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So after a long and rewarding time in Ohio, I bid adieu to the Columbus countryside and headed on my way up to Boston yesterday! After a brief stay with a friend of mine in the area, and some amazingly delicious made-to-order pizza for dinner, I then went to bed as I had an early morning.

I awoke at 4:00am to catch a bus to head up to Lewiston, Maine where I had a day of canvassing  and promoting for our screening that night at Bates College ahead of me. Once I got to Lewiston, I met up with our student contact Umar on the campus, who made the day seem like a breeze for me! He got a table for me right at the entrance that I was able to canvass and promote from and I got some great exposure and talked to a great amount of students who were mostly willing to sign our postcards to Senators Collins and Snowe demanding they support a world without nuclear weapons!

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Well after what seemed like months in the making, we have finally launched the Road to Zero Tour! We are very excited to begin this tour and are anxious to hit the campus streets in Ohio, Massachusetts and Maine delivering our message and building support for a world without nuclear weapons.

We believe that this tour is essential to bring youth into the effort to achieve a world without nuclear weapons, because once the power of youth is tapped and behind this cause, extraordinary things will happen. And to help us garner that support, we are enlisting the help of a brand new documentary film that was released in theaters and will be released on DVD very soon called Countdown to Zero. It is a fantastic film that clearly and convincingly makes the case for a world without nuclear weapons. It is from the same makers of the Academy-Award winning An Inconvenient Truth and we will be screening it at campuses in the three states we will be visiting.

Here is the info. for the screenings we have booked thus far:

Ohio State – Monday, Nov. 15th @7:00pm at the Ohio Union Cartoon Room 2

Kenyon College – Tuesday, Nov. 16th @8:00pm (Location: TBD)

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If you have not, then you’re in luck because AIDemocracy has made it very easy to contact your Senator and urge them to ratify New START without delay!

New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) is the first treaty in more than a decade that calls for significant reductions in the strategic nuclear arsenals of both the United States and Russia, the two nations that possess over 95% of the world’s nuclear weapons. And it also provides for intrusive inspections and verification that each party to the treaty is holding up their end of the bargain. The treaty has received overwhelming support by both Democrats and Republicans, and it is a key first step towards achieving a world without nuclear weapons, a goal that President Obama has explicitly set for the United States.

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In addition to holding a briefing on the dangers of nuclear weapons with our Issue Analysts, we also wanted the whole AIDemocracy network to be “in the loop” when it comes to one of the greatest threats we face today.

The network briefing took place on Wednesday, October 6th. I facilitated the discussion and provided an introduction to the development of, use and dangers of nuclear weapons. Specifically, I spoke about the three major threats that nuclear weapons pose for the world today: nuclear terrorism, nuclear accidents and miscalculated nuclear launches. I also spoke about nonproliferation and disarmament efforts, including the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), the NPT (Nonproliferation Treaty) and others.

Feedback for this session was also very positive and I look forward to organizing more of these briefings for the entire AIDemocracy network!

On Wednesday, October 13th, our Issue Analysts were afforded the opportunity to learn more about one of the greatest threats we face as nation and as a planet, nuclear weapons. Alex Toma, the Executive Director of the Connect US Fund was on-hand as our speaker and she gave a terrific, brief overview of nuclear weapons. She covered their origins and development, their use during World War II and the Cold War, the theory of deterrence and MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) and how these weapons pose a threat today through either the potential for nuclear terrorism and/or accidental or miscalculated nuclear launches.

Feedback from our Issue Analysts has been overwhelmingly positive! We had Issue Analysts specifically writing for the Global Peace and Security Program in attendance, but we also had some who were not writing specifically for GPS, but other AID programs, which was fantastic!

We are anxiously looking forward to offering more of these briefings for our Issue Analysts, so stay tuned for more details!

Americans for Informed Democracy, in partnership with Unity Productions Foundation and the 9/11 Unity Walk, is proud to present the second installment of the Hope Not Hate/20,000 Dialogues Film Series:

A screening and discussion of

On a Wing and a Prayer: An American Muslim Learns to Fly

with special guest Ambassador Akbar Ahmed


Saturday September 11th, 3-5:30pm

DC Jewish Community Center – 1529 16th Street NW, Washington, DC

(Nearest Metro: Dupont Circle)

Free, but space is very limited!


Click Here to RSVP

About the film: On a Wing and a Prayer: An American Muslim Learns to Fly follows one Muslim-American man on his quest to obtain a pilot’s license. But will the “land of opportunity” deny Monem his dream in the aftermath of 9/11 and in the face of heightened domestic security? The cinema verité-style documentary reveals a funny, loveable, altogether human Muslim-American as he pursues the American dream against tides of negative public perception.

About the speaker: Ambassador Akbar Ahmed is the author of the recent book Journey Into America: The Challenge of Islam. He is also the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University and has been called by the BBC “the world’s leading authority on contemporary Islam.” Click here to watch Amb. Ahmed on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

All students attending the event will be entered into a raffle for 1) a travel scholarship to Americans for Informed Democracy’s annual student conference in spring 2011 2) grants to organize similar cultural awareness programs on their campus and 3) free copies of the DVD of the film! And if you bring a friend, you’ll get a bonus raffle entry!

Share this Flier Below with Your Friends and Post it on Your Campus! (Right-click and save the flier to your desktop, then print!)

Click Here to RSVP Today

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This past month, authorities in Moldova (a former USSR territory) arrested a group of traffickers who were trying to smuggle two kilograms of highly radioactive uranium, specifically uranium 238 for the price of $11 million US dollars. Although this type of uranium is not what would be needed to be used for the production of nuclear weapons (nor is it even enough), it nevertheless could still produce a so-called “dirty bomb,” spreading radiation in concentrations above what is considered safe for humans to be exposed to. You can find out more about this arrest and arrests similar to it here.

From my perspective, these incidents tell me several things. The first is that the ease of access to nuclear material in the territories of the former Soviet Union is a security issue that needs to be addressed immediately. The second is that the black market for these materials is thriving and shows no sign of stopping, which is certainly aided by how freely available the materials are to gain access to. The third is that nuclear terrorism needs to be recognized as the number one national security threat the US and the world faces. The reason being because the people most likely to purchase this smuggled nuclear material are terrorists themselves who seek to use a “dirty” bomb, or worse, a nuclear bomb, against their enemies. The fourth and final observation I gleamed from these various smuggling incidents is the need to expedite the process towards getting to nuclear zero (a world without nuclear weapons).

The elimination of nuclear weapons will undoubtedly require the halting of the production of new nuclear materials and the safe storage and/or reprocessing of old nuclear material, like that stored all over the territories of the former Soviet Union. Taking these steps will dramatically reduce the threat of nuclear terrorism. However, in the current political environment, the successful negotiation of an FMCT (Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty) is still a long way off. However, we do have an immediate step that we can take. We can ratify New START. Ratifying New START will not only reduce the threats posed by nuclear weapons, but it will also be an enormous step in building trust again between the US and Russia, which may go a long way to also helping Russia secure the nuclear materials that smugglers seem to so easily get their hands on. President Obama has already made a commitment to secure all loose nuclear materials across the globe by 2013. An ambitious goal to be sure, and only attainable if a first step is taken to START the process.

We should help in this critical effort, so if you would like to take action on getting New START ratified, follow this link to our action page where you can write and/or call your Senators urging them to ratify New START once they return from Congressional recess in September!

Within the mainstream media, the Taliban in Afghanistan is often portrayed like many other enemies to America…”ruthless killers who are bent on destroying America and providing aide to Al-Qaeda if they are to regain control of Afghanistan.” Granted, this characterization is not completely devoid of some truth. I do think it is entirely fair to claim that they would provide a haven to Al-Qaeda if they came back into power in Afghanistan. However, the characterization of them as “ruthless killers who are bent on destroying America,” undoubtedly leaves me a bit skeptical. After all, waging a war against an enemy has many fronts, including on the front of public opinion, so naturally, I hesitate to believe much of the picture that the mainstream media tries to paint. And my skepticism was justified after I saw this:

Taliban Primp, Sing, Snipe U.S. Troops In Rare Video

The video is an approximately 20 minute documentary film by a Norwegian documentary filmmaker who managed to embed himself with a Taliban troop outfit hiding up in the mountains of Afghanistan, launching repeated attacks on American convoys. The film does not glorify or romanticize the Taliban in my view. It tells the story of the war in Afghanistan from the point of view of the Taliban (albeit a small subsection of it) like it is, which is simultaneously disturbing and fascinating. It portrays “them” as they are and gives particular insight into who they are and why they are fighting. At the very least, the film humanizes them, and while I was watching it, I was frequently reminded of several other war films I have seen of late, the most recent of which being “The Hurt Locker.” I am continually fascinated by the portrayals in this film (and others) of the desensitization of violence that occurs amongst the troops and the  dehumanization of the enemy that takes place so that it’s easier for American troops to kill them in combat without feeling remorse. The reason I was continually reminded of this while I was watching the documentary was because I noticed that the Taliban troops exhibited the same characteristics.

The conclusion I came to after watching this film, of which I think should be the goal that we all aspire to, is to recognize that war is something that needs to be avoided, at all costs, because the result is that it causes us to dehumanize each other when instead we should be recognizing and embracing the commonalities that we all share. After all, if we instead focused more on seeing each other as fellow human beings, we just might have less of an inclination to kill each other.

It seems that given all of the fire and brimstone that Republicans love to shout will be raining down upon us for our shameless “tax and spend” policies of recent years, you would think that they themselves, to remain consistent with their statements, would be hawks when it comes to federal spending. And indeed they are, when it comes to spending on providing adequate health care of America’s citizens and various other social welfare services. However, there seems to be a rather large exception for when it comes to military spending, particularly when it comes to nuclear weapons, and especially when the spending can directly affect how much money comes into a particular state.

Take Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) as an example, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is tasked with the responsibility of voting the New START out of committee so it can be put to a vote before the full Senate for its ratification. Recently, he has stated that he feels the federal funds for the upkeep of the nuclear weapons complex, of which the Obama administration has already allocated $80 billion for (which is already an unprecedented increase), is somehow $10 billion short of what is needed. There is much debate in Washington about where he actually is getting that figure from, and most accounts say that he is pointing to inaccurate and outdated figures, but that’s not what the larger issue is here. What is at play here is Sen. Corker’s willingness to delay the ratification of New START, thus tampering with our nation’s national security efforts, all because he wants some more funding for the Uranium Processing Facility planned for the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Do you know what they call this type of frivolous and unnecessary spending? You should, and so should Sen. Corker because he and his party have used the term constantly to derail various other spending projects, especially by Democrats. It’s called “pork.” However, don’t count on Sen. Corker using that term when talking about acquiring more money for this facility in his home state. Why would he anyway? Hypocrisy and irresponsibility seem to be a suit that’s tailor-made for him.

Ever since my original post on the controversy surrounding the construction of a supposed “mosque” (I will explain the quotations later in this piece), I have had several conversations with friends and relatives, both in favor of and against the project. I want to take advantage of this space to respond to some of the criticisms I have heard as well as reiterate some of the points I made in my original post as I feel they are important to emphasize.

First is my response to the critique I seem to continually come across from people opposed to the “mosque” who say that my opposition to their opposition is somehow infringing upon their right to be against it. My guess is that this is rooted in opponents dissatisfaction with being called either “ignorant,” “racist,” or both. Neither in my original post, nor in my subsequent writings and conversations have I ever advocated the denial of FIrst Amendment rights to anyone opposing the project. Instead, all I have done is exercised my own First Amendment right to call out what I see as blatant ignorance and bigotry.

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