Friday, May 7, 2010

Freedom for Darfur – The Lafayette Park Protest

by M. Ulric Killion

Political Protest at Lafayette Park, in Washington, D.C., April 30, 2010; Photo by M. Ulric  Killion.

During a recent visit to Washington, D.C., a small gathering of people (i.e., about 20 individuals) came to one’s attention when walking along Pennsylvania Avenue on the section of the road separating the entrance to the White House and Lafayette Park, which is a public park that is historically known as a place of political protests. From across the street and in the near vicinity of Lafayette park one could hear speakers with microphone in hand addressing the issue of Darfur and its recent elections. 

The general concern of the speakers was rigged elections (i.e., Sudan ended on Thursday, April 15, its five-day elections), and bringing this issue to the attention of the public, especially the Obama administration. Pausing for only a few minutes to listen, it was difficult to ascertain the names of the speakers. It was, however, obvious that some of the speakers were Darfur citizens or at least former Darfur citizens, as some actually gave testimony of eyewitness accounts of what was happening in Darfur. For instance, one speaker giving testimony of eyewitness accounts couched his plea for U.S. assistance in the language of a denial of democracy. 

There were also in attendance at least one non-governmental entity, and perhaps even more. Having listened to one speaker that was associated with an NGO, it seems reasonable to suspect there were representatives of other NGOs also present. The present memory lapse is due to the fact that this peaceful assembly or protest actually took place on April 30, 2010.
However, after witnessing this protest, though a small gathering, one can say it became a self-appointed mission to ascertain what occurred in Darfur, and the significance of the elections. Apparently, the perception by many of rigged elections is having a devastating influence on peace talks and stabilizing the region. 

“Darfur’s main rebel group,” as the Voice of America (Darfur JEM Rebel Group Risks Losing Dominance, May 3, 2010) reported, “may risk losing its dominance in the region, as Chad ends support and rival rebel coalition gains strength.” Further reporting, on May 3, 2010, the “JEM – the Justice and Equality Movement – officially suspended peace talks with the government, following months of stalled negotiations. JEM has also accused the government of attacking its positions in western Darfur.”

As concerns the JEM’s suspension of peace talks, E.J. Hogendoorn, the Horn of Africa director for the International Crisis Group (ICG), said: “My initial reaction is that the JEM has been frustrated by the fact that Khartoum has been talking to other rebel factions; and it is now trying to put pressure on the government to deal more seriously with them.” 

Then there is the issue or allegation of rigged elections. “The talks have been stalled in large part,” as Hogendoom explained, “because most of the people were focused on the elections.  And I think that there was some perception that once the elections were completed there would be further movement along the talks.  But that hasn’t happened” (Voice of America).
It is also difficult to ascertain whether there were fair or rigged elections. This is because there are many that also alleged rigged elections even before the casting of the first vote. 

On the other hand, the Carter Center opined that the elections in Darfur met neither national nor international standards (Darfur elections do not meet national and international standards, Sudan Tribune, April 18, 2010).
The observations of the Carter Center also correspond with the official position of the White House or the Obama administration. For instance, an excerpt from a White House press release reads: “The United States notes the initial assessment of independent electoral observers that Sudan’s elections did not meet international standards. Political rights and freedoms were circumscribed throughout the electoral process, there were reports of intimidation and threats of violence in South Sudan, ongoing conflict in Darfur did not permit an environment conducive to acceptable elections, and inadequacies in technical preparations for the vote resulted in serious irregularities” (White House, Office of the Press Secretary, Statement by the Press Secretary on Elections in Sudan, April 20, 2010).

All of this only compounds the difficulty of understanding the nature and ultimate goal of the protest at Lafayette Park, especially the action that the protesters would like the Obama administration to pursue

Additionally, one does not intend to over simplify the issue of peace talks in Darfur. This is because it is a complex issues involving several political factions and tribes (i.e., the JEM, the Sudan Liberation, and Justice Movement), and even pending arrest warrants issued by the International Criminal Court against President Bashir, which charge him with war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. 

For now and as concerns the significance of the elections, in the interim, as the issue of rigged elections became a dominant issue much-needed peace talks virtually came to a halt. 

Copyright © Protected - All Rights Reserved M. Ulric Killion, 2010.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Federal Reserve continues low interest rate

by M. Ulric Killion

Federal Reserve System headquarters, Washington, DC; Photo by M. Ulric Killion. 

In Washington, on April, 28, 2010, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve met and while confirming an earlier assessment of the Federal Open Market Committee also reaffirms a commitment to a low interest rate. The Board of Governors, in its April 28, 2010 public statement, announced: “The Committee will maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent and continues to anticipate that economic conditions, including low rates of resource utilization, subdued inflation trends, and stable inflation expectations, are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate for an extended period. The Committee will continue to monitor the economic outlook and financial developments and will employ its policy tools as necessary to promote economic recovery and price stability” (FOMC Statement, April 28, 2010).

In other words, for the Board of Governors, though admittedly not a unanimous consensus, generally key economic indicators not only substantiated earlier 2010 data, which were the indicators available to the Federal Open Market Committee in March, but also present an optimistic picture for continuing economic recovery.

The actual April 28, 2010 vote on the adopted FOMC monetary policy action would have been unanimous except for the dissenting vote by board member Thomas M. Hoenig. According to the April 28 press release, Hoening voted against the FOMC monetary policy action because he “believed that continuing to express the expectation of exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate for an extended period was no longer warranted because it could lead to a build-up of future imbalances and increase risks to longer run macroeconomic and financial stability, while limiting the Committee’s flexibility to begin raising rates modestly.”

Hoenig’s reservations or pessimism would not carry the day, however. This is because the other board members, such as Ben S. Bernanke, Chairman; William C. Dudley, Vice Chairman; James Bullard; Elizabeth A. Duke; Donald L. Kohn; Sandra Pianalto; Eric S. Rosengren; Daniel K. Tarullo; and Kevin M. Warsh voted for the FOMC monetary policy.

Additionally, according to the FOMC Statement, and reflecting what these board members perceived as optimistic economic indicators, “the Federal Reserve has closed all but one of the special liquidity facilities that it created to support markets during the crisis. The only remaining such program, the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, is scheduled to close on June 30 for loans backed by new-issue commercial mortgage-backed securities; it closed on March 31 for loans backed by all other types of collateral.”

Copyright © Protected - All Rights Reserved M. Ulric Killion, 2010.