Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Is The Democracy Sought in the Middle East Being Abandoned in the Neo-liberal World? Corrected version

At the very time that the societies of the Middle East are crying out for democracy many folks in the the neo-liberal societies of the world are losing faith in the democratic process.

A recent poll in the United States indicates that many Americans are dissatisfied with the way their democratic system is working.

A CNN/ORC International Poll released Wednesday morning indicates that only 15 percent of Americans say they trust the government in Washington to do what’s right just about always or most of the time. Last September that figure was at 25 percent. Seventy-seven percent of people questioned say they trust the federal government only some of the time, and an additional eight percent volunteer that they never trust the government to do what’s right. [from]
And today's New York Times says that folks in other "democratic" societies are also dissatisfied.
In India, Israel, Spain, Greece and elsewhere there is a deep frustration with the failures of the democratic system to satisfy public needs, especially the need for adequate employment opportunities.

The Times reports that
complaints range from corruption to lack of affordable housing and joblessness, common grievances the world over. But from South Asia to the heartland of Europe and now even to Wall Street, these protesters share something else: wariness, even contempt, toward traditional politicians and the democratic political process they preside over.

They are taking to the streets, in part, because they have little faith in the ballot box.

“Our parents are grateful because they’re voting,” said Marta Solanas, 27, referring to older Spaniards’ decades spent under the Franco dictatorship. “We’re the first generation to say that voting is worthless.”

We are living in fluid times, when the certainties of the past are ever more questioned, and the familiar conventions of social life being challenged. Such fluidity fosters uncertainty, insecurity, on many levels of society. It is easy -- from my position -- to see why Americans are frustrated, but the question is "What is to be done"?

Demands for social justice, for better opportunities, for "freedom", don't always produce such conditions. In the past there have been many social movements calling for more justice and more freedom. But how many of them have yielded positive transformations? Not many. And those, such as took place in the Americas, developed in fields of opportunity that will never exist again.

The Neo-liberal "democracy" of this country has failed to cope with the demands of our times. Our duly elected representatives have on many crucial issues been unable to act in the best interests of those who elected them, apparently because powerful moneyed interests have found ways to intervene in the process.

Addendum and correction to the earlier draft:
The sources mentioned above stress that the move in both contexts -- the Arab Middle East and in the neo-liberal countries -- the hope is to develop something that resembles a more open system of the sort enabled by the web.

Increasingly, citizens of all ages, but particularly the young, are rejecting conventional structures like parties and trade unions in favor of a less hierarchical, more participatory system modeled in many ways on the culture of the Web.

In that sense, the protest movements in democracies are not altogether unlike those that have rocked authoritarian governments this year, toppling longtime leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Protesters have created their own political space online that is chilly, sometimes openly hostile, toward traditional institutions of the elite.

My concern is how such a system should be enabled. It would seem that in the American context there might need to be revisions in the constitution as well as the standing laws. What would have to happen for such a change in the system to take place?

The hope is to develop a better "democracy". Certainly if democracy fails, it is hard to envision a better system. I still wonder: What can be done? In the mean time what will happen to the calls for justice and equality in the Middle East? Will the cry for help by the young Yemeni woman that was featured on the previous post be left unanswered? So far it has not.

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Cry of the Heart from Yemen

So much has been happening in the Middle East and Central Asia -- and I have shared none of it here.

Certainly, the world needs to hear this cry of the heart from Yemen. Click on the title to hear a voice of desperation from Yemen.

Is the American Ambassador listening? Who is listening? Will no one listen?

And from Syria: Still, people are going out on the street to challenge an army that has made sure that it has a reputation for brutality against its own citizens -- and Bashir Assad wants his country to be regarded as civilized.

Who else feels helpless and ashamed that there is no help for such earnest youthful voices? Is that the best the world can do for them? All I know to do is pray.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Al Jazeera: From destructive raids by officials in Egypt to rejection at a Texas football game

The offices of Al Jazeera were wrecked by “officials” in Egypt the other day because they were showing too much about what was happening there. And in Texas an Al Jazeera reporter was denied the privilege of interviewing patrons at a high-school football game because it was “too dangerous.” Gabriel Elizondo is a reporter for Al Jazeera. Here is what he says about it.

This is what Elizondo has to say about his experience. [Click on the title above for a link to the whole article.]

He then said something I could not entirely make out, because his voice sort of quivered from a combination of being obviously furious and nervous at the same time.
But I am pretty sure he said:
“I think it was damn rotten what they did.”
“I am sorry, what who did?” I say, not sure exactly if he was calling me rotten, the terrorists rotten, Al Jazeera rotten, or all of the above.
“The people that did this to us,” he says back to me with a smirk, still glaring uncomfortably straight at my eyes.
“Well, I think it was bad too,” I say. “Well, do you think, sir, we can film a bit of the game and talk to some people here about just that?”
“No. You can’t film, you can’t take pictures, or interview people.”
“OK, can I ask why? And if you allow me can I explain…”
Cut off.
“No, I just expect that you will respect it.”
Clearly he didn’t want to hear anything from me.
Al Jazeera is not welcome here.

Mr Lee’s response:

Monday, September 12, 2011

The way Egyptian officials honor Al Jazeera: Raid their offices

Al Jazeera has become one of the most valuable sources of information on what's going on in the Middle East. One wonders if the "Arab Spring" could have taken place without the involvement of the media to broadcast what was going on. Al Jazeera was crucial. But publishing what was happening in the Arab world -- what was really happening -- made Al Jazeera unpopular.

That the Egyptian government has had no use for Al Jazeera is no surprise. New York Times describes Al Jazeera as "known for attentive coverage of street protests" and "known for its attentive, if not sensational, coverage of street protests, including the Israeli Embassy attack on Friday." And for reporting on the attack on the Israeli embassy the other day they were raided by "officials" {not thugs?}. Here is what The Times has to say about this affair:

"The raid also came after a warning last week by Egypt’s minister of media, Osama Heikal, that the government would take legal action against stations that “endanger the stability and security” of the nation, and some analysts said they feared the raid could signal a broader effort to curtail the new freedoms of expression experienced since the uprising that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak this year.

"The network, Al Jazeera Live Egypt, was founded in the aftermath of the uprising and has become known for its attentive, if not sensational, coverage of street protests, including the Israeli Embassy attack on Friday. The raid forced the network to halt its programming for a period before it resumed broadcasting from Al Jazeera’s headquarters in Doha, Qatar.

"Officials of the Interior Ministry said they had raided the network because it lacked a license, and that neighbors had complained about noise. ... But Islam Lotfy, a lawyer for the channel, said the channel had applied for a license in March without a response."

The raid took form as "officers in plain clothes" entering "without showing a warrant or identifying themselves." They "confiscated equipment and arrested an engineer operating it."

But the response of manager of the television channel had an eminently quotable response to all this: “If broadcasting the truth is considered endangering stability,” he said, “then it is an honor for any media outlet to be endangering stability.”

Saturday, September 10, 2011

What's being drowned out of the news: Flooding in Pakistan again

It’s surprising what doesn’t get reported in the news. The case at this moment that strikes me is the flooding in Pakistan. Again the people of Pakistan have to bear flooding -- on top of the suicide bombing, the corruption, the indifference of their own government to their needs, the failure of the education system, etc. etc. The Pakistani folks deserve better leadership. The comparison with what's happening in India displays in stark economic numbers how much Pakistan has suffered because of the narrow-focused military leadership that has controlled politics in the country. In so many ways, Pakistan illustrates how important good leadership matters.

But today's news is what may be called a natural disaster because of the flooding, but as others have pointed out "natural disasters" are actually rarely "natural": Much has to do with the human preparedness for events like this. For this is a repeat of the flooding last year, when the government failed to provide much help to those most affected. Now the numbers are growing.

Here are some details from today’s article in Al Jazeera [“Anger grows over Pakistan flood relief: Rescue efforts after heavy flooding in Sindh province still hampered by bad weather, as 132 deaths reported.” Al Jazeera 10 Sep 2011 06:59].

• A least five million people in Sindh and Baluchisntan provinces have been affected by the monsoon rains.
• About 900 villages have been submerged and about 100,000 homes have been completely destroyed.
• About 200,000 people have turned to relief camps.
• The worst-hit districts are in Sindh and Baluchistan.
• Residents in the area were in desperate need of assistance, asking for food, drinking water and shelter. "We have lost our homes, our belongings, and our lifestock. No one is here to help us, the government is not worried about us," said one person.
• It’s still raining in Sindh. According to one official, "most people have been rescued. There are a few, unfortunately, who want to stay on their own lands. But we are trying to bring rescue to their doorsteps…”
• The flooding has also caused tremendous damage to Pakistani crops during the harvesting. ... up to 13 per cent of the country's estimated crop may have been lost.
• In the "most fertile part of the province [Sindh]” … more than 80 per cent of the cotton crop has been destroyed.
• "60,000 cattle have gone, drowned and dead.” [In Sindh]
• Last year, about 20 million people were directly affected by the worst floods in the country's history. About 2,000 people were killed in the disaster. Now we have another year of it.
• One year after the floods, more than 800,000 families remained without permanent shelter and more than a million people remained in need of food assistance.

Link to the original article here:
Anger grows over Pakistan flood relief - Central & South Asia - Al Jazeera English

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Surprising civility among the victors in Libya

The situation in Libya seems to be taking on qualities most of us didn’t expect. I have supposed that the opposition that came together to fight Ghaddafi’s loyalist forces was a rag-tag collection of volunteers whose only commonality was a hatred of the Colonel. That they, or at least a number of them, had a fair sense of what they wanted the next society to look like was beyond our expectations. We didn’t expect that the opposition fighters would have much of a sense of what to do next – that is, how to establish and observe an organized social order. To the contrary, Nicholas Kristof’s op-ed today [NYTimes 9/8/11] suggests that at least some of the fighters have a reasonable sense of how a society should be operating in the absence of hostilities. He indicates that the people he encountered were already acting as if they were part of an ordered society. No looting – well, limited looting. That’s a surprise. Reasonable treatment of civilians connected with the losing side – this also is surprising. Compared to the way folks behaved in Iraq after Saddam was deposed these Libyan rebels have displayed exemplary courtesy to the losers in this war. Note especially the following statements:

• What’s particularly impressive is the paucity of revenge killings and looting in Tripoli, the capital. There have been a few incidents in which rebel soldiers apparently executed prisoners, and black Africans have been treated abysmally (they are accused of being mercenaries for Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi). But the Libyans who served in that hated regime mostly have not been molested.

• I saw many Libyans fleeing for Tunisia, and, presumably, many of them were Qaddafi loyalists. But rebels did not hinder them at checkpoints or pilfer their belongings. And, as far as I could tell, the homes and luxury vehicles the loyalists left behind have been mostly untouched by neighbors and rebels alike.

• I went through dozens of armed rebel checkpoints and was never once asked for a “baksheesh,” meaning bribe or gift.

• Very few of the rebel leaders have been associated with Islamic fundamentalism. One exception is Abdel Hakim Belhaj, a military commander in Tripoli, who says he was tortured by the C.I.A. in 2004. Yet he told my Times colleague Rod Nordland that all is forgiven and that he appreciates the American role in the Libyan revolution.

• The mood in Tripoli seems largely tolerant and forgiving, and exuberant about the prospect of democracy. “We are free now,” an engineer named Belgassim Ali told me. “Make a newspaper to support Qaddafi; I don’t mind. But no dictatorship!”

• The rebels have coordinated disparate fighting units and have tried to arrange the surrender of holdout towns like Surt, Colonel Qaddafi’s hometown, rather than just marching in with guns blazing.

Of course the observations of one person are insufficient to draw generalizations from, but Kristof’s report suggests that these “rebels” are much more prepared to put together a working society than most of us had imagined.

South China Sea as the emerging center of gravity?

In a recent article in Foreign Policy Magazine (Sept/Oct, 2011) Robert D. Kaplan has argued that the Western Pacific is becoming the world’s new center of naval activity, specifically the South China Sea. Here are some of the assertions in the article:
• East Asia is the center of global manufacturing.
• More than half the world’s merchant fleet tonnage passes through the choke points leading westward from the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean
• A third of all maritime traffic passes through these choke points.
• Oil from the Indian Ocean passes through the strait of Malacca is more than six times the amount passing through Suez and seventeen times that through Panama Canal.
• About two thirds of Koreas energy supplies pass through the South China Sea; and 60% of Japans; 60% of Taiwan’s; 80% of China’s crude oil imports come through that choke point.
• South China Sea has 7 billion barrels of proven oil reserves and an estimated 900 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
• All the nine states that touch the South China Sea are necessarily arrayed against China and therefore inclined to US.
• Energy consumption in Asia will double by 2030.
• South China Sea has become an “armed camp”: China has claimed 12 geographic features; Taiwan one; Vitname 25; Philippines 8; Malaysia 5.
• Defense budgets of Southeast Asian states have increased over the last decade while they have declined in the west: Since 2000 Indonesia has increased 84%, Singapore up 146%; Malaysia up 722%.
• Vietnam has spent 2 billion on Russian submarines and 1 Billion on jet planes.
• Military power has shifted from Europe to Asia “quietly”.
All this makes us wonder: How perceptive are we of the changes taking place in our time? It’s not easy to track shifts in power relationships, taking “power” here to mean military power, and even possibly industrial power. I don’t know Kaplan is right but I do take note of the some of the specific details he musters to develop his point: Shifts in leverage and military capability matter – especially in the long run.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Friedman said it plainly: Why our budget is in the red

Tom Friedman's op-ed piece today [New York Times "The Whole Truth and Nothing But"] says a number of things that need to be said even though in fact they are obvious. The politicians seem unable to say the obvious, the truth. But what I liked was the following succinct formulation of the problem.

Why has this been a lost decade? An answer can be found in one simple comparison: How Dwight Eisenhower and his successors used the cold war and how George W. Bush used 9/11. America had to face down the Russians in the cold war. America had to respond to 9/11 and the threat of Al Qaeda. But the critical difference between the two was this: Beginning with Eisenhower and continuing to some degree with every cold war president, we used the cold war and the Russian threat as a reason and motivator to do big, hard things together at home — to do nation-building in America. We used it to build the interstate highway system, put a man on the moon, push out the boundaries of science, teach new languages, maintain fiscal discipline and, when needed, raise taxes. We won the cold war with collective action.
George W. Bush did the opposite. He used 9/11 as an excuse to lower taxes, to start two wars that — for the first time in our history — were not paid for by tax increases, and to create a costly new entitlement in Medicare prescription drugs.

The reason politicians can get away with such much verbiage and so little information is that the public member is so short. There is no longer any mention that Bill Clinton left office with a budget surplus. The claim that both parties have contributed to the debt problem we have now is obvious but it conceals a critical reality: The administration of George W. Bush effective wiped out all surplus and -- according to a source quoted elsewhere on this page -- borrowed more money than all the presidents before him combined. {I have not checked this out; there should be a way to do it and I will try to get it done.]

Anyway, it's a reality that needs to be faced if wise decisions are now made in choosing the next body of leaders to take us out of this mess.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Field of Hope - where rape is a daily way of life

Rape in Congo takes place in unbelievable numbers every day. It is hard to internalize what is going on. According to one source, a film on Congo rape, some fighters in the Congo believe they cannot succeed in a battle if they have not just raped a woman successfully. The world they and their women live in is terrifying, violent, cruel. So consider the courage and dedication of a woman that would undertake to help these women recover. Thanks to Al Jazeera for making this available to us.

Field of Hope - Witness - Al Jazeera English