Blog Archive

Eric Holder Must End FBI's Abuses Against American Muslims

Huffington Post, March 26, 2009


A recent headline on CNN read, "FBI planting spies in U.S. mosques," Muslim groups allege. This outrage was sparked by revelations that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had sent an agent provocateur into a mosque in southern California who was coercing worshippers in becoming informants and inciting them to make violent statements. The planting of spies in mosques is just the latest in the FBI's long list of actions that have angered both civil libertarians and members of the American Muslim community.

In March 2003, FBI launched the mosque counting project whereby agents were asked to document the number of mosques in their areas, "to help measure the number of terrorism investigations that the various field offices should be expected to open and pursue." By their actions, the FBI needlessly linked terrorism to mosques despite the paucity of any evidence tying the 9-11 hijackers to the mainstream American-Muslim community and the mainstream Muslim community's absolute and unequivocal rejection of terror. Ahead of the 2004 Presidential election, the FBI had launched a so-called October Plan indiscriminately "interviewing" Muslims. In 2005 FBI agents secretly monitored radiation levels at mosques to determine whether nuclear bombs were being assembled there. Nothing was found. In 2008, an American Muslim was arrested and tortured in UAE at the apparent direction of the FBI.

My concerns also relate to a January 2009 Fox News story that reported the FBI's severing of its ties with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a leading American Muslim organization. It was more disconcerting, when a month later a FBI agent stopped by my office purporting to ask questions about my resignation from the Chairmanship of CAIR, an action I had taken eight months ago.

My reasons for leaving CAIR were no secret. In an interview with my local newspaper, I had noted that in order to make the organization a more effective voice in the American socio-political discourse, CAIR must empower a new and younger generation of leaders. My departure was clearly related to disagreements over governing philosophy and yet the FBI perplexingly found something nefarious in a matter that is not entirely out of the ordinary.

The FBI wants to avoid "formally constructed partnerships" with CAIR stemming from concerns over "distinct narrow issues" specific to CAIR's "national leadership." Such vague pronouncements have provided a pretext for some members of Congress to turn the ambiguity into a "government-wide policy." In order to remain consistent with the constitutional hallmarks of due process, it is essential that our lawmakers and law enforcement agencies do not make hasty pronouncements that can needlessly hurt innocent people. If CAIR has "terrorist ties" as some members of Congress claim then the FBI should shut CAIR down. However, if there is no evidence linking CAIR to any terrorist activity, then the FBI should re-engage with CAIR.

From 2005 to 2008 as the Chairman of CAIR, I participated in numerous meetings and press conferences with the FBI. I conducted sensitivity and diversity training for the FBI and at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia. During this time, no one from the FBI ever alerted me about "distinct narrow issues." In all of my association with the organization, I was not aware of any unlawful activity.

The FBI Director Robert Muller recently said, "The communities from which we need the most help are those who trust us the least. But it is in these communities that we must re-double our efforts." It is unclear as to how the steps taken by the FBI will lead to a building of trust.

Perhaps tired of the growing list of provocative actions against the community or perhaps indignation over being side-stepped, CAIR led several American Muslim groups in asking members of the community to "consider suspending all outreach activities with FBI offices." Not all major Muslim groups joined this call perhaps realizing that such a call is counter-productive. Suspending dialogue can only make matters worse. Moreover, it is unclear as to what the groups meant by suspending "all outreach?" If the FBI comes knocking on the door of an American Muslim organization seeking diversity training should they be turned away? The groups seeking boycott went on to say, "The credibility of all Muslim organizations who maintain ties to the FBI that do not react decisively is undermined in the eyes of the community." Does this mean that the American Muslims who just won the 2008 Community Leadership Awards from the FBI are turncoats, if they accept the award?

Whatever legitimate concerns FBI has about CAIR, they need to give the organization's 11-member national governing board a chance to weigh the facts. During my tenure at CAIR, no such overture was made by the FBI.

Even if CAIR feels that it is unfairly taking one on the chin, it should not issue self-serving calls asking members of the American Muslim community to break off relationship with the FBI, especially when such relationships in small measures do help in promoting mutual understanding. While the results of such interactions are not always spectacular, nonetheless these interactions are helpful for building civic harmony.

Speaking from my personal experience, having conducted dozens of hours of training for members of law enforcement, such interactions allow outsiders like me to understand the myriad of challenges facing law enforcement. It helps to ensure that our demands are tempered by the recognition of the enormous challenges law enforcement officials face in an effort to ensure the public safety of all. On the other hand, even the few hours that law enforcement officers spend in diversity training classes allow them better perspective on the concerns of minority communities, helping them to more effectively engage.

The FBI's hasty pronouncements and ensuing misguided responses by some American Muslim organizations have placed undue burdens on the American Muslim community. It is incumbent that both the FBI and American Muslim groups meet to work out their differences before their respective intransigence undermines security and civic harmony. The new Attorney General Eric Holder, who has called for, "adherence to the rule of law," and a cessation of "the needlessly abusive and unlawful practices" must step forward to assure the American Muslim community that the Obama administration will break away from the bad policies that plagued the Ashcroft-Gonzalez Justice department.

FBI Should Not Involve Themselves in Political Theatre

An edited version was first published in Fayetteville Observor on March 19, 2009

In January 2009, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) told Fox News that it severing its ties with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a leading American Muslim organization. A month later, I was surprised to see a FBI agent stop by my office in Jacksonville seeking reasons for my resignation from being the Chairman of CAIR.

My reasons for departure were no secret. In a June 2008 interview to my local newspaper, I had said that to better serve the interests of its constituents, CAIR must empower a new generation of leaders who will foster greater accountability, transparency and professionalism. I had hoped that my departure will capacitate young talents into positions of leadership. The election of North Carolina State Senator Larry Shaw to succeed me took eight long months and yet there are no visible signs of revitalization to make the organization a more effective voice in the American socio-political discourse.

Despite my substantive disagreements with the organization, I find the FBI's decision to cutoff relations with CAIR as unfortunate and unnecessary. I can only hope that this move does not represent a going back to the future of COINTELPRO, a FBI covert operation of the 1960s that was aimed at subverting civic organizations struggling for racial equality.

In the Fox News story, FBI spokesman John Miller reportedly said, "The FBI has had to limit its formal contact with CAIR field offices until certain issues are addressed by CAIR's national headquarters." The lack of clarity in FBI's pronouncement has provided a pretext for some members of Congress to turn the ambiguity into a "government-wide policy."

If CAIR has "terrorist ties," as Reps. Myrick and McHenry of North Carolina and Broun of Georgia claim they do, then the FBI should not be "limiting" contact with CAIR, but rather should shut the organization down. The American Muslim community, which has repeatedly condemned terrorism, have no interest in seeing any of its organizations tainted with "terrorist ties." However, if there is no evidence linking CAIR to any terrorist activity (in all of my association with the organization, I was not aware of any unlawful activity) then the FBI should re-engage with CAIR on issues of common concern, such as protecting civil liberties, even if they disagree with some views of the organization.

According to published reports, the crux of FBI's angst revolves around the Department of Justice (DOJ) naming of CAIR along with the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), and the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT) as "unindicted co-conspirators" in a case against the Muslim charity Holy Land Foundation (HLF). In late 2008, HLF was convicted of conspiring to funnel money to Hamas, a Palestinian group designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. Many members of the American Muslim community viewed the case against HLF as more of a political witch-hunt than anything concerning the security of the United States. In a Dallas Morning News report, Tom Melsheimer, a former federal prosecutor, concurred, "To spend millions of dollars in time and expenses to prosecute people who were of no real threat to anyone, under the banner of a terrorism case, is a waste of precious federal resources."

The FBI does not offer any explanation as to why issues with some antecedents going back over fifteen years is reason to cut off ties with CAIR now, particularly all its independently governed local offices? The fact that this decision comes eighteen months after the Justice department named CAIR along with 300 others as "unindicted co-conspirators" makes the move even more perplexing. The DOJ's actions violated its own guidelines, prompting court challenges. Till date the courts have not ruled on the pending motions and it is not clear that they ever will. This is why in Ira Robbins of the American University wrote in the Federal Courts Law Review, "The grand jury practice of naming individuals as unindicted co-conspirators …appears to be an anomaly in United States law, in that it violates the Fifth Amendment guarantee that no person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."

The FBI's rather abrupt move to cut off relationship with CAIR is just as misguided as a statement by a coalition of Muslim groups calling on American Muslims to "consider suspending all outreach activities with FBI offices." Limiting "formal contacts" or "suspending outreach" sends the wrong message at a time when the way forward, locally, nationally and globally, is sustained dialogue and diplomacy, even among those at political loggerheads.

Music, a bridge over troubled waters

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 17 March 2009

Jacksonville, Florida - The noted Indian poet and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore said, "Music fills the infinite between two souls". I experienced this while attending a recital by Choir Al Farah, a musical group that aims to highlight the reality and the possibility of Christians, Muslims and Jews living in brotherhood and peace. Through a fusion of Assyrian, Byzantine, Muslim and Latin musical traditions, Choir Al Farah, in the words of its founder, Elias Zehlawi, seeks to "glorify the one God that we all believe in and that makes all of us brothers and sisters."

Choir Al Farah, a Syrian Christian group, was touring America to take part in the "Arabesque: Arts of the Arab World" festival organised by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, presented in cooperation with the League of Arab States.

Washington Post staff writer Ellen McCarthy wrote in an article a few weeks ago, "It will be a momentous occasion…. Unshackling ourselves from blurry stereotypes and half-formed conceits, we will step into their world without leaving the borders of our city. We'll give ourselves over to the rare and precious opportunity to see, hear and taste the flavours of Arab culture through the intimate dialogue exchanged between artist and audience. The veil is about to be lifted."

The veil was not only lifted in Washington, DC, but also in Detroit, Michigan, and here in my home city of Jacksonville, Florida, where – thanks to the generosity of my friend Yazan Khatib – Choir Al Farah delighted a diverse crowd of over 400 at the Ritz Theatre.

But why was Khatib, a Muslim, sponsoring a Christian choir group?

He was simply fulfilling a Qur'anic command: "Help ye one another unto righteousness and pious duty. Help not one another unto sin and transgression" (Qur'an 5:2).

At their Jacksonville recital, Choir Al Farah sang not only traditional Christian hymns but also gave voice to the most popular Muslim nasheed, "Tala al Badru Alayna" (Oh, the White Moon Rose Over Us). This Islam-inspired vocal music was originally sung by the children and residents of Medina as they welcomed Prophet Muhammad to their city over 1400 years ago.

The choir also sang "Amen", a word that Jews, Christians and Muslims all use in prayer.

Their music celebrates the nostalgia of Arab culture, which – like other traditional cultures – is trying to retain its relevance in an increasingly globalised world.

Perhaps the most inspiring part of this group's effort lies in its vision and composition. The singers, 120 children between 12 and 17, are all Christian, while most of the musicians are Muslim adults.

How did this cooperation come about? I asked the founder, Father Elias Zehlawi. He said that Choir Al Farah is the result of a dream he had about using his church to bridge the gap between ethnic and faith groups. His goal was to build a common platform to communicate the universal message of love and peace. He believes that all religions share the same spirit of mutual love and mutual respect. Unfortunately, politics and economics have driven a wedge between these groups that extremists on all sides are exploiting.

Zehlawi's aspiration was reciprocated by the Grand Mosque of Damascus, known more commonly as the Umayyad Mosque. The mosque contains a shrine said to hold the head of John the Baptist, who is honoured as a prophet by both Christians and Muslims, to whom he is known as Yahya. Choir Al Farah and a group of singers from the Umayyad Mosque have jointly appeared before sold out audiences in Damascus and aspire to go on joint tours across the world.

I asked Zehlawi why he thought it was important to include Islamic nasheeds in the choir's repertoire. His answer was that God should be a reason to unite us and not to divide us. He articulated a simple but profound idea that resonates in the Qur'an, "O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another" (Qur'an 49:13).

Father Zehlawi believes that barriers to mutual understanding can be shattered by the voices of children, which can penetrate even the hardest of hearts. We are part of one human family and we must respect, not just tolerate, each other if we are to ever establish peace and justice.

As the world is buffeted by the sinews of economic and political strife, the voices of the 120 children from Damascus are filling the infinite between souls like a bridge over troubled waters.

###

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 17 March 2009, www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

Understanding the Current U.S. Economic Crisis and it Impact on Muslims

Orginal Published in Islamic Horizons, Mar-Apr, 2009.

The State of U.S. Economy

On the verge of taking over the Presidency of the United States of America, Barack Obama described the U.S. economy as "very sick" with the situation "getting worse." This worry is best reflected in the fact that U.S. unemployment rate now stands at 7.2 percent, the highest level in the past fifteen years. In 2008, 2.6 million Americans lost their jobs, the highest number in over half a century. Although the U.S. remains the largest economy of the world with a GDP of over 14.3 trillion dollars, it is also reeling from record national debt of 10.6 trillion dollars with 28 percent of that debt being held by foreigners namely Japan, China, U.K., Brazil and the oil exporting countries of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, etc. In addition, the U.S. budget deficit, which is the difference between what the U.S. government brings in through taxes and what it spends, stands at nearly 455 billion dollars and is expected to be over one trillion dollars (some estimates projecting 2 trillion) in 2009. With the private sector spending slowing down the U.S. government is forced to deficit spend even more with the expectation that the spending will ease unemployment and stimulate a slowing economy. In the last quarter of 2008, the U.S. economy contracted by an annual rate of 5 percent and could shrink by the same amount this quarter. Adding to the grim news is the finding that U.S. manufacturing activity fell to its lowest level in nearly three decades. Compounding the worry is the concomitant fall in global manufacturing.

The Stock Market as a Leading Economic Indicator

Stock markets are regarded as a leading indicator of economic health. Investors in the U.S. stock market lost staggering amounts of money with some estimates putting those losses at $6 trillion. To truly gain an appreciation of how mind-boggling this loss is consider the following fact - between December 1996 and May 2007, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA is the most popular indicator of U.S. stock market health) had nearly doubled. A year and a half after that high-point the DJIA has lost half its value!. It took the market nearly a decade to double and only eighteen months to give back half its gains! See figure 2 to more details.


The news from around the globe is no better. In 2008, Germany's DAX 30 index lost 30 percent, Tokyo's Nikkei 225 index fell 35 percent, Shanghai's SSE plunged by 59 percent, Kuwait dropped 36 percent, UAE's DFM stocks shed 72 percent of their value and India's Sensex index dropping by 45 percent. Moscow saw the value of their shares decline by more than 70 percent. The Moscow stock exchange even had to be temporarily closed to prevent it from collapsing altogether. In November, a local court ordered the closure of Kuwait's stock exchange after investors complained that the government had not taken enough measures to stem heavy stock market losses, which had fallen 43 percent since June. No trading center has escaped the turbulence. Its impact keeps cascading from bank to bank, company to company, country to country.

Shariah Compliant Finance

In this financial carnage, the Shariah-based investment industry provides a silver lining. Currently it has assets globally worth U.S. $700 billion and is expected to double to $1.4 trillion by 2010. Shariah-based financial products are very much like the socially responsible investment sector, which in the U.S. has nearly 3 trillion dollars worth of financial assets under management. The Shariah-based financial products are far less leveraged (debt) than regular portfolios. During a period where the banking and financial sector has been among the worst performing sector of the market, this attitude towards not investing in interest-based assets and companies, have allowed Shariah based products to do well. In addition, Shariah-based products do not invest in businesses with significant interests in alcohol, tobacco, gambling, pornography and conventional banking. The fact that Islamic Banks are generally viewed as less risky than conventional western banks (partly due to the fact that Islamic banks are not as leveraged as their western counterparts), suggests that Islamic financial institutions are likely to grow as people (not necessarily only Muslims) look for less risky investments in this environment.”


In the U.S. there are 5 major Shariah compliant mutual funds. The Iman fund offered by Allied Asset Advisors, two Amana funds offered by Saturna Capital and two Azzad funds offered by Azzad Asset Management. Taken as a composite category, the Shariah based funds in general outperformed the three major bell-weather U.S. stock indexes (S&P 500, DJIA and NASDAQ). The two Amana funds in particular had stellar performance in 2008 dropping 15 percent less in value than the overall U.S. market. In 2007 all 5 funds outperformed U.S. market averages. This has attracted the attention of mainstream U.S. media. Speaking to the Washington Post Amana's manager, Nicholas Kaiser said, that the fund is attracting not only Muslims but also people of other faiths. About half of the 70,000 investors who buy the funds through financial advisers aren't Muslim. An additional 17,000 shareholders have bought the funds directly. In addition Amana Income Fund (AMANX) is now the top rated fund the large value category for both the past 5-year and 3-year performance. In each of the last 5 years

Year DJIA S&P 500 NASDQ
2007 6.43% 3.52% 9.81%
2008 -33.84% -38.49% -40.54%

Despite the success of Shariah based products, the general drag on the U.S. and world economy will also affect the Muslims. Moody's rating agency is reporting that the growth in Islamic banking assets will slow down sharply in 2009 to around 10-15 percent rate compared to the recent growth rate that averaged 20-30 percent. Like other investment houses, Shariah compliant portfolios will have to seek better ways to diversify their risks including seeking investments in Islamic-derivative products and bonds (sukuk), which are all in early stages of development.

Impact on American Muslims

The impact of economic crisis on American Muslims is varied. Acknowledging the paucity of actual data that measures the attitudes of American Muslims to the current economic crisis, the analysis will thus be anecdotal and correlation based. According to a study by Allied Media Corporation (www.allied-media.com/AM/) American Muslims make up about 2 percent of the U.S. population but they tend to be more educated 6 in 10 American Muslims having Bachelor's degree or higher (compared to 4 in 10 Americans with a Bachelor’s degree or higher). American Muslims also tend to be younger. 67 percent of adult American Muslims are under 40 years old while 33 percent the adult American population is under 40 years old. Finally, American Muslims on average earn above the U.S. average income. Among the top three professions for American Muslims are engineering, medicine and information technology.
Top 10 Occupations of American Muslims
Rank Occupation Percent
1 Student 20.2
2 Engineer 12.4
3 Physician/Dentist 10.8
4 Homemaker 10.0
5 Programmer 7.0
6 Corporate Manager 6.4
7 Teacher 6.4
8 Small Business Owner 4.4
9 Researcher 4.1
10 Admin. Assistant 2.8
Total 84.5
Source: Cornell University April 2002

The job losses for 2008 were across the board with construction, housing and the financial sectors being hit the hardest. Manufacturing, which has been declining for years is seeing even bigger job losses as companies struggle to get loans and consumers cut back on their expenditure. However, in this gloom the silver lining comes from the health care, mining and education sector. Thus, given the preponderance of health care and information technologist in the Muslim community, the economic crisis will have a lesser impact on this strata of the community. On the other hand, with manufacturing slowing down, American Muslim engineers will feel the impact like the rest of the country.

American Muslims students will face the adverse impact of the economic crisis from as financial aid in the form of scholarships and graduate assistantships will be significantly cut-back as more and more states are facing budget crisis (in Florida for example the state is facing a over 2 billion dollar shortfall). Also given the high percentage of American Muslim households being single earner families (homemaker ranking #4 as an occupation), the impact of a job loss on American Muslim families could be devastating. American Muslim charitable institutions need to plan for such contingencies.

On the investment side, more American Muslims are choosing shariah compliant investment products as seen from the increase in the fund flows into mutual funds like Amana. In all major Islamic conferences, Amana, Iman and Azzad are quite ubiquitous, indicating greater demands from the community. These funds are also advertising heavily in American Muslim publications like Islamic Horizons, Message etc. Given the stellar performance of the shariah compliant sector in the last 3-5 years (see Table of "Islamic" funds and Index averages above), the investments of the American Muslim community fared above the national averages.

Finally, fewer American Muslims were the victims of the housing bubble, partly due to the fact that the speculative nature of the housing boom is viewed as being against shariah principles and also partly due to the fact that many Muslims prefer to take mortgages from shariah compliant outfits like Guidance, American Finance House Lariba, which generally eschew mortgages for investment purposes.

Conclusions

American Muslims like the rest of their fellow Americans will bear the brunt of the financial and economic crisis that is gripping the country and now circling the globe. However, given the preponderance of certain professions like health care within the community, American Muslims in general will have a softer landing. Also, American Muslims can significantly benefit from the economic stimulus package that President Obama is seeking, which is heavily geared towards projects related to infrastructure development. Given the high concentration of engineers in the American Muslim community, this augurs well for the community as infrastructure projects will need engineers.

The current economic crisis reminds us in no uncertain terms how the fate of different communities and societies are increasingly dependent on the well being of others. In an increasingly globalized world, it is hard to separate the happiness of one group from that of others. The underpinning of any sound economic system has to be geared towards the idea of common good, which is deftly articulated in Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiment, "All members of human society stand in need of each other’s assistance, and are likewise exposed to mutual injuries. Where the necessary assistance is reciprocally afforded from love, from gratitude, from friendship and esteem, the society flourishes and is happy. All the different members of it are bound together by the agreeable bonds of love, affection and are, as it were, drawn to one common center of mutual good offices.”

Can the US Stimulus Plan Save American Economy?

Orginal Published in IslamOnline, March 4, 2009

On Tuesday Feb 17, U.S. President Barack Obama signed into law $787 billion stimulus package, a measure he described as, "the most sweeping economic recovery package in our history." Almost 38 percent of spending bill contains various tax-cuts to individuals and businesses with the remaining 62 percent mostly in the form of spending (although direct spending is a smaller 40 percent of the overall package). Figure 1 breaks down the percentage spending in the bill by major categories.

Governments use economic stimulus to boost its economy by spending on infrastructure, which in turn can lead to new job creation. Tax cuts encourage short-term spending. While spending related to energy is intended to provide a one-time jolt with the goal of making energy costs cheaper in the long-run. Similar arguments can be made about the portion of the stimulus plan related to health care.

But what lead to this massive spending stimulus? Current GDP numbers show the U.S. economy shrinking at an annual rate of 3.6 percent. Adding to the grim news is the finding that U.S. manufacturing activity fell to its lowest level in nearly three decades. Compounding the worry is the concomitant fall in global manufacturing.

The U.S. unemployment rate now stands at 7.6 percent, the highest level in the past fifteen years and is expected to go up as high as 8 or 9 percent by the end of this year. In 2008, 2.6 million Americans lost their jobs, the highest number in over half a century. This has lead to the spending slow down in the private sector leaving the U.S. government as the only entity that can borrow and spend. Borrowing will inevitably lead to more debt and deficit. However, the expectation is that this sort of deficit spending will ease unemployment and stimulate a slowing economy. The thinking here is a return to Keynesian economics, which believes that it is the government's job to smooth out the dips in a business cycle by interventions in the form of infrastructure spending and tax breaks.

But can such spending program actually work? No one can provide a definitive answer. The best one can do is learn from past history. This economic downturn is beginning to a lot like the Great Depression of the 1930s. By the time President Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in 1993, the U.S. unemployment rate was a staggering 25 percent. Acting on his campaign promise of a "new deal" for Americans, FDR passed banking reform laws and enacted work relief programs. Figure 2 shows the impact of FDR's New Deal on the U.S. economy. Not only did GDP rise but also by 1939 FDR was able to cut the unemployment rate by half of what he had inherited. President Obama expects this history is to repeat itself. However, there are already gathering concerns about the efficacy of the current stimulus plan.

For starters, the scale of the plan is much lower than comparable stimulus plans being offered by China, which in November 2008 announced a $586 billion (4 trillion yuan) spending package. The Chinese plan amounts to 20 percent of China’s GDP while in contrast the Obama plan is about 8 percent of U.S. GDP.

The next concern stems from the type of stimulus dollars. According to a study by Moody's Economy.com tax cuts have the least impact on stimulating a sagging economy. Things like food stamp or infrastructure spending provide the most bang for the buck. The Obama stimulus plan devotes almost 4 out of every 10 dollars to tax cuts. This is a serious shortcoming of the bill. The inclusion of tax cuts was a necessary compromise in order to get the minimal Republican support needed to pass the bill in the U.S. Congress (only 3 Republican Senators voted for the bill).

Another concern about the bill is its "buy American" clause that requires materials purchased with funds from the bill to be U.S. made. To mitigate the obvious protectionist tendency of this clause, the bill requires that the "buy American" clause be implemented in a manner that is consistent with U.S. international trade obligations. Proponents say that the current provision is similar to the 1982 highway bill that called for federal highway projects to use only American steel. Given that all of the stimulus money will have to be borrowed, lawmakers were looking to get the biggest bang for their buck by keeping the stimulus money circulating in the U.S. economy as much as possible. The fear is that this provision could lead to trade wars, making a bad recession even worse. Stephen Harper, prime minister of America's biggest trading partner Canada said, "We want to avoid protectionism in this economic slowdown." During his recent visit to Canada, President Obama tried his best to reassure Canada and the rest of the world that the US would comply with all its international trade related treaty obligations.

The fact that all of the stimulus bill will have to be paid using borrowed dollars is a grave concern. It will add more debt to the ever growing national debt. Although the U.S. remains the largest economy of the world with a GDP of over 14.3 trillion dollars, it is also reeling from record national debt of 10.8 trillion dollars with 28 percent of that debt being held by foreigners namely Japan, China, U.K., Brazil and the oil exporting countries of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, etc. In addition, the U.S. budget deficit, which is the difference between what the U.S. government brings in through taxes and what it spends, stands at nearly 455 billion dollars and is expected to be over one trillion dollars (some estimates projecting 2 trillion) in 2009. Increases in international borrowing brings with it the small but not insignificant prospect that the United States could default on its international debt, triggering a global financial meltdown. Some economists believe that it is this fear that made President Obama limit the size of the stimulus plan to under $1 trillion. Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman believes that the stimulus plan leaves a nearly $1.2 trillion dollar spending gap.

A CNN poll shows that 53 percent of Americans think that the stimulus will improve economic conditions, while 44 percent think it will not. The stimulus package is not the only massive spending program being enacted by the Obama administration. The Treasury Department and Federal Reserve has committed more than $1 trillion in financing for loan purchases aimed at injecting financial stability into a jittery financial sector. On Friday, Feb 20, the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit a near 11-year low of 7,365. In addition, President Barack Obama introduced a $275 billion homeowner relief program to stem the foreclosure crisis and prop-up a sagging housing sector.

It will be years before anyone can definitively say if these massive government interventions worked. Will Keynesian economics rescue us? Or are we witnessing the beginning of an epic economic upheaval? Concerns about the economy has replaced all other fears. America's new intelligence chief Dennis Blair said that the global economic crisis could topple governments, trigger waves of refugees and undermine global security. The current economic crisis shows how the fate of different communities and societies are increasingly dependent on the well being of others. In an increasingly globalized world, it is hard to separate the happiness of one group from that of others. The current economic crisis is certainly dangerous but like the Chinese symbol for risk the economic crisis also provides an opportunity to forge new alliances and develop a more multi-lateral framework towards addressing global challenges from climate change to economic perils. If nations and societies seize this opportunity then out the ashes of this economic crisis could emerge a new economic order that is more equitable and sustainable for all people. That is a hope we can all believe in.