Thursday, May 5, 2011

What is the Biggest Threat to National Security?

By Dennis Matanda

General Threats to National Security

What should we do if the challenge to our survival lies, inherently, in our own political culture? Like they did at some point in their lifespan, Roman philosophers and kings must have sought answers to both internal and external threats to their empire's stability. For their part, in crafting America like they did, the Federalists could have been on a mission to answer looming questions about long lasting empire solutions. The point here is that while terrorists and economic dire straits are well known threats to the sanctity and sovereignty of the U.S., there must be an even more ominous Diablo - as inimical to this country's continued dominance of earth as was rife during the Roman Empire. Sure; like they did between 1998 and 2010, terrorists could successfully attack American embassies; her direct territory, capture American journalists, ships and even businesses to shake our security core. But we have snipers and military bases - fully capable of posing a formidable counter to these criminals. Equally seminal, although China, India, Russia and Brazil are much bitter rivals for American spheres of influence following the 2008 financial crisis, nimble policy is helping shore up America's economic future.

The Biggest Threat

But what about the battle lines drawn between the conservatives and progressives? Does the growing divide between Republicans and Democrats present a clear and present danger to national security? From today's standpoint that both parties have, even more than ever in their practice, put ideology before country, I believe that this is what poses the greatest threat to American superpower status. With scorched-earth-policy-like strategies, the GOP and Democrats battle for America's soul seemingly oblivious to the plethora of real issues in their midst. Laughably, there's banality in their biggest bone of contention - that one of big government vs. smaller federal intervention. Simply, if the 20th century has seen more Republican than Democratic presidents, why, then, has the role of government progressed and not regressed? Attached to this is how adroit and brazen each has been telling tales of government woe. Republicans were for Medicare before they were against it and for it again during the Healthcare Debate of 2009 - 2010; and are now said to be 'against' it under Paul Ryan. While both parties, seemingly, ignore the symbiotic oxymoron of their relationship, Congress meanwhile nostalgically reminisces about the romantic age of bipartisanship days gone by and woe be tide to anyone – at state or federal level - who compromises or extols the other’s ideology: The Tea Party and are afoot and also on hand to feather and tar!

The Catalysts

On its own, this fundamental disagreement might not be as rancid. But right and left wing media and research outfits up the acerbity ante, probably propagated for the short term benefit of the few. Right and Left leaning ideologues are feted not because they have ideas but because they are polemic. Fox News will demonize anything – and I mean anything – the President and the Democrats do while Media Matters has launched a war against conservative media houses. Both liberal and conservative pundits make the other out to be as demonic; and unfortunately, while we could have argued that the essence of being a red state or a blue state were only superficial, still waters of misgivings about the other's good faith do run deep throughout this nation. If Almond and Verba, for instance, conducted their ground breaking research again these 50 or so years later,would they find liberal and conservative parents encouraging of cross party pollination?

But in all the above aspects, there’s also an even bigger chance of hyperbole or conjecture since diversity, debate and dialogue are as vital to American democracy and culture as French fries. Americans are mostly civil or tolerant of each other - harrumphing in silence or suffering fools gladly. After 9/11, we came together to propel this juggernaut forward; and there were even signs in 2011 when Ms. Giffords was shot in Arizona.These aspects - potential, passion and patriotism, et al - are not under debate. There is capacity for unity at times of national strife. The premise, nonetheless, is that with the internal combustion America is undergoing, doesn't ideological polarization avail tinder to sparks like high unemployment, exorbitant gas prices and elevated anxiety? How can the recent killing of Osama bin Laden not make the American public toss their differences aside? With a deficit this big, does it not serve both parties to ensure the survival of the species?

Forty Billion Fourth Estates

Interestingly, the politics of polarization seems to be working out for certain sections of the oligarchic status quo. The Republicans have rallied their ranks of supporters - and with the support of the Tea Party Movement, their anti healthcare and big government spending has, rightly, made deficit reduction the fashionable debate. But is this what America needs to return to its exalted position? Of course, we need to qualify this statement. How could America change given its current circumstances? Government was not meant to make swift changes or radically change course; and the Two Party System seems to set in stone by the American Way. What is the worst that could happen anyway? Have the American people not had partisan rancor and cantankerous posturing for political gain in the past? Absolutely. There was bitter rivalry between the Democrats and Republicans over ideology from WWII when the country first became fully engaged in internationalism.

But there are unique circumstances that propel a need for much more compromise between the Republicans and Democrats. Their disagreements, legitimate or otherwise, could delay the economic recovery of the United States. Through the media, demonization of the American leadership could be seen as weak in less democratic and more volatile regimes of the world - those capable of giving America's enemies refuge. Additionally, partisan anger could translate into extreme behavior like the kind exhibited by a tattered Quran burning pastor or another Tiller the Killer vigilante action. We need to also take into consideration that there has never been a time when so many people have access to the means of information and the tools of communication. The Fourth Estate is easily translatable into forty billion estates through the Internet; Birthers and Truthers and Deathers believe what they want to believe and have ample material to germinate and cultivate their empty foundations. Like Fareed Zakaria said, people of the world do not fight for freedom or religion alone but also for the hope and possibilities they see on the silver screen. Lastly, the world has changed because anyone can wage and win a war against a superpower since asymmetrical warfare is alive and well through cyber terrorism and suicide bombers.


What does this mean for America’s future? Well … The country, of late, receives what is an apparent deluge of shots across its bough as warning to change its status quo. Can we attribute the polarization for American decline? Not necessarily. However, a case could be made for less polarization. For instance, when Standard and Poor downgrades the country’s credit rating elements, that is a shot across the polarization bough. When influential newspapers like the Economist eloquently speak to sluggishness of the American economy based on lethargy and the need for catharsis, another cannon has been fired. When the IMF, even surreptitiously releases a report about China assuming World’s Biggest Economy status in less than 10 years, watch out for how precariously close to the American mainmast that last projectile went. These are the easy ones because time tested elucidation for them exists. Unfortunately, all solutions lie with the Republicans and Democrats who are stuck at the different poles of ideological recalcitrance. While they play the game of chicken – failing to negotiate in good faith - the American people teeter on history’s precipice – listening to the banshees of the Roman Empire.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Law of Mass and Energy in Uganda

By Dennis Matanda

I called my mother yesterday after what seems like donkeys’ years. Because this life is full of bees, my excuse for irresponsibility is unacceptable but plausible. All that, however, went to the wind after I saw videos and news coming out of Uganda. After being glued to the clear videos and documentaries, I could not help but call my mother! How could they treat Kiiza Besigye like that? If you do not know what I am talking about, then I am glad. If they could do this to a high profile politician, what would they not do to my brothers? Sisters? Cousins? Friends? Former schoolmates? Former colleagues? Did you see the way he was bundled into the bottom of the police pickup truck? How can anyone forget the smug faces of the security agents as they did their bidding? Their sheer callousness and lack of shame as they acted in front of the media was beyond anything that could have happened during Amin’s time. At least, then, State Research Bureau employees tried to disguise their identity by wearing dark glasses. But these ‘new’ men did not seem to care that the world was watching. [More on this later]

I, then, caught a glimpse of what brutality to ‘small people’ meant. There was a video of a man pursued into his ramshackle house by four or five police cum military personnel. They dragged that fellow out screaming and pleading. Then he was beaten and utterly humiliated before he was dragged to some detention facility leaving his broiling dinner and property available for even poorer people to help themselves to. That was not even the worst of scenes. One man lost an eye – gouged out due to the violence meted out by the people who were supposed to look out for his rights.

The largest amounts of wretchedness are that I do not want to go home anymore. I do not want to join my comrades in building the nation. I am going to enjoy these empty acts of packaged food and cold air. I am ashamed of the scenes from the place I used to call home. I am in shock that I actually know some of the people responsible for the despondency. How can Kale Kayihura, the police supremo justify this violence? On the other hand, I wonder if President Museveni is blind to what is happening in the Middle East and Maghreb. And even if he were blind, can he be so divorced from reality and so be deaf to the sound of pending doom?

But maybe, there is respite for Uganda after all. In what is purely cosmic karma, the Monitor Newspaper did a profile on the officer nee tormenter who smashed Dr. Col. Kiiza Besigye’s car with the butt of his handgun. Anyone with any sense would have seen this coming, anyway. The cameras had eloquently captured Gilbert Arinaitwe keeping law and order. The Monitor profile showed his beaming, beautiful wife. The story quoted his friends, former teachers and former schoolmates. They mentioned that he is a devout Christian. But how can Gilbert show his face at church now yet his own family is seemingly distancing themselves from him? On the other hand, because he came from humble beginnings, some say that this was all in a day’s work for him. He was just trying to feed his growing family. However, conversely, in the age of social media; and in the age where everyone knows everyone, you cannot get away with doing just about anything to survive.

I remember my friend Bob Drani after the infamous Black Mamba incident at the High Court in Kampala. The media showed his picture commanding those who used brutal force to prevent justice from being carried out. I do not think Bob feels as secure as he used to before the incident. I believe that this is the kind of social pressure that will probably save Uganda from the acts of violence from state agencies. Uganda has radio stations, televisions, newspapers and all kinds of things that give the Fourth Estate the opportunity to thrive. Also, being a most interlinked and small society, Ugandans know almost everything. Just like I wished for Bob Drani’s family, God forbid that anything should happen to Arinaitwe’s pregnant wife. However, if someone took revenge on this woman, wouldn’t that send a message to other state agents who carry out their acts of violence with alacrity?

Penultimately, we need to ask: Who is to blame for all that is going on in Uganda? The spoils of war could be laid at the feet of an insufferable President who has been in power for too long; or, on the circumstances leading to high gas and food prices. Nonetheless, blame or impugnation aside, one thing stands clear: excessive violence is not necessary. Experience shows that if politicians and youth want to walk, let them walk. If people want to protest, let them protest. Just leave them alone. However, only imbeciles and dictators do not seem to understand that like Einstein found, mass is a manifestation of energy. It may also change forms; meaning that if you add ingredients like force and pressure, there could be an explosion. We have seen mass and energy work in Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, Libya and Tunisia. You cannot, therefore, tell me that it cannot have the same devastating effect in Uganda.

I am just glad that most of my cousins and other relatives are not as political as I am; that my mother lives far away from the capital; that my incorrigible father is too busy with booze and lastly, that my provocative brother Ernest is now sequestered away for the next three months.