Tuesday, January 29, 2013

U.S. Reaches Deal With Niger to Fight Africa Extremists

U.S. Reaches Deal With Niger to Fight Africa Extremists - Bloomberg

U.S. Reaches Deal With Niger to Fight Africa Extremists

By Gopal Ratnam and Margaret Talev
January 29, 2013 3:32 AM EST

                Soldiers of the Nigerois battalion bound for Mali pose in front of their armored vehicles at a training camp near Ouallam, 100 kilometers north of Niamey, Niger, on Jan. 22, 2013. Photographer: Boureima Hama/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. and Niger reached an agreement allowing American military personnel to be stationed in the West African country and enabling them to take on Islamist militants in neighboring Mali, according to U.S. officials.

The accord could make it possible for the U.S. to base unmanned surveillance aircraft there, said one official, adding that no decision has been made to station the drones. President Barack Obama's administration doesn't intend to send combat troops to Niger, a White House official said.

The pact will allow deployment of U.S. personnel as well as other military assets in Niger to respond to the terror threat in the region, a U.S. defense official said. The so-called status-of-forces agreement grants immunity from domestic laws to U.S. personnel stationed in the country. The moves come after France began airstrikes in Mali on Jan. 11 and later deployed ground troops, wresting control of several cities including Timbuktu yesterday from Islamist militants.

While the contours of the U.S. military presence are still being worked out, the deal is intended to increase intelligence collection, among other purposes, the defense official said. The officials all asked to not be named in discussing the accord, which has not been announced.

The deal with Niger, which has been in the works for more than a year, is unconditional and not limited to a specific time period, according to the U.S. defense official. The New York Times reported yesterday on the accord and the possibility of deploying drones in the country.

The pact comes after the Pentagon announced an agreement on Jan. 26 to provide aerial refueling support to French troops battling extremists in Mali, including militants operating under the banner of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM. Together, the accords signal wider U.S. involvement in confronting terror groups in North Africa. The U.K. has already provided transport and surveillance aircraft to help the French mission.

Malian forces yesterday entered Timbuktu, with French forces encircling the historic city and now hold its airport, Mali's army spokesman, Colonel Diarran Kone, said by phone from the capital, Bamako. The advance follows the capture of Gao, about 590 miles (950 kilometers) north of Bamako on Jan. 26.

At least 11,000 people have been forced from their homes by the recent fighting, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. About 230,000 have been displaced since the crisis began, the agency said Jan. 22.

The European Union today pledged to contribute 50 million euros ($67 million) to an African-led mission to fight rebels in northern Mali. European and U.S. leaders have said northern Mali is turning into a haven for Islamist militants intent on attacking Western targets.

If approved, the U.S. base in Niger would likely be to provide surveillance for the French-led operation in Mali, the Times reported. While initially only unarmed drones would fly out of the base, the site may be used for missile strikes at some point if the threat worsens, the newspaper said.

General Carter Ham, head of the U.S. military command in Africa, said the subject was "too operational for me to confirm or deny," the Times reported, citing an e-mail it received from Ham. The Africa Command's plan still needs approval from the Pentagon, the White House and officials in Niger, the newspaper reported.

Since the ouster of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, which unleashed a flow of weapons to militants in the region, the Obama administration has been torn between wanting to avoid entanglements in the region while warning of the dangers of advancing Islamist extremism.

The U.S. has shown reluctance to provide weapons or American troops to the fight in Mali, just as it has largely sidestepped the civil war in Syria. U.S. officials say that shifting alliances among at least four rebel groups in Mali have made it hard to get a clear picture of the conflict there.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta offered a brief insight earlier this month into the Obama administration's internal deliberations when he pointed to legal questions being raised over France's request for U.S. military help.

"I find that every time I turn around, I face a group of lawyers," Panetta told reporters on Jan. 16 in Rome. The administration's legal counsel wanted "to be sure that they feel comfortable that we have the legal basis to do what we are being requested to do" in aiding the French, he said.

Those questions were resolved and the U.S. is now providing airlift, intelligence as well as refueling French military planes.

The U.S. couldn't directly aid Mali's current government, which was installed through a coup, Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokeswoman, said Jan. 15. She said there were no restrictions on helping allies such as France.

France intervened in Mali on Jan. 11 after Islamist fighters overran the town of Konna, sparking concern they might advance toward Bamako. The French Defense Ministry said that 2,500 soldiers have arrived in the landlocked West African country, which gained independence from France in 1960. African nations are deploying a force that may total as many as 3,300 troops.

To contact the reporters on this story: Gopal Ratnam in Washington at gratnam1@bloomberg.net; Margaret Talev in Washington at mtalev@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Second Amendment was Ratified to Preserve Slavery

The Second Amendment was Ratified to Preserve Slavery

Musket(Photo: Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery)The real reason the Second Amendment was ratified, and why it says "State" instead of "Country" (the Framers knew the difference - see the 10th Amendment), was to preserve the slave patrol militias in the southern states, which was necessary to get Virginia's vote.  Founders Patrick Henry, George Mason, and James Madison were totally clear on that . . . and we all should be too.

In the beginning, there were the militias. In the South, they were also called the "slave patrols," and they were regulated by the states. 

In Georgia, for example, a generation before the American Revolution, laws were passed in 1755 and 1757 that required all plantation owners or their male white employees to be members of the Georgia Militia, and for those armed militia members to make monthly inspections of the quarters of all slaves in the state.  The law defined which counties had which armed militias and even required armed militia members to keep a keen eye out for slaves who may be planning uprisings. 

As Dr. Carl T. Bogus wrote for the University of California Law Review in 1998, "The Georgia statutes required patrols, under the direction of commissioned militia officers, to examine every plantation each month and authorized them to search 'all Negro Houses for offensive Weapons and Ammunition' and to apprehend and give twenty lashes to any slave found outside plantation grounds."

It's the answer to the question raised by the character played by Leonardo DiCaprio in Django Unchained when he asks, "Why don't they just rise up and kill the whites?"  If the movie were real, it would have been a purely rhetorical question, because every southerner of the era knew the simple answer: Well regulated militias kept the slaves in chains.

Sally E. Haden, in her book Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas, notes that, "Although eligibility for the Militia seemed all-encompassing, not every middle-aged white male Virginian or Carolinian became a slave patroller." There were exemptions so "men in critical professions" like judges, legislators and students could stay at their work.  Generally, though, she documents how most southern men between ages 18 and 45 - including physicians and ministers - had to serve on slave patrol in the militia at one time or another in their lives.

And slave rebellions were keeping the slave patrols busy. 

By the time the Constitution was ratified, hundreds of substantial slave uprisings had occurred across the South.  Blacks outnumbered whites in large areas, and the state militias were used to both prevent and to put down slave uprisings.  As Dr. Bogus points out, slavery can only exist in the context of a police state, and the enforcement of that police state was the explicit job of the militias.

If the anti-slavery folks in the North had figured out a way to disband - or even move out of the state - those southern militias, the police state of the South would collapse.  And, similarly, if the North were to invite into military service the slaves of the South, then they could be emancipated, which would collapse the institution of slavery, and the southern economic and social systems, altogether.

These two possibilities worried southerners like James Monroe, George Mason (who owned over 300 slaves) and the southern Christian evangelical, Patrick Henry (who opposed slavery on principle, but also opposed freeing slaves). 

Their main concern was that Article 1, Section 8 of the newly-proposed Constitution, which gave the federal government the power to raise and supervise a militia, could also allow that federal militia to subsume their state militias and change them from slavery-enforcing institutions into something that could even, one day, free the slaves. 

This was not an imagined threat.  Famously, 12 years earlier, during the lead-up to the Revolutionary War, Lord Dunsmore offered freedom to slaves who could escape and join his forces.  "Liberty to Slaves" was stitched onto their jacket pocket flaps.  During the War, British General Henry Clinton extended the practice in 1779.  And numerous freed slaves served in General Washington's army.

Thus, southern legislators and plantation owners lived not just in fear of their own slaves rebelling, but also in fear that their slaves could be emancipated through military service.

At the ratifying convention in Virginia in 1788, Henry laid it out:

"Let me here call your attention to that part [Article 1, Section 8 of the proposed Constitution] which gives the Congress power to provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States. . . .  

"By this, sir, you see that their control over our last and best defence is unlimited. If they neglect or refuse to discipline or arm our militia, they will be useless: the states can do neither . . . this power being exclusively given to Congress. The power of appointing officers over men not disciplined or armed is ridiculous; so that this pretended little remains of power left to the states may, at the pleasure of Congress, be rendered nugatory."

George Mason expressed a similar fear:

"The militia may be here destroyed by that method which has been practised in other parts of the world before; that is, by rendering them useless, by disarming them. Under various pretences, Congress may neglect to provide for arming and disciplining the militia; and the state governments cannot do it, for Congress has an exclusive right to arm them [under this proposed Constitution] . . . "

Henry then bluntly laid it out:

"If the country be invaded, a state may go to war, but cannot suppress [slave] insurrections [under this new Constitution]. If there should happen an insurrection of slaves, the country cannot be said to be invaded. They cannot, therefore, suppress it without the interposition of Congress . . . . Congress, and Congress only [under this new Constitution], can call forth the militia."

And why was that such a concern for Patrick Henry?

"In this state," he said, "there are two hundred and thirty-six thousand blacks, and there are many in several other states. But there are few or none in the Northern States. . . . May Congress not say, that every black man must fight? Did we not see a little of this last war? We were not so hard pushed as to make emancipation general; but acts of Assembly passed that every slave who would go to the army should be free."

Patrick Henry was also convinced that the power over the various state militias given the federal government in the new Constitution could be used to strip the slave states of their slave-patrol militias.  He knew the majority attitude in the North opposed slavery, and he worried they'd use the Constitution to free the South's slaves (a process then called "Manumission"). 

The abolitionists would, he was certain, use that power (and, ironically, this is pretty much what Abraham Lincoln ended up doing):

"[T]hey will search that paper [the Constitution], and see if they have power of manumission," said Henry.  "And have they not, sir? Have they not power to provide for the general defence and welfare? May they not think that these call for the abolition of slavery? May they not pronounce all slaves free, and will they not be warranted by that power?

"This is no ambiguous implication or logical deduction. The paper speaks to the point: they have the power in clear, unequivocal terms, and will clearly and certainly exercise it."

He added: "This is a local matter, and I can see no propriety in subjecting it to Congress."

James Madison, the "Father of the Constitution" and a slaveholder himself, basically called Patrick Henry paranoid.

"I was struck with surprise," Madison said, "when I heard him express himself alarmed with respect to the emancipation of slaves. . . . There is no power to warrant it, in that paper [the Constitution]. If there be, I know it not."

But the southern fears wouldn't go away. 

Patrick Henry even argued that southerner's "property" (slaves) would be lost under the new Constitution, and the resulting slave uprising would be less than peaceful or tranquil:

"In this situation," Henry said to Madison, "I see a great deal of the property of the people of Virginia in jeopardy, and their peace and tranquility gone."

So Madison, who had (at Jefferson's insistence) already begun to prepare proposed amendments to the Constitution, changed his first draft of one that addressed the militia issue to make sure it was unambiguous that the southern states could maintain their slave patrol militias. 

His first draft for what became the Second Amendment had said: "The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed, and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country [emphasis mine]: but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person."

But Henry, Mason and others wanted southern states to preserve their slave-patrol militias independent of the federal government.  So Madison changed the word "country" to the word "state," and redrafted the Second Amendment into today's form:

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State [emphasis mine], the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

Little did Madison realize that one day in the future weapons-manufacturing corporations, newly defined as "persons" by a Supreme Court some have called dysfunctional, would use his slave patrol militia amendment to protect their "right" to manufacture and sell assault weapons used to murder schoolchildren.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Three years after Haiti earthquake, pain lingers

Three years after Haiti earthquake, pain lingers

His legs are paralyzed, he can't work and he barely leaves his small Louisville apartment — but what troubles Marcelous Pierre most is his family's desperate plight back home in Haiti.

Three years after the devastating 2010 Haitian earthquake killed one of his children and severed his spinal cord, leaving him a medical refugee in Louisville, Pierre said his wife and three surviving children still live in a leaky tent, eking out a meager existence.

"That's my concern, my family," said Pierre, 38, one of at least eight injured Haitians who were treated and then resettled in Louisville after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake — one of the hemisphere's deadliest natural disasters. "After all the (recovery aid) money they put in ... my family is still in a tent."

Pierre's plight is a stark reminder of the massive upheaval that continues to plague Haiti as a result of the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake that killed tens of thousands, left nearly a million homeless and spurred many Louisville residents, donors, aid groups and doctors to help.

On this third anniversary, local refugees and aid groups working in the impoverished Caribbean island nation say recovery is still painfully slow, despite billions in aid donations, including funds that remain undistributed.

An estimated 357,785 Haitians still live in 496 tent camps, according to a recent report by The New York Times. Others have moved to shanties or slums. Cholera, widespread joblessness and other woes still grip the nation.

The Rev. Frantz Philippe of Louisville's Haitian Baptist Church, who visited his home country last year and has many parishioners with stricken relatives, said he plans a local memorial service Sunday to remember lost loved ones and console those frustrated by the sluggish pace of recovery.

"Three years later, they still have people on the streets," he said.

Daily difficulties

After spending a year in Louisville getting life-saving heart surgery in the disaster's aftermath, Stephanie Privert, now 18, is back in Haiti with 10 family members, living in a three-room, concrete block house funded by money raised in Louisville.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Escaping Slavery

Escaping Slavery

America has slavery on the brain these days.

There were the recent releases of the movies "Lincoln" (which I found enlightening and enjoyable) and "Django Unchained" (which I found a profound love story with an orgy of excesses and muddled moralities). I guess my preferences reflect my penchant for subtlety. Sometimes a little bit of an unsettling thing goes a long way, and a lot goes too far. Aside from its gratuitous goriness, "Django Unchained" reportedly used the N-word more than 100 times. "Lincoln" used it only a handful. I don't know exactly where my threshold is, but I think it's well shy of the century mark.

And there was this week the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, one of the most important documents in this country's archives.

All of this has caused me to think deeply about the long shadow of slavery, the legacy of that most grievous enterprise and the ways in which that poison tree continues to bear fruit.

To be sure, America has moved light-years forward from the days of slavery. But the idea that progress toward racial harmony would or should be steady and continuous is fraying. And the pillars of the institution — the fundamental devaluation of dark skin and strained justifications for the unconscionable — have proved surprisingly resilient.

For instance, in October, The Arkansas Times reported that Jon Hubbard, a Republican state representative, wrote in a 2009 self-published book that "the institution of slavery that the black race has long believed to be an abomination upon its people may actually have been a blessing in disguise." His misguided point was that for all the horrors of slavery, blacks were better off in America than in Africa.

This was a prevailing, wrongheaded, ethically empty justification for American slavery when it was legal.

Robert E. Lee wrote in 1856: "The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, physically, and socially. The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their further instruction as a race, and will prepare them, I hope, for better things."

And in a famous 1837 speech on the Senate floor, John C. Calhoun declared: "I hold that in the present state of civilization, where two races of different origin, and distinguished by color, and other physical differences, as well as intellectual, are brought together, the relation now existing in the slaveholding States between the two, is, instead of an evil, a good — a positive good."

Lee was later appointed commander in chief of the armies of the South, and Calhoun had been vice president and became secretary of state. But in November, Hubbard lost his seat; I guess that's progress.

Still, the persistence of such a ridiculous argument does not sit well with me. And we should all be unsettled by the tendency of some people to romanticize and empathize with the Confederacy.

A Pew Research Center poll released in April 2011 found that most Southern whites think it's appropriate for modern-day politicians to praise Confederate leaders, the only demographic to believe that.

A CNN poll also released that month found that nearly 4 in 10 white Southerners sympathize more with the Confederacy than with the Union.

What is perhaps more problematic is that negative attitudes about blacks are increasing. According to an October survey by The Associated Press: "In all, 51 percent of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes, compared with 48 percent in a similar 2008 survey. When measured by an implicit racial attitudes test, the number of Americans with anti-black sentiments jumped to 56 percent, up from 49 percent during the last presidential election."

Not progress.

In fact, it feels as though slavery as an analogy has become subversively chic. Herman Cain, running as a Republican presidential candidate, built an entire campaign around this not-so-coded language, saying that he had left "the Democrat plantation," calling blacks "brainwashed" and arguing, "I don't believe racism in this country today holds anybody back in a big way."

As the best-selling author Michelle Alexander pointed out in her sensational 2010 book "The New Jim Crow," various factors, including the methodical mass incarceration of black men, has led to the disintegration of the black family, the disenfranchisement of millions of people, and a new and very real era of American oppression.

As Alexander confirmed to me Friday: "Today there are more African-American adults under correctional control — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began."

Definitely not progress.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

President of Haiti Assumes Chairmanship of CARICOM :: The St. Kitts-Nevis Observer

President of Haiti Assumes Chairmanship of CARICOM :: The St. Kitts-Nevis Observer

President of Haiti Assumes Chairmanship of CARICOM
Source: Caricom.org

His Excellency Michel Martelly, President of Haiti

 Jan. 2 -- Chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), His Excellency Michel Martelly, President of Haiti, has called on Member States to consolidate efforts in order to achieve the "necessary structural changes to increase the well-being of our peoples."

In a message to the Community at the beginning of its fortieth anniversary year, Mr. Martelly, whose country is chairing the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM for the first time, reflected on unity as a means of overcoming the serious economic, environmental, and social challenges affecting the Region.

In its fortieth year of existence, there was ample evidence that the Community "constitutes a useful mechanism to facilitate integration within the Region," President Martelly said.

He added that as small, vulnerable states in a competitive, economic environment, the task at hand was to ensure that CARICOM constituted a bulwark that would protect its Member States in the current formidable global environment.

"In my capacity as Chairman of the Community, I resolutely commit myself and my country to this noble and urgent necessity. Haiti gladly embraces this opportunity to provide leadership to the integration process for the next six months, and looks forward to help strengthen the Caribbean Community. During Haiti's Chairmanship, we shall also endeavour to promote sustainable development policies based on an effective cooperation strategy," President Martelly said.

In this quest, President Martelly said he would build upon the "sterling work" of his predecessor, Dr. the Hon. Kenny Anthony, Prime Minister of Saint Lucia, and would seek the support of the Hon. Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, who is the third member of the Bureau of Heads of Government, and other Heads of Government.

Referring to Haiti's role in the Community, President Martelly acknowledged that his country must accelerate its integration into CARICOM and committed to doing so during his tenure as Chairman.

Israel African Immigrant Deportations To Send Thousands Back Home

Israel African Immigrant Deportations To Send Thousands Back Home - The Huffington Post

Israel African Immigrant Deportations To Send Thousands Back Home

JERUSALEM -- Israel's prime minister says thousands of Africans who have infiltrated into Israel will be sent back home.

Benjamin Netanyahu declared Wednesday that Israel has halted the flow of African migrants into Israel over the past seven months. He spoke while visiting the fence Israel built on border with Egypt to keep migrants out.

He said he will soon begin "repatriating the tens of thousands of infiltrators in Israel to their countries of origin."

About 60,000 Africans have entered Israel in recent years, some seeking asylum and others looking for work.

Sigal Rozen, whose group assists migrants, says it's unlikely Israel can repatriate them, since many come from conflict zones or countries that have no ties with Israel.

She says Netanyahu's pledge could be political posturing ahead of Jan. 22 elections.