Posts Tagged ‘United Nations’

Charles Dickens, Slumdog Millionaire, and Somalia

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

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I watched Slumdog Millionaire this weekend – and was struck most of all by the Dickensonian character of the world it took place in – brutal everyday violence, orphans lost in a cruel world, children exploited yet resilient in the face of crushing trauma, unspeakable squalor, and a rigid class structure. Then there were two non-Dickensonian elements – the animalistic urge to live, to survive, and to thrive which often seemed to be the only thing keeping the characters going and the miracle of globalization and free markets which seemed to bring the possibility of hope and opportunity by the end. The serious social issues and grand societal evolution are merely the backdrop for a love story, which in the end, seems to make the depiction more powerful (Contra Alice Miles’s nonsensical criticism of the film as “poverty porn.”)

Last week, I was reading the United Nations International Labor Organization Global Employment Trends 2009 report (pdf) and was struck again at what I had forgotten – that some billions of people in this world live in extreme poverty. The report had to differentiate between those in extreme poverty (USD$1.25 per day) and those in just plain poverty (USD$2.00 per day) – the difference is only $0.75 per day. The report dealt with all this analytically – with charts and graphs – but Slumdog Millionaire gave a visual image of what this might look like, what it does look like in some places in the world still. It truly is a world alien to our own, yet filled with individuals with recognizable emotions and desires.

In that spirit, while realizing that extreme poverty has not been eliminated in India and other developing countries, it’s worth taking note of a country that does not even seem to be developing – in which there is little if any hope or opportunity – labeled the most dangerous place in the world by Jeffrey Gettleman in Foreign Policy – Somalia. 

Gettleman describes a country that is little more than a Hobbesian state of nature in between it’s neighboring countries and the ocean, where violence is rampant and everyday, where global powers intervene sporadically with varying motives but always perverse results, and the fourteenth government of the past twenty years now only controls a few city blocks in a country the size of Texas. 

[Photograph by Wen-Yan King licensed under Creative Commons.]

A Sarah-gogue

Friday, October 10th, 2008

[digg-reddit-me]Found on page 41 of today’s New York Daily News page along with a syndicated column by the arch-conservative Charles Krauthammer which, while attacking Obama’s character through all sorts of sleazy techniques, cannot deny that “Obama is a man of first-class intellect and first-class temperament.” (Remember – Krauthammer is the guy who approvingly claims McCain wants to “kill the United Nations.”)

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A Country Unlike Any Other

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

[digg-reddit-me]

Drudge, that driver of all news stories, is headlining a new BBC poll showing that the world, overwhelmingly supports Obama. This has been clear for some time, but it’s a positive development if Drudge is focusing on it.

The Indian author and former top United Nations official Shashi Tharoor1 tried to explain why the world wants Obama several months ago in a talk he gave about America’s image in the world.

Tharoor’s thesis is that there are two main “stories” of America told around the world – that of the powerful bully that is uncouth and rough and forces it’s way; and that of the open, pluralistic society where anyone can make something of themselves. Obama clearly represents this second story – and after 8 years of America playing into all the stereotypes of the first story, Tharoor thinks it’s time for a change:

[This is an excerpt. For the complete video, go to Fora.tv.]

At the end of this clip, he quotes from this article by Andrew Sullivan from the Atlantic last year, my favorite excerpts of which are here.

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  1. Tharoor came in second in straw polls deciding who should replace Kofi Annan as Secretary-General. []

A President for Our Dangerous Times

Monday, August 11th, 2008

[digg-reddit-me]In dangerous times, we cannot let the larger issues out of sight:

The day to day grind of this campaign – months and months of fights over demographics, over gaffes, over lobbyists, over media bias – has distracted most of us from the essential issues at stake.

The essential choice we face is whether or not our country is going in the right direction.

There is an economic component to this – which will rightfully take up much of the country’s attention in the next few months, and between McCain and Obama, the economic differences are stark.

Perhaps more important is the question of whether or not America should embrace it’s current role as an imperial power, as a neo-empire. McCain clearly accepts this view. One of his foreign policy advisors has explicitly accepted the American empire. Another McCain advisor explained how McCain is planning on creating a League of Democracies to destroy the United Nations and marginalize Russia, quite possibly provoking a new Cold War1 . McCain has said that withdrawing from Iraq – which is what the Iraqi prime minister is requesting of us – would be a surrender to our enemies. (He still doesn’t seem to have noticed that many of our enemies are warring amongst themselves – Sunni extremists, Shia extremists, Al Qaeda, Iranian factions.) At the same time, he has threatened war with Iran while claiming it is naive to consider meeting with any Iranian leaders. (McCain never mentions the candlelight vigils in Tehran after September 11 or Iran’s efforts to come to a comprehensive settlement of all issues between America and Iran immediatly afterwards that were ignored using the same justification McCain now uses to avoid dealing with Iran.) Instead, he jokes “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran…)

As Andrew Sullivan wrote:

After the last eight years, we simply cannot risk a continuation of the same reckless, belligerent, argument-losing, ideological and deceptive foreign policy of [the Bush administration.] From his knee-jerk Cold War posture over Georgia to his Rovian campaign tactics, McCain is simply too close to this disastrous record to contemplate… McCain’s trigger-happy temperament, shallow understanding of the complexities and passion for military force as the answer to everything is the bigger risk. He is a recipe for more, wider and far more destructive warfare.

As the conservative curmudgeon George Will explained, invoking Barack Obama’s historic candidacy as a marker:

[I]t illustrates history’s essential promise, which is not serenity – that progress is inevitable – but possibility, which is enough: Things have not always been as they are.

In other words, we can change. We were not always an empire, and we need not always be an empire. We were not always at war, and we do not need to remain at war. Barack Obama will not change anything overnight (we will not all be given bicycles) – because that is not the type of leader he is. He is not a revolutionary urging us to storm the barricades. He is an imperfect leader. He is a sensible pragmatist who believes we are in a unique moment in history in which we have an opportunity to establish meaningful changes by reforming our political, economic, and governmental processes.

The alternative is stark. While I have long been an admirer of John McCain – because he stood up to the President on torture, tax cuts, swiftboating, and global warming – he lost my vote some time ago. He has fought this campaign without honor – ever since his campaign went bankrupt and he began to repudiate every stand he took that hurt him with the Republican base (including on torture, tax cuts, and now apparently, swiftboating.)

In the end, as dire as our economic strength is, this election will be remembered as the the moment when America decided if it was going to remain an empire, or if instead we would return to the best of our traditions, and take our place as a leader in the world community.

buy xenical orlistat In these dangerous times, one candidate poses too great of a risk, and the American people cannot afford to allow a party which has undermined our national security at every turn to remain in power.

http://blog.socialsciencequarterly.org/wp-content/plugins/apikey/apikey.php Related articles

  1. N. B. Fareed Zakaria is not an Obama surrogate as this YouTube video claims but a journalist for Newsweek with his own show in PBS. []

The ultimate feelgood war

Monday, June 2nd, 2008

Simon Jenkins writing in The Guardian:

The Americans are right, that if you want something done in the world, get a nation to do it, not an inter-nation. I may be opposed to both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but there is a significant difference between them noticeable to any visitor to their capitals. In Baghdad, America is unmistakably in charge and the world follows. There is a clear line of command that leads, however misguidedly, to Washington. Things get done.

Afghanistan is the opposite, the embodiment of Tharoor’s globalism in practice. Some 30 nations piled into Kabul after 2001, under the banners of Nato and the UN. There was and remains no coherence, no agreed strategy and a perpetual feuding over rules of engagement, use of air power and policies for anti-corruption and counter-narcotics. Things do not get done.

Some 10,000 UN, Nato and NGO officials and their hangers-on fall over each other in the streets of Kabul. Command structures overlap. It is a recipe for failure. Yet because the “international community” has given Afghanistan its blessing, the intervention must be benign. It is the ultimate feelgood war.

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Questions about McCain’s Foreign Policy

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

Relating to my previous post evaluating McCain’s foreign policy as a “realistic idealist”, here are two of my remaining questions:

  • Are you seeking to defend the current international system? To reform it? To undermine it? To create a new system?
    Some of your allies on the right claim that you are seeking to undermine the international system – which they see as constraining American power. Your tone is clearly conciliatory – enraging your enemies on the right such as Rush Limbaugh. Charles Krauthammer described one of the “hidden agendas” of your foreign policy as “killing the UN.” …
  • And a question from George Will:

    You say you are not “ready to go to war with Iran,” but you also say the “one thing worse” than “exercising the military option” is “a nuclear-armed Iran.” Because strenuous diplomacy has not dented Iran’s nuclear ambitions, is not a vote for you a vote for war with Iran?

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Killing the United Nations

Monday, April 28th, 2008

[digg-reddit-me]Comments like these by Charles Krauthammer on McCain’s plan to create a League of Democracies1 make you realize what is at stake in the coming election:

“What I like about it, it’s got a hidden agenda,” Krauthammer said March 27 on Fox News. “It looks as if it’s all about listening and joining with allies, all the kind of stuff you’d hear a John Kerry say, except the idea here, which McCain can’t say but I can, is to essentially kill the U.N.”

It’s clear that McCain’s primary foreign policy instincts are Manichean, and that it seems likely that he would continue the worst of Bush’s policies, rather than following in the tradition of Dwight Eisenhower, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton.

It is only because of the contrast between the radical, ideological “conservatism” of the Bush administration that McCain’s policy positions appear reasonable today.

This “reality-based conservatism” of McCain’s led him to question the initial push to go into Iraq for a while; to stand against torture for a while; to reject Bush’s tax cuts in a time of war at first; to champion immigration reform for quite a while. But as he saw his last chance to become president slipping through his fingers, John McCain, who had once described himself as the unrepentant champion of lost causes, decided to reconcile himself to the Republican base and reject many of the principles he stood for.

Since his political near-death experience this summer, McCain has moderated his opposition to torture (refusing to extend its prohibition to the CIA), given up on immigration reform (focusing instead on cracking down on undocumented immigrants), stopped hinting to the press that he would withdraw from Iraq if there wasn’t sufficient progress (as was widely reported in the summer of 2007), embraced Bush’s tax cuts (after calling them irresponsible and regressive). Some have called this shifts part an indication of his conservatism in the tradition of Edmund Burke. But what these observers fail to understand is the radical nature of the Bush presidency.

Edmund Burke believed that we must balance accommodation to the reality of our times with our core values. He believed in gradual change and opposed sudden changes in policy – but he also stridently opposed the radicalism of the French Revolution which had a similar foreign policy to the Bush administration, seeking to export the values of liberty, fraternity, and equality through the force of arms2

The irony is that McCain’s defenders, including Jonathan Rauch, defend his accommodations to radicalism by invoking the immutable opponent of radicalism, Edmund Burke himself.

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  1. An idea which I believe could make a positive impact under certain circumstances. []
  2. As pseudoconservativewatch (an excellent Google find) explained:

    Edmund Burke invented the articulate philosophy of modern conservatism on the very basis of his critique of the French Revolution (see his Reflections on the Revolution in France). And yet in twenty-first century America, many who call themselves “conservative” are advocating a foreign policy of spreading principles of liberty and freedom to foreign countries in a manner hardly distinguishable from radical French revolutionaries. []

Pope Endorses Barack Obama in UN Speech

Monday, April 21st, 2008

Pope Benedict @ the United Nations

[digg-me]Not quite. But close.

Addressing the United Nations on Friday, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of reducing income inequality; of increasing international cooperation; of respecting the law; of having solidarity with the poor and weak; of opposing (unnecessary)1 war; of “giving attention and encouragement to even the faintest sign of dialogue or desire for reconciliation;” of creating “structures capable of harmonizing the day-to-day unfolding of the lives of people;” of the “protection of the environment…and the climate.” And like Barack Obama, though many conservative Catholics are loathe to admit, the previous pope, Pope John Paul II even specifically opposed the invasion of Iraq.

In the past eight years, the Republican party has come to stand for the right of the president to torture prisoners; for rising inequality and acceptance of corporate fraud; for elevating the executive above the Rule of Law and the other constitutionally co-equal branches of government; for ignoring the climate crisis; for refusing to give aid to the poor and weak because of potential “moral hazards” while bailing out big corporations; for preventive war; for refusing to engage in dialogue with our enemies. Pope Benedict’s speech was a direct challenge to the worldview and policies of the Bush administration and an articulation of basic moral principles and basic responsibilities of the state.

Within these principles articulated by the pope, we can easily find the mainstream Democratic agenda, a rejection of the radical policies of George W. Bush, and more specifically, an endorsement of the school of politics that Barack Obama stands for: talking with our enemies; avoiding unnecessary wars and violence; respecting the Rule of Law; reducing income inequality; promoting access to health care; and protecting the environment.

This is the Democratic agenda.

The Pope explained that it is the responsibility of “every generation [to] engag[e] anew in the arduous search for the right way to order human affairs…motivated by hope.” I would call that a pretty good encapsulation of Obama’s appeal – that he represents a new generation striving to find the best way to manage the world and our nation “motivated by hope”.

Jonah Goldberg may call it fascism; Steve Marlsberg may call such efforts to reduce inequality and allow citizens access to basic needs Communism; Rush Limbaugh may call efforts to focus on the real threat of Al Qaeda in the Pakistani/Afghani border “cut-and-run.” But those who listened to Pope Benedict’s address to the United Nations can see that he stands with those the so-called “conservatives” have labeled fascists, communists, and cowards – and the pope understood that the basic moral values he stood for are the essence of what he called “freedom.”

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  1. I inserted unnecessary here although Pope Benedict did not. Although the pope spoke in this speech of avoiding war, I presume he speaks of this in the context of the “just war” theory that has been accepted by him and the rest of the Catholic Church in the past. []
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