Monday, January 31, 2011

Unemployment and Regime Change

The events in Tunisia and Egypt have, so far, been truly monumental, with the path ahead in Egypt still very unclear.  The majority of the analysts interviewed from a variety of think tanks (Chatham House,  Brookings Institute) and reliable news sources (NPR, Al Jazeera) to the Council on Foreign Relations, all seem to agree that unemployment and poverty, particularly among young men, is the major impetus for this demand for change.  Government corruption and inefficiency, cronyism, political and personal repression for decades have led to economic stagnation for most people not friendly with the ruling elite.  With regime change, people are pinning their hopes on a future that includes opportunities for work and a better life for their families.

I am reminded, sadly, of two vastly different situations where regime change has not dramatically improved people's economic lot.  The first is South Africa.  After the first free elections in 1994, one of the new government's major goals was to reduce the unemployment rate, particularly among young black men. 
  From Wikipedia: "In post-apartheid South Africa, unemployment has been extremely high. While many blacks have risen to middle or upper classes, the overall unemployment rate of blacks worsened between 1994 and 2003.[30] Poverty among whites, previously rare, increased.[31] While some have attributed this partly to the legacy of the apartheid system, increasingly many attribute it to the failure of the current government's policies. In addition, the current government has struggled to achieve the monetary and fiscal discipline to ensure both redistribution of wealth and economic growth."  Currently, the total unemployment rate is officially 25.2%, and much higher amongst black men aged 18-35.  And this in the continent's largest economy.  The government has been unable to improve education and vocational training amongst the poorer classes inorder for these people to be attractive employees to new manufacturing ventures.  The people in South Africa have been remarkably patient and hopeful: for how much longer.  How are Tunisia and Egypt going to fare any better?

The second example is the USA:  with all the hopes that the new administration (our regime change) in 2009 would be able to actually activate "shovel ready" projects to help get the newly laid off back at work and give businesses tax breaks so that they would employ the unemployed....where are we?  Still at an average unemployment rate of 9.6%.  Businesses are making profits again, not hiring; banks are hanging onto their  cash, not lending; local and state governments seem unable to get those shovel ready programs jump-started and have severe budget problems.  If we can't do it in a hurry, how are Tunisia and Egypt going to fare any better?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Individuals and Rights

Recent examples of people who became (unintended) heroes because they stood up for their rights and those of others:
Mohamed Bouazizi of Tunisia: who only wanted to sell vegetables to support his family
David Kato of Uganda: who only wanted humans who are gay to be treated with dignity and as...humans.

Mr. Bouazizi had no idea that his act of desperation would become a crossroad in history and lead to a chain of events, the conclusion of which, are still in the making.

Mr. Kato had wanted to be "good human rights defender, not a dead one, but an alive one.”  It can only be hoped that his death will eventually unleash changes in Uganda and the rest of homophobic Africa.  Unfortunately, this will not happen for some time.  Similar hate and discrimination exists against Albinos in Africa.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Alan there no penalty for excessive self-importance?

The results of the inquiry into where the blame lies for the 2008 financial crisis were released today.  A story in the NYT has generated 543 comments so far!  People are exercised and so they should be given that the overarching conclusion of the federal inquiry is that the disaster was avoidable.  The debacle, on both the domestic and international fronts, that was the Bush Cheney administration will affect all of our lives for a very long time.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Another Creepy Book about Russia

The New Nobility: The Restoration of Russia’s Security State and the Enduring Legacy of the KGB
by Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan
PublicAffairs, 301 pp., $26.95

The New York Review of Books has an excellent review of this book.  "The book’s title comes from an interview given at the end of 2000 by the then FSB chief, Nikolai Patrushev—a longtime ally of Putin’s from St. Petersburg—in which he called members of the FSB “our new ‘nobility.’” Patrushev’s description has proved apt. After Putin, a former FSB chief, became president in 2000, he made changes that substantially expanded the authority and the resources of this agency."  The book's authors, Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogon, are both journalists who have shouldered considerable risk in openly speaking about Russian corruption, government and otherwise.  Their website is Agentura.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Finkler QuestionThe Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A very difficult, complex book.  While it is billed as darkly humourous, I find the humour better described as painful.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Change from the Bottom Up

Inspiration and action from people organizing to change their own lives (Saul Alinsky would be so thrilled!) with minimal intervention from do-gooding expats from the developed world patting themselves on the back and adding notches to their fell-good wrist bands.  Listen to a discussion of this topic on KUOW when Steve Scher hosted Celine D'Cruz of Shack/Slum Dwellers International.  The number of reports these days on the ineffectiveness of so many NGOs in the work they are purportedly doing, the huge sums of money being frittered away, is appalling. 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Headlines and Why Words Matter

A headline in the NYT on Saturday 15 January reads:  
Belarus Accuses Poland, Germany of Takeover Plot 
Having just finished reading Timothy Snyder's Bloodlands, I am immediately reminded of Stalin's same accusations, the results of which were the famines of Ukraine (where multi-millions of people died), the murders of hundred of thousands of people who were Poles, Belarussians, Ukrainians, and Jews.  Stalin said what he wanted to say, regardless of truth and reality. People were too afraid and/or brainwashed  to contradict him.
Currently reading The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson and on page 153 in the paperback edition, one of the characters is talking about anti-Semitism and where that leads: "Soon it would be full-blown Fascism, Nazism, Stalinism.  There was nowhere for them to go.  They were indestructible, non-biodegradable.  They waited in the great rubbish tip that was the human heart."  On page 156, another character continues "The trigger isn't the violence in Gaza.  The trigger, in so far as they need a trigger-and many don't-is the violent, partial, inflammatory reporting of it. The trigger is the inciting word."

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Parents and Children

Recent tragedies in our world have given parents pause to think about children and children pause to think about parents.  Here is President Obama reflecting, as parent and as Mourner in Chief, on the shooting of Christina Taylor Green in Tuscan, Arizona.  And her father was able, somehow, to gather his thoughts.  And the parents of the alleged murderer.

Last week, Shehrbano Taseer wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times on the assassination of his father, Salmaan Taseer, governor of Punjab. 

Saad Hariri insists on investigating the assassination of his father, Rafiq Hariri: Hezbollah, as potential guilty party, walks out; Lebanese government falls.

And what of the parents of  Mohammed Bouazizi?  No one has reported on them.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Personification of Evil

Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder

The author creates an interesting,useful,and important paradigm shift in how we should think about, consider, and learn from the lives and deaths of over 14 million humans at the hands of Stalin and Hitler and the people they lead, in a geographic region called The Bloodlands.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
See reviews in the London Review of Books, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy New Year

Space Needle, Seattle: Showering in the New Year 2011. Photo by Joshua Trujillo

May humans treat each other with greater respect in the coming year.