Most Afghan Corruption Cases Involve Westerners

As reported by McClatchy, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Corruption (SIGAR) has found that Westerners are facilitating much of the unscrupulous activity in the country through schemes such as procurement fraud.


Only a fourth of the ongoing corruption investigations by U.S. oversight officials in Afghanistan are strictly targeting Afghan suspects, the top U.S. investigator in Afghanistan said Tuesday in Kabul. The other three-fourths are investigating transactions that involve at least one Western suspect.


While he wouldn't identify officials or companies under investigation, the figures seem to support Afghan government contentions that corruption is every bit as widespread among Western officials as it is in their own ranks.


"About 40 percent of our investigations involve procurement fraud," said Raymond J. DiNunzio, the assistant inspector general for the U.S. special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction. U.S. and Western governments frequently issue large contracts to support military and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, for labor, security guards and building materials, for example.

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The Mulch: Peaceful Protests Turn Violent in Copenhagen

By Alison Hamm, Media Consortium Blogger

The United Nations Climate Change Conference (Cop15) turned ugly today when police officers beat back hundreds of demonstrators, including a group of 50 to 100 delegates that were trying to meet with the protesters.

More than 250 people were arrested, including spokespeople for Climate Justice Action (CJA), a global network of NGOs that organized a walkout at the Bella Center today. CJA's spokesperson Dan Glall told Mantoe Phakathi at Inter Press Service that "as a condition for going back to the negotiations, we demand industrialized nations uphold the Kyoto Protocol, commit adequate funds to adaptation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly."

OneClimate has video (below) of today's walkout.

"More than 1,000 people have been arrested, detained and released over the course of the past week,"Jennifer Prediger writes for Grist. "Some were made to sit on freezing sidewalks for six hours in a nasty version of time out. The people who threw rocks and set cars on fire were rightfully detained.  But the droves who were dragged in last night for dancing awkwardly in Christiana?  Seems like overkill to me."

The chaos outside reflects the increasing pressure inside the Bella Center, as delegates turn to the United States and China for leadership in the final days of the summit. Together these countries account for 42 percent of the world's carbon emissions.

In order to finalize a global climate agreement in Copenhagen, both countries need to take a big step forward, as David Doniger and Barbara Finamore report for Grist. For the U.S., this means aid for the world's poorest and most vulnerable people; for China, this means making steady progress to meet the country's carbon reduction goals.

The U.S. has already committed to pay its share of a $30 billion fund to last through 2012. "But to lead in Copenhagen, the U.S. needs to back even larger investments to meet these core needs for the longer-term--2015 or 2020," Doniger and Finamore write. "China has the opportunity to enhance its standing as a responsible world leader by building global confidence in the implementation of its carbon reduction goals."

But as David Corn reports for Mother Jones, China and the U.S. are apparently "stuck in a standoff." An Obama administration official insisted that it's not about the money: "'We have to get the developing nations into an international agreement,' the official said... Yet China has forcefully resisted the idea of incorporating their self-professed emissions goals (essentially, slowing the growth rate of emissions) into a binding agreement. China has also repeatedly said that it will not submit its performance to official outside vetting."

Corn writes, "But with 115 heads of states beginning to arrive, the Copenhagen talks have left some fundamental gaps for the last minute. Even if those gaps are bridged, the resulting agreement could fall far short of what experts say is necessary to redress the dire consequences of rising global temperatures. Just ask the scientists roaming the halls."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Copenhagen today in a last minute appearance. Clinton has booked a full day of meetings on Thursday and will join President Barack Obama in negotiations when he arrives Friday. Like Obama's schedule switch at the conference (he originally planned to be there last week and instead will arrive Friday), Clinton's arrival could indicate the U.S.'s intention to seal a deal by the end of the week.

For live updates of the negotiations and protests, check out The Uptake's live video stream from the Bella Center.

<This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

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An Interesting Media Convention

Here is one of Rush Limbaugh's critiques of Barack Obama:

We have 9.8% unemployment.  Administration officials say three to four months more of this, maybe, and then we're gonna start seeing jobs added.  I thought Obama had saved 23 million jobs!  I thought he and Biden had saved all these jobs.  Now the administration, well, three or four more months, and maybe we'll have some job growth. We hope. Obama demeaned the office of the presidency going on this sales pitch for Chicago's corrupt profiteering.  Everybody knows what this was about: Corruption and patronage on a grander scale than ever before.  That was the opportunity Mayor Daley and everybody saw and they sent Obama off to secure it.  And I'll tell you another reason he decided to go, not just because Daley sent him but Obama needed to distract everybody's attention from his massive failures at home and abroad.</span&gt

Ignore for a moment the argument Rush Limbaugh presents. Instead, look at his use of "Obama" and "Biden." Limbaugh does not say "President Obama" or "Mr. Obama" - he just uses plain-old "Obama."

It's a lot easier to criticize Obama rather than Mr. Obama. The addition of "Mr." or "President" elevates the man, implies that he is deserving of respect. Taking away the title relegates him to the rest of us mere mortals.

This pattern of referring to high officials (it's far from an Obama-only phenomenon) without a title is not just the domain of right-wingers. It's prevalent throughout cable news and the online web. CNN does it. Politico does it. Markos Zúñiga (founder of the Daily Kos) does it. I do it. In fact, I've been doing it throughout this entire post.

The only media organizations that consistently add the honorific "Mr." or "President/Senator/Governor" to a politician seem to be newspapers. This New York Times article, for example, addresses Hillary Clinton as "Mrs. Clinton" without fail.

The casualness with which American media refers to political figures reflects a wider paradigm. It feels itself to be on the same level (or even a higher level) than all politicians. American officials are to be evaluated on a grade-scale, their every action analyzed for hidden motives.

America's leaders are many things to the media establishment. They are characters of immense curiosity, interesting enough to power many a media cycle. They are fodder for pundits and comedians to laugh at, criticize, and tear down. They are sometimes figures to be empathized with, just normal people with a loving families and beautiful children.

The only thing they are not, it seems, are leaders.


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How Do China and Russia Think of Iran?

The United States media often - and for good reason - portrays China and Russia as reluctant to implement sanctions on Iran. Rarely (too rarely), however, does it attempt to view the issue through a Chinese or Russian lens. Americans nearly never try to understand the complex motivations behind Chinese and Russian lukewarmness.

I will attempt to do that now. How do China and Russia think of Iran?

Probably in the same way we think of Honduras. The lukewarm American opposition to the coup strikingly parallels China and Russia's stances on Iran.

If forced to state a position, most American officials probably would consider Micheletti in the wrong. By ousting Zelaya in his pajamas, Honduras revived a terrible tradition. Central America has a long history of destabilizing coups; they do terrible damage to a nation's future prospects. While Zelaya's actions may have been wrong, the army's action was unquestionably unconstitutional.

But that's exactly it. Zelaya wasn't exactly an innocent victim in all this. As conservatives have pointed out again and again, the situation isn't so clear-cut. The president, a widely unpopular figure, was pushing a poll of uncertain constitutionality. He attempted to align Honduras with Hugo Chavez's anti-American alliance and was entertaining a (constitutionally forbidden) term extension.

Thus, the United States has been decidedly lukewarm in its criticism of the coup - analogous to Chinese and Russian moderation regarding Iran. Honduras has mounted a lobbying campaign in Congress; it appears to be yielding fruit. Several Republican congressmen visited Honduras; the administration"is not talking about imposing new sanctions for now."

The truth is, if the United States fully committed itself against the government - if it suddenly suspended all foreign aid and threatened military action - it would fall in a matter of days. It doesn't however, because it's rightly sympathetic to Micheletti, just as China and Russia are sympathetic to Iran.

So the next time you bemoan Chinese or Russian foot-dragging on Iran, consider American foot-dragging in Honduras. The United States has legitimate arguments against taking too militant a stance in Honduras. China and Russia may have reasonable concerns, too.

After all, they were right regarding Iraq.

-- Inoljt,

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Explaining the Swiss Minaret Vote

By: Inoljt,


Switzerland's landslide vote to ban Muslim minarets surprised many pundits and commentators, more familiar with the nation's image as a bastion of tolerance and European enlightenment.

These results, in fact, are not so surprising. They derive from the peculiar structure of Swiss democracy, which effectively creates a voter base less diverse than the general public. These voters are generally predisposed to support such initiatives as the minaret vote.

I am specifically talking about Swiss citizenship. Becoming a Swiss citizen implies that one has become part of the Swiss people, and the Swiss have a very strict definitions of what this means. Since - of course - only citizens may vote, this strictness directly impacts the Swiss electorate.

While Switzerland may have an image as a tolerant place, its naturalization policy is one of the least tolerant in the Western world.

More below.

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