidly spinning out of control.” British Defense Minister Philip Hammond, who spoke at a press conference with Panetta, said the Assad government is suffering "probably some fragmentation around the edges" as it struggles to keep a grip on power. "There is a sense that the situation is deteriorating and is becoming more and more unpredictable," Hammond said.

A later AP report noted:

"Rebels claimed responsibility for the attack, saying they had been planning it for two months and finally decided to plant the bomb in the room where the top government security officials in charge of crushing the revolt were holding a crisis meeting."

Reuters reported this afternoon on the continuing violence:

"The government vowed to retaliate, and residents said army helicopters fired machine guns and in some cases rockets at several residential districts. Television footage showed rebels storming a security base in southern Damascus. By nightfall, activists said Syrian army artillery had begun shelling the capital from the mountains that overlook it."

As the violence escalates, let us pray for a peaceful resolution in Syria, especially for the civilians caught between the two forces.

+Leave a Comment | Peace & Nonviolence

Making an AIDS-free world a reality

Salon reports on what could be a turning point in the fight against AIDS:

"Just one decade ago, experts from the CIA to the World Health Organization feared that AIDS would infect more than 100 million people, becoming a runaway epidemic and crippling countries. But the world, led by the United States, responded in a massive way and expanded treatment from tens of thousands to millions of people, leading to slight decreases in the past five years in the numbers of people living with HIV in countries from West to Southern Africa, where the epidemic has hit the hardest.

Is the world now at the next turning point in the history of AIDS? Is this a moment when AIDS, not countries, becomes crippled? Doubters are many. But many also believe new prevention tools and ramped up campaigns to protect newborns and women will help them finally outmaneuver a virus that has killed millions for decades."

Find out more here

+Leave a Comment | Faith & Politics

Parents vs. Climate Change?

For The Daily Beast, Mark Hertsgaard asks why parents aren't taking the potential effects of climate change on their children's lives more seriously:

"Beyond the distress and discomfort, the record-breaking heat raises a puzzling question for anyone who cares about the future of our young people. The laws of physics and chemistry—the fact that carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for decades after being emitted—mean that man-made global warming is just getting started on this planet.  As a result, my Chiara and millions of other youth around the world are now fated to spend the rest of their lives coping with the hottest, most volatile climate in our civilization’s 10,000-year history. Think of them as Generation Hot.

Why, then, are so few parents taking action to try to protect their beloved children from this gathering catastrophe? And why has no one asked them to?"

Learn more here

+Leave a Comment | Creation Care

The Consequences of Opting Out of Medicaid

Writing for The Nation, Bryce Covert examines how state-level opt outs of Medicaid expansions will affect women:

"The Medicaid expansion is a crucial component of the law’s overall goal of extending coverage to over 30 million uninsured Americans by 2019, covering almost half of the total number of people the bill promised to insure. Originally, the law included a provision that the federal government could take away all of a state’s Medicaid funding if it refused to go along with the expansion, which all but ensured participation. But the Court ruled that such a maneuver was unconstitutional. Just a few days after the decision was announced, seven Republican governors said they would flat-out reject the money to expand Medicaid rolls, with at least eight more looking to follow suit. More have said no since then.

This could create a no-man’s land for those who earn less than 100 percent of the federal poverty line, making them ineligible for tax subsidies to help them buy insurance, but don’t qualify for their state’s (unexpanded) Medicaid program. These Americans are surely struggling to get by, but not quite enough to get health coverage promised to those above and below them."

Read more here

+Leave a Comment | Economic Justice