Archive | December, 2011

Egyptian Crack-down on NGOs a Diversion

Yesterday, Egyptian security forces raided about a dozen NGO offices.  It appears the affected NGOs worked on human rights or democracy promotion.  At least two prominent US-funded NGOs, ‘loosely affiliated’ with the Democratic and Republican parties, were targeted.

Everything about this NGO raid hits sour or contradictory notes:

There are three plausible explanations behind the raid:

1.  The military council is thumbing its nose at the US, a benefactor that contributes $1.5 billion/year to the military’s existence, sending a signal for the US to butt out of Egyptian politics or at least stop imposing itself as a referee between the military and competing political interests.

2.  The military once again took dramatic action with little thought, foresight or purpose in an attempt to frighten its domestic opposition.

3.   The NGO raid is purely a diversion, like the Israeli Embassy attack by soccer thugs or the ‘clash’ between Christians and Muslims this summer.  Nobody in a targeted NGO is going to be killed.  A few Egyptians, though no foreign nationals, might be arrested in connection with the raids.  That would compare with the thousands of activists jailed by the regime since last Spring.

It’s in the Generals’ interests to focus world opinion on a relatively soft ball conflict (that they can easily resolve) and away from the repressive tactics used by SCAF against pro-democracy groups as well as SCAF’s anti-democratic plans for writing a new constitution.

I’ll take the third.  These NGOs are no more a threat to today’s military council’s leadership than they were to Mubarak yesterday.  The only real threats to the military council is the potential of democratic forces to effectively use upcoming elections and claim legitimacy for a new government.  Forcing the State Department to respond to the NGO raids takes the spotlight off State’s ineffective demand that SCAF hold early elections and a quickly complete a full turnover of power to civilian authority.

BTW, the US government shouldn’t be funding ‘democracy institutes’ and other such groups in foreign countries. Period.  Beginning with the post WW2 Italian elections, the CIA poured huge amounts of clandestine funding to determine the outcome of elections in both the developed and developing world.  Such funding only gives credibility to the Assad’s and Qaddafi’s who accuse home-grown protest movements of being controlled by foreign forces.

Quite frankly, I’d also like to know what ‘democracy promotion’ programs the US government carries out, as well as why and how.

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Are Humans Evolving?

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Study: Brain Drain Helps Poor Countries

It sounds counter-intuitive, but a new study finds that countries whose highly skilled citizens emigrate to seek their treasure in more developed countries are not ‘draining’ but actually ‘building’ the local economies where they were born, as long as the percentage doesn’t top 20%.

Why?  A few points in the study: those who emigrate and ‘make it’ inspire others in their country to learn professions and skills (not all of them will emigrate); remittances sent back to the home country; the stability of remittances during times of crisis; the long-term prospects of remittances (cash coming into the country) that are not subject to shorter-term profit requirements as commercial investment may be.

The money that migrants send home is a huge source of income for poor countries. Recorded remittances to developing countries surged tenfold between 1990 and 2009, from $31 billion to $316 billion. Unrecorded ones — those envelopes stuffed with cash — nudge the total even higher. All told, remittances are more than double the amount of foreign aid sent to the developing world, and unlike aid, they are seldom stolen by grasping officials.

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No Posting Until January 2nd! Happy Holidays!

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‘A Single Spark Starts a Prarie Fire’

This is a famous quotation by Mao Tse-Tung made, I believe, during the national revolution culminating in 1949.

But it can also apply to the people of Wakum.  If anyone can show the road towards democracy (or participary representation) in China, it would be the people of this village who have waged weeks of protests against their local government for selling off collectively-owned land in secret real-estate deals.

The promise of Wakum to spread its protest to nearby villages caught the attention of provincial officials.

According to the New York Times:

The meeting was the first with province-level officials, and it contrasted sharply with the denunciations and threats of arrest that have defined the official response to the protests since the standoff began.

The negotiations were led by the deputy chief of the provincial Communist Party committee, Zhu Mingguo, and the party secretary of the administrative region of Shanwei, Zheng Yanxiong. Mr. Zhu is a top lieutenant to the provincial party secretary, Wang Yang, one of China’s most prominent political leaders and an unspoken candidate for a spot on China’s ruling body, the standing committee of the Politburo, when membership in the body, which now has nine seats, turns over next year.

What’s at stake?

It seems apparent that the Chinese leadership is listening to and evaluating grass-roots demands for the rule-of-law and some form of democracy.  After local officials were chased out of the area by protesters,  the provincial government felt the need to take over.  Mr. Wang Yang’s ability to solve the local problem would either affirm his candidacy for top leadership in the Politburo or doom his changes forever.

Adding to the stakes was the death of Xue Jinbo, one of 12 representives chosen by villagers to negotiate a settlement to the land deal with local officials:

The Lufeng police said that Mr. Xue and the four others were arrested and charged with protest-related crimes, but that Mr. Xue later died of a heart attack. A report by the state-run Xinhua news service said Mr. Xue had become ill after two days of interrogation in which he admitted to his crimes.

Higher authorities arrested village officials in an attempt to diffuse the situation:

Outside authorities have responded by detaining two Wukan officials — the village Communist Party secretary, Xue Chang, and the head of the village administrative committee, Chun Shunyi — for interrogation by the party’s disciplinary officials. The action is tantamount to arrest.

Notice the differences with which human rights advocates in Beijing are treated and how the situation unfolding as described above is dealt with.

The protest in Wakum brought out thousands and spread to nearby provincial areas.  The Communist Party of China (CPC) is more than aware of official corruption at the village level and local protests against it. It will move to protect its legitimacy by bringing in higher officials with more experience an finesse.  At the same time, it will weigh the ability of provincial officials to solve these supposedly ‘local conflicts’ in assessing their readiness for promotion to higher governance bodies.  Yang may or may not be ready.

I believe that figuring out how to prevent or resolve these local conflicts will develop the model for a more democratic China, not the international obsession with ‘human rights’.

 

 

 

 

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The ‘Other 14′ on UNSC Speak Up

Haaretz reports that the UN Security Council members sent a tough message to the US:

In a move which Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin (current Security Council president) called historic, diplomats from almost all regional blocs represented on the council stepped to the microphone Tuesday after closed council consultations on the Mideast to condemn the lack of progress toward a solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The call for bilateral negotiations without preconditions would seem a normal thing to ask for,” he said.

But Churkin said the Palestinians are overwhelmed militarily and in every other way by the Israelis and without preconditions they would not get a fair shake in negotiations.

Britain’s UN Ambassador said Israeli security and Palestinian statehood are not mutually exclusive but mutually reinforcing.

The diplomats – including key U.S. allies in Europe – also criticized the council’s failure to take action against escalating violence by Israeli settlers and urged a speedy resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Britain’s UN Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, also speaking for EU members France, Germany and Portugal, said “Israel’s security and the realization of the Palestinians’ right to statehood are not opposing goals.”

South Africa emphasized that Israeli settlement activity is the main obstacle to peace talks.

While the United States was not mentioned by name, the diplomats anger was clearly directed at Washington which vetoed a resolution in February backed by the 14 other council members that would have demanded an immediate halt to all settlement building.

It’s about time the Security Council had this debate. The US stands isolated in its ‘Israel: right or wrong’ positions that have set peace talk back years.  Maybe the next move will be to censor one of its members.  Especially significant was Churkin’s criticism of the false equivalency on what ‘no preconditions’ means for the Palestinians and Israel.

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Egyptian Women Rally Against SCAF

Thousands of Egyptian women took to the streets Tuesday to protest their  brutal beatings and repression at the hands of the military council.  Historians had to look back almost a century to find any precedent for the rally for and by women in opposition to the SCAF governing council.

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And We Complain About Dysfunctional Iraqis!

This is what’s happening regarding the payroll tax/unemployment insurance bills.

1.  First Republican House leadership wanted to have a two month bill that would extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits.

2.  Republican House members rejected this.

3.   Meanwhile, the Senate passed a two-month extension by  89-10, an overwhelming bi-partisan  majority for a bill endorsed by Senate Minority Leader McConnell.

4.    The Senate left for the holidays and will return January 2nd.

5.     Normally, with a situation this serious and a bill passed across parties by the Senate, House members would vote to pass the Senate bill. INstead, the House did not take a vote on the bill itself, but used a procedural rule to have a joint Senate-House Committee reconcile the differences.  In this way, Republicans would be protected from the burden of having voted against the payroll cut and UE extensions.

So these are the choice:

1.  The House passes the Senate bill that gives a 2 month extension

2.   President Obama calls the Senate back to vote on a house fill for a full year extension.  The Houses passes it, too

3.   A House/Senate Committee works out the differences.  But since the House never voted on an actual bill, how that would happen is unclear.

4.   No bill is passed and unemployment insurance runs out for millions and millions more will see a significant increase in payroll taxes.

Don’t these people realize that taking money out of peoples’ pockets now is a clear and present danger to the economy?

 

 

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