Monday, January 26, 2009

WTFs, almost in real time.

This wall tells Palestinians to stay in the pockets
of land that Israel has decided they can keep - for now.

And another wall that might one day hear not just
one people's wailing.

1. Israel bombed a UN food warehouse in Gaza. The UN is "outraged." Israel apologizes -- to the UN, not to the Palestinians in Gaza. The UN Sec-Gen says he is "cautiously optimistic" that Israel will agree to a ceasefire. WTF.

2. Some 'internationals' -- which is usually just the euphemism Westerners use to describe themselves while doing what they think is best for the Third World (see here) decided that the Palestinians in Gaza -- suffering from bombardment, starvation, lack of medical care and lack of shelter -- might need mosquito nets. So they send those in. WTF.

3. Going into Occupied Palestine this afternoon on a speeding taxi headed to Ramallah, the taxi driver didn't realize what was going on just a few meters ahead of us. There was a crowd of young Palestinians -- very young, teenagers, some pre-teeners -- in front of the checkpoint, throwing stones at Israeli soldiers who were approaching the checkpoint. This group of Israeli soldiers fired one, two warning shots. Then a round of tear gas. Running, shouting and more stone throwing. Our taxi driver continued to drive -- forward. Yes -- WTF!?. So I had to say it aloud. In English. Which had to be translated into Arabic to the driver. By the only colleague who spoke some Arabic. Who was on the cellphone talking to someone. "Tell the driver to stop and turn back -- or we'll be caught in the middle." By the time the driver stopped in the middle of the road going toward the checkpoint, we were right beside another group of Israeli soldiers -- leaning in relative safety against the Wall that divides Jerusalem, while 3 civilians and their defiantly confident taxi driver were exposed to whatever both sides might do. We were so vulnerable that the paparazzi -- those press photographers with their zoom lenses and video cameras eager to film what might happen to the taxi caught in no-man's land -- were behind us, at a safe distance. The driver finally came to his senses, did a quick U-turn and took us to a safe side street. Which led to where we could drive to our destination. So we could actually bypass the checkpoint in the first place? WTF. go to main page

Monday, November 17, 2008

East to save West, South to teach North

At work, I was asked to write something brief in response to this question: "What are 5 key economic, environmental, social, political, local factors and global/regional forces in the next 5 years that will have a determining effect on (the field of transitional justice)"? I don't like these open-ended questions, but here's what I said --

1. Capitalism from the East. China, India, Singapore and the cash-rich emirates in the Middle East have already shown their willingness to invest in U.S and European economies – partly because they have export-oriented economies (China, India) or have liquidity but little to invest in within their own countries. But will their cash be enough to revive the US and European economies in five years? I doubt it. This might have to involve Russia and Japan (unless the Japanese economy suffers as well) taking bigger roles in the G-8 and in capital markets in the West. An Obama presidency will have to balance contradictory economic impulses. It will try to protect the American labor force from competing imports and jobs that can be outsourced while wanting to keep foreign industrial production and foreign capital generation churning in order to prop up US businesses. The big US banks will have to look for cheaper money – that means going to the East, where margins are still high and liquidity even higher. (Good thing I haven’t borrowed to buy that mansion in New Jersey!)

2. Democracy from the south. All of this will create pressure on North American and European governments to come to terms with the East, or more specifically the South – on the way “democracy” has been defined in the post-Cold War era. With the end of the Soviet Union and the opening up and transformation of Eastern Europe, China and the Indochinese countries due to various forms of democratizing factors (mostly trade, but also the Internet, migration, returning diasporas, overseas workers and, contrary to the belief of Republicans who want to canonize Ronald Reagan) we have witnessed the growth of new post-Leninist generations of left-wing activists and different strains of progressive thought, from Greenpeace to a renewed concept of Democratic Socialism and a very radical anti-globalization movement. In five years, some political circles in the West will start to recognize that elections cannot be the backbone of building a democracy – partly because it took 56 Presidential elections in the US before a significant part of its citizenry could even hope to be President – and largely because the global South isn’t what it used to be, i.e. one big post-colonial mess of dictators and juntas and/or liberation armies that can’t even run a cantina properly.

Instead, the global South, now and probably for the next 5 years, will have its own version of the Cold War, but on regional scales – Brazil will compete with – who? Venezuela? – for influence in the region. China and India will probably continue to perceive each other as competitors but may realize, after 5 years of continued economic growth that they have more in common (and to gain) as economic powers and tenuous allies. Southeast Asian economies will look to China and India as markets for their own expansion, with Japan as a destination for exporting workers, and not really goods. Russia will re-assert its own influence not so much in Eastern Europe, but in its forgotten backyard of central and even east Asia where, eventually, it will have to assess how it will relate with China (again). The leaderships of these countries will have to consolidate public support – which, given technology and the newfound prosperity in these economies, will have to be earned more than it can be coerced. (The Olympics made the Chinese leadership even more popular to the citizenry -- with no electoral college votes and lobbyist money required!). (And South Africa? Surely, the ANC leadership will try to reassert the country’s leadership in that part of the continent, but with what moral or economic clout? I don’t know.) Again, democracy in the global south will be a varied set of social and economic experiments, with a deeper level of participation – at levels of the community, factories, schools, plantations, diaspora groups, churches -- than just traditional notions of political parties and elite leaders. What is more important is that the transitions would look the same (sometimes violent, often with abuses rampant just before a transfer of power) but will also be different because any Western effort to plant a made-for-American-TV type of democracy will be suspect (“Is it a counter-terrorism measure?” “Is it intended to ensure control over oil, over sea-lanes, over Bratz-doll-making factories?”). The ruling classes in these regional powers will want to define these transitions in ways that will reinforce their vision of their State and mobilize support from a more information-savvy middle class, e.g. China will let Taiwan’s fate be decided economically rather than militarily, or even that North Korea will have to just let South Koreans run their country, with Russia and China insisting that US bases be gradually removed from the peninsula. These last 2 events will probably not happen in the next 5 years. But if they do, those engaged in transitional justice work should already be positioned to deal with accountability issues from a perspective that (a) does not assume that Western-democratic (which is often meant read as “Western-educated”) types will take over, e.g. Nepal (now a former monarchy ruled by Maoists) and (b) is open to looking at accountability more broadly and inclusively than it does now, i.e. issues of land and displacement, economic crimes and pillage, questions over the accountability of third States in escalating violence.

3. Resource competition waged as conflicts over identity. Or: “So what’s new?” .

4. Identity-based conflicts that will involve capitalism from the East and democracy from the South, something like Darfur but in more regions than NGOs have offices in.

5. A re-defined (by NGO and civil society partners in the East and South) transitional justice paradigm that extends to collective rights (e.g. ‘people’s rights’ as expressed in the African or Banjul Charter), accountability for economic crimes and natural resource despoliation (the DRC, the Middle East, southeast Asia, Pakistan), equal emphasis on gender as an economic and social element rather than being primarily or only a sexual element in rights violations (e.g. the one-child policy in China), recognizing the role of religion and culture as forms of material reparations rather than merely being symbolic (e.g. religious schools or madrasas in southern Thailand and in the Philippines being re-built).

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Friday, October 24, 2008

If the walls on Wall Street could speak

I work for a non-profit organization just a block off Wall Street. That used to be an odd thing to say and to be -- what is a non-profit organization doing in the neighborhood of profit? Now, it's just sad and funny. There are so many -- even too many -- non-profitable institutions standing forlorn on Wall Street, and my daily commute is filled with these anxious voices around me, talking about "the market" and its various states of mortality sick, dying, dead. Someone behind me in a queue for the ferry ride home said two days ago to someone at the other end of her phone call: "Tomorrow (which was yesterday!) there will be an inflection point." She then proceeded to explain what that was. Which I didn't understand. Eavesdropping is not the best way to learn about the vagaries of the US stock market. Anyway, she said something about how the stock market would go down even lower, rally for six weeks (Yup, six. Not five or two. Don't ask me why.) Then go down even lower and behave like its a dog whose hind legs had been shot (that's me imagining, not the person I was eavesdropping on) all the way till next year.

Update: Is it self-fulfilling prophecy or do these things happen as Wall Streeters say they would? "Wall Street headed for another precipitous drop Friday as fears of a punishing global recession stirred panic among investors and sent world financial markets into a tailspin."
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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

She's a Skrull?

I'm back, but briefly just for now, while I am still recovering from the cycle of work-related travel (but not, sadly, travel-related work, which would be the kind of traveling that might bring me to the places our peripatetic President and her entourage find themselves in.)

And that gives me just the right reason to explain what that spread -- from Marvel's Secret Invasion #5 -- is doing here. Look closely at that collage of real-life and comic book characters. Strange company she keeps, but what do you think is she doing sandwiched by John McCain and Doctor Doom? And what does it mean that she stands only a bit higher than where we find Kim Jong-Il -- the Little Leader just above the Dear Leader.

(I've been wanting to post this for the last few months -- but reality kept getting in the way. Happily, a few blogs took note of it but, unhappily, no one in mainstream Philippine media.)

Leinil Yu, the Pinoy Marvel artist of the book who has done an awesome job on a range of characters from Wolverine to the Fantastic Four -- sampled here -- has said (scroll down that link to the Comments section, until Leinil appears) that "there's (n)othing politically tainted about GMA being there. It’s just a nod to fellow pinoys." But in the same breath, he adds that "people see what they want to see:)." Right. And what I wanted to see, going forward from this was some interest in the Philippines in at least two things (1) supporting and supplementing the work of Filipino artists in North America's comic book industry, by reviving the Filipino comic book industry -- yes, resurrect Zuma! Anak ni Zuma! and sige na nga, even the many mediocre comic strips that come out in the Inquirer -- see Newsarama's excellent coverage of just that here and (2) a reference to pop culture in general in Philippine political debate, that -- like Leinil Yu's subtle and shaded image-dropping of Gloria Arroyo --re-introduces approaches to political change that isn't the usual demonize-Gloria-and-blame-her-for-everything-including-spoiled milk-in China approach that, sadly, lets plunderers like the Marcoses and Estrada appear like petty thieves by comparison.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

To Manila and back...

to Manila again this week. I spent 3 weeks in Manila near the end of February and up to the middle of March, and that included speaking at a conference on Impunity and Press Freedom in the Philippines co-organized by the Center for Media and Press Freedom (CMFR) and the Southeast Asia Press Alliance (SEAPA), with funding from the Open Society Institute's Justice Initiative.

One thing that made me happy I went to the conference was the presence of many radio and print journalists from outside Metro Manila. This was important, if not essential in discussing impunity and the victimization of Filipino press workers. The disproportionate number of "provincial" journalists (those quotation marks should tell you that I am as sensitive as any Cebuano/a and other probinsiyano/a is about how "provincial" is often used to imply some kind of inferiority) among the victims of extrajudicial killings from 2000 onward is disturbing. More than half of the press workers killed since 2000, it is said, worked outside Manila. Most of them were working in radio stations. It indicates that -- the NDF's effort to conflate these deaths with the military's targeting of the NDF-sympathetic Left notwithstanding -- life is more dangerous outside Metro Manila for press workers, for most full-time journalists, certainly, but apparently more so for so-called radio blocktimers. A Manila Times special report I think correctly attributes part of this disproportionate targeting of broadcasters outside Manila to the confrontation between the undying feudal values of political dynasties, warlords and politicians in the provinces and the impact (the report describes it as "modernizing," but I think it is more of a democratizing effect) that industrialization and the infrastucture that it brings -- more radio stations, more powerful broadcast signals, on-line newspapers, cellphones! -- has on the distribution of political power. A mouthful, that, but among the provincial --in that sort-of-good, Cebuano-centric way -- journalists that I was happy to see again in the conference were Sunstar Daily's Cheking Seares, ABS-CBN Cebu's Leo Lastimosa and of course, that institution of Philippine journalism named Johnny Mercado.

More to come...have to run to the airport!

(And before I forget: here's what I said at the conference. Or at least the summary of it.)

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