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Posts Tagged ‘arab uprisings’

For China, Economic Growth Doesn’t Always Equal Happiness

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on May 16, 2012

CHINA PHOTOS / GETTY IMAGES
A woman washes clothes next to a railway near a shanty town in Shenyang, China

When Bo Xilai, the rising Chinese Communist Party official who was purged in March, gave his last public comments before disappearing into detention, he was wrong about a lot of things. That bit about not being under investigation, for instance. But one line he uttered has the clear ring of truth, and it poses a serious issue for China’s leadership as it attempts to navigate this year’s political transition, the economic slowdown and the ripples loosed by Bo’s removal. Bo revealed that China’s Gini coefficient — a statistic that measures the gap between rich and poor — had entered into worrying territory. He described the number, which hasn’t been made public in over a decade, as over 0.46. Anything higher than 0.4 is considered dangerously high and capable of fueling unrest.

In Chongqing, where Bo was Communist Party secretary for 4½ years, he made building economic protections like subsidized housing for the megacity’s poorest residents one of the tenets of his “Chongqing model.” The wholesale corruption he and his family have been accused of may have steered the wealth gap in the wrong direction, but Bo understood the political importance of appearing to care about the problem, just as he knew the appeal of cracking down on crime and reviving Mao-era culture.

It’s a point that many other officials seem to have missed, mindful perhaps of Deng Xiaoping’s declaration that “some will get rich first,” but forgetting the coda that their prosperity would then spread to all. China’s growth in recent decades has been astonishing and surveys like the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project have found high levels of satisfaction and optimism in China. But there is more to those numbers. A deeper examination of Chinese citizens’ levels of satisfaction indicates that while the country’s richest are increasingly content, the poor are growing more and more unhappy. Read the rest of this entry »

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Must-Reads From Around the World: April 26, 2012

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on April 26, 2012

PETER DEJONG/AFP/GettyImages/Pool

PETER DEJONG/AFP/GETTYIMAGES/POOL
Former Liberian President Charles Taylor takes notes at the start of the judgement hearing of his trial on charge of arming Sierra Leone’s rebels who paid him in “blood diamonds,” on April 26, 2012 at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, based in Leidschendam outside The Hague

Life For Death? – The five-year trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor, accused of 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other offenses, is finally coming to a close in The Hague on Thursday, with a possible life sentence for the ousted leader. The Guardian, live-blogging the verdict from the tribunal, noted that Taylor is “clearly listening with care,” as it is read out. And judges found Taylor guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes during the Sierra Leone civil war.

New Front in Drone War – The White House expanded the authority of the Pentagon and CIA to carry out drone strikes in Yemen, which is widely believed to be a safe haven for al-Qaeda operatives, the New York Times reports. U.S. Defense Secretary LeonPanetta has defended the strategy, the Guardian says, but international legal experts argue that drone strikes amount to execution of suspects before trial, making them illegal – especially when carried out in Yemen where the U.S. is not engaged in war.

Questioning Misogyny – Following the fierce debate over its cover story, “Why Do They Hate Us?“ which casts Arab societies as deeply misogynistic, Foreign Policy shares critiques and commentary from six Muslim observers, including the senior editor of the Muslim Brotherhood’s official English-language website. Also chiming in is The Atlantic’s Max Fisher, who argues that while misogyny is a problem in Arab countries, it’s not a distinctively Arab problem. Read the rest of this entry »

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Must-Reads from Around the World: March 20, 2012

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on March 20, 2012

Syrian President Bashar Assad speaking during a Ramadan Iftar banquet in honor of Muslim clergymen, in Damascus, Syria, 24 August 2011. (Photo: SANA / EPA)

SYRIAN PRESIDENT BASHAR ASSAD SPEAKING DURING A RAMADAN IFTAR BANQUET IN HONOR OF MUSLIM CLERGYMEN, IN DAMASCUS, SYRIA, 24 AUGUST 2011. (PHOTO: SANA / EPA)

More Syria Leaks – Al Jazeera reveals details from confidential Syrian intelligence and security documents handed over by one of the government’s most trusted officials who recently fled to Turkey. The trove shows President Bashar Assad’s strategy to suppress anti-government protests, including orders to stop protesters from getting into Damascus and detailed security plans for crushing protests in the cities of Aleppo and Idlib, as well as warnings about countries trying to influence Syrian diplomats to defect and indications the government spied on last year’s Arab League monitoring mission in Syria. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Whole World Watches Again: Occupy Wall Street Strikes Back

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on November 17, 2011

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Protesters cheer as they listen to speakers near Sproul Hall at the University of California at Berkeley as they participate in an Occupy Cal rally Nov. 15, 2011 in Berkeley, California. (Jeff Chiu / AP)

When New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg authorized the city’s police force to move in and bring an end to the near two month occupation of Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan, he struck at the symbolic heart of a movement that, through the sheer fact of its presence, captured the imagination of thousands around the world. Bloomberg framed the eviction as a matter of health and safety: he would not let the occupation peter out on its own as New York’s frigid winter set in—“inaction was not an option,” read the statement issued by the mayor’s office following the police raid. But as Occupy Wall Street embarks on a day of action across New York City that’s being echoed by protests around the U.S. and the world, Bloomberg may yet question whether he should have let Zuccotti be.

According to one Occupy Wall Street organizer, estimates for attendance at events planned for Nov. 17 have tripled following the sudden NYPD sweep into what the protesters call Liberty Plaza. Nov. 17 marks two months since the occupation at Zuccotti Park began and Occupy Wall Street, alongside allied organizations, including unions, had been scheming actions weeks in advance. Some New York City officials now expect “tens of thousands” out on the streets in possibly the biggest show of dissent since the movement began.

There are three main events planned in New York, as this somewhat hyperbolic poster (invoking Tiananmen Square) lays out: the first is a mass rally starting from Zuccotti Park (once again opened to protest), attempting to “shut down” Wall Street with a march on the heavily fortified New York Stock Exchange; the second involves disparate groups of protesters taking over subway lines and telling their individual stories through the “people’s mike” while on board; the third will be the culmination of the day’s activities, with thousands streaming into Foley Square, near New York’s City Hall, alongside a substantial presence from local and national labor unions. Read the rest of this entry »

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After a U.N. Moment of Truth, Obama Will Struggle to Restore a Broken Mideast Peace Process

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on September 28, 2011

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Perhaps nobody told President Barack Obama that last week’s United Nations showdown over Palestinian statehood was

Palestinians watch their President Mahmoud Abbas on TV as he delivers his speech at the United Nations during the General Assembly on September 23, 2011 in Ramallah, West Bank. (Photo: Uriel Sinai / Getty Images)

the proverbial “Emperor’s New Clothes” moment for his Mideast peace effort. U.S. officials are, this week, once again trying to herd the Palestinians back into the same unconditional talks that President Mahmoud Abbas had declared pointless and unacceptable all of last week. And, as if to amplify Abbas’ objection to talking while the Israelis continue to expand their grip on the occupied territories, Israel on Tuesday announced the construction of 1,100 new homes in the Gilo settlement the same day that its government accepted negotiating terms (coordinated with Israel) that were laid out last Friday by the Quartet — the U.S. and a backing vocal section comprising the EU, Russia and the U.N. Secretary General. Business as usual, in other words, from Washington’s side. But Abbas’ U.N. speech stated unambiguously that the Palestinians are no longer willing to indulge the illusion that open-ended talks while settlements continue to expand is doing anything to resolve the conflict.

“It is neither possible, nor practical, nor acceptable to return to conducting business as usual, as if everything is fine,” Abbas had told the U.N. “It is futile to go into negotiations without clear parameters and in the absence of credibility and a specific timetable. Negotiations will be meaningless as long as the occupation army on the ground continues to entrench its occupation, instead of rolling it back, and continues to change the demography of our country in order to create a new basis on which to alter the borders.”

The pablum served up Tuesday by State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland, however, suggests the U.S. has chosen, once again, to ignore Abbas. Saying the U.S. is “deeply disappointed” by the Israelis decision to build in Gilo, Nuland added, “We consider this counterproductive to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties, and we have long urged both parties to avoid actions which could undermine trust… That doesn’t change the fact that we believe that the only way to get to two states living side by side in peace, in security, is through direct negotiations… and we are urging both parties to take advantage of the proposal that the Quartet put forward last Friday to come back to the table.” Read the rest of this entry »

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How 9/11 Provoked the U.S. to Hasten its Own Decline

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on September 9, 2011

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The twin towers of the World Trade Center burn behind the Empire State Building in New York, September 11, 2001. (Photo: Marty Lederhandler / AP)

During his first year in office, President George W. Bush was confronted by the key strategic challenge facing the United States in the new century, in an incident that began with the diversion of a U.S. aircraft — by Chinese fighter planes, which forced a U.S. Navy spy plane to land on the island of Hainan after a collision that downed a Chinese jets, killing its pilot. What followed was a tense 11-day standoff between Washington and Beijing, serving an early warning that China’s emergence as an economic superpower would inevitably alter the geopolitical balance of power in Asia, and globally.

But then came 9/11 — a mass-casualty terrorist provocation on an unprecedented scale — and the Bush Administration convinced itself, and much of America, that the world had changed. The new president had found his “calling” in a campaign to “rid the world of evil doers”, declaring a “war on terrorism” that would become the leitmotif and singular obsession of U.S. foreign policy for the remainder of his presidency — a presidency that despite massive, kinetic displays of military force, left the U.S. strategically weaker at its close than when Bush entered the Oval Office.

“We’d always treated terrorist attacks before primarily as a law enforcement problem… going after and finding the guilty party, bring them to trial and put them in the slammer,” Vice President Dick Cheney told TIME in an interview published in this week’s edition. “After 9/11, you couldn’t look on those as just law enforcement problems anymore. It was clearly an act of war. And that’s a significant shift. You’re going to use all of the means available…”

But while the scale and brutality of the attacks might have been akin to an act of war, 9/11 was the work of a tiny network of transnational extremists, founded on the remnants of the Arab volunteers who’d fought in the U.S.-backed Afghan jihad against the Soviet Union. Read the rest of this entry »

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Libya Clashes Escalate But a Diplomatic Compromise Looms

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on June 27, 2011

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As NATO’s war in Libya entered its 100th day on Monday, an end to the conflict may be in sight — but not necessarily a decisive one. Military and diplomatic signs point increasingly towards some measure of compromise by both sides in shaping an outcome that neither the regime nor the rebels would have countenanced when their struggle began. Rebel forces who have been consolidating their hold on villages in mountains to the West of Tripoli launched a furious assault Sunday on the approaches to the capital, but were repelled by forces loyal to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. The regime appears unable for the foreseeable future to restore control over those — slowly growing — parts of the country where rebel forces have broken Gaddafi’s iron grip, yet the rebels and their NATO backers so far appear unable to deal the regime’s forces a knockout blow. And while the rebel forces may be growing in confidence, the commitment of the Western allies that have enabled rebel advances is clearly finite.

The intensification of fighting so close to the capital suggests that both sides may be aware that the clock is ticking down towards what may be an inevitable negotiated solution, and are doing their best to shape it to their advantage. Recent comments by British military commanders and Defense Secretary Robert Gates underscore the sense that the European NATO members responsible for the air war will be hard-pressed to continue the campaign much beyond the current summer, and diplomatic support for the military intervention is ebbing fast: Italy last week called for a suspension of hostilities, although that suggestion was quickly squelched by NATO partners; the African Union, China, Russia and the Arab League have begun to retract their endorsement of a military campaign they authorized to protect Libyan civilians, but which has morphed unmistakably into a regime-change operation. And President Obama is under fire from both sides of the aisle over U.S. involvement in the campaign. Read the rest of this entry »

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