Saturday, 30 April 2011

Cuba's Grand Experiment

Cuba's latest Party Congress seemed indicative of a global trend towards market liberalization. Cuba, one of the old stalwarts of the state-run economy, seems to have finally abandoned its' burdensome regulations concerning business. Cubans are now allowed to run their own enterprises without being branded as criminals, and state subsidies are now targeted to the neediest rather than given out to everyone indiscriminately.

It reminds me of when Deng Xiaoping opened up the Chinese economy by announcing that to be rich is to be glorious, and by saying that "no matter if it is a white cat or a black cat; as long as it can catch mice, it is a good cat." Since then, China has become a world power with centers of incredible prosperity. It has also become a country where there are increasingly widening gaps between the poor and the rich, and it faces the somewhat unique situation of a country that has a neo-liberal economy with few welfare programs governed by a totalitarian police state. If one uses the rough and sometimes imperfect Gini coefficient to stake this out statistically,  China's income inequality is now higher than most developed nations, and it is still increasing steadily. Chinese citizens also suffer from the fundamental lack of respect the government has for basic human rights, as the arbitrary arrests of human rights activists such as Ai Weiwei and Liu Xiaobo clearly indicate.

Still, it is obvious China's ascent is something Cuba wants to mirror. I also have a dim sense of optimism that the Cuban government will reform itself politically. One of the changes laid down in the Congress was a limit on terms, and the Cuban government has been releasing political prisoners.

Regardless, many people will believe that it is the American embargo that is killing the island rather than any lack of economic or political reform. It is true that at least some of the dearth in foreign exchange and economic prosperity is due to this terribly stagnant policy, but it does not represent the whole picture. Hopefully, these tentative steps towards reform will coalesce into a thawing in what has been perhaps the most contentious relationship in the Western hemisphere. The Obama administration has seemed open to this possibility. If this is done right, both countries will benefit enormously.

Most of all, I hope the Cuban people can benefit from this grand experiment. Castro made waves when he said the Cuban system wasn't even working for Cuba anymore, and I cannot help but agree with him. On a recent visit to Cuba, I could not help but notice the relative poverty of the areas outside the resorts. One night, I met one of the security guards who patrolled the beaches. I talked to him at length thanks to some translation help from a friend I was with, and after asking him a couple of trivial questions about baseball, I wondered what his life was like.

I'll never forget what he said. He loved Castro, and he loved Che, but he said his life was very hard. That was obvious. The man looked like he was 65, yet he was still working hard, and doing what amounted to a young man's job. He said his family often struggled with food. I gave the guy twenty dollars, since he spent two nights regaling us with his stories, and he seemed to be a nice guy. I knew too that he would be able to get much more from these twenty dollars than I ever could. A friend I was with gave him some money too. His face simply lit up.

His name was Antonio. He said he wanted to emigrate to America, and seek a better life there, but he was too afraid to do so.

Hopefully, with the advent of economic and political reforms, prosperity will come to him and other Cubans, rather than lurking just around the corner.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

While I'm on that beat---

speaking of the true cost of war

alert---it's kinda graphic. also spoiler alert for you people out there who don't know Germany lost WW2.

they seriously need to show this clip to everyone brought up on a diet of Rambo and G.I Joe. 

Kill em all---how war can make the most horrible of crimes forgettable.

In 1949, in special consideration of how war is a time where the fundamental human rights of civilians and combatants is especially vulnerable, most nations of the world signed and ratified the Geneva Conventions. However, the conflicts that have played out after this signing indicate that many nations still do not heed this edict.

One example of this comes from declassified American military documents that record that "US commanders repeatedly, and without ambiguity, ordered forces under their control to target and kill Korean refugees caught on the battlefield."

It comes on the heels of other declassified documents that implied American knowledge, and complicity with South Korean massacres of suspected leftists-including women and children. The death toll has been rumored to be up to 100,000, although it is likely we will never know the whole truth due to the political sensitivity of these killings.

If America, self-avowed leader in the rights and dignity of mankind, can simply look on as her allies slaughtered thousands of their own citizens, and actively participated in this slaughter---well, it certainly dispels the notion that evil and good are black and white, Soviet and American, freedom fighter and terrorist-----doesn't it?

It's a scary thought, since I really think America is one of the better nations in this regard. I am sure that other regimes have committed much worse (Stalin and Mao's crimes against their own people come to mind). In fact, the only reason why I would bother posting American war crimes is because the American people have the freedom to acknowledge and rectify these grievous errors, a privilege that is denied to most of the world.

It's a sad thought to think that even a country like America is prone to these bouts of savagery.

This idea also gets to the notion of the "true cost of war". I have always found that governments seem to make a game of tricking their own citizens by classifying sensitive documents that describe the whole picture of what's truly going on in their name (and of course, financed by their money). We only know about the Korean war atrocities because fifty years later, the American government has decided her people have more or less forgotten about Korea (which they were quite right on). It makes me wonder what they're trying to hide in the top secret documents they have out there now. We already know that some American soldiers murder Afghan civilians for sport. Perhaps if we knew the true cost of wars, we'd understand why there seem to be so many suicide bombers (can we really blame lunacy and the fact they hate our freedoms for this long?). Perhaps if we knew the true cost of war, we'd understand the terrible implications of it, and grasp that it truly is a tool of last resort. Perhaps if we knew the true cost of war, there would be less war.

but here I am, dreaming again
and hoping someday you'll join me too


habs lose to bruins.

nuff said. 

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Big Ben on the tape.

The New York Times is following Ben Bernanke's news conference. It seems that, as far as I've gleaned, the loose monetary policy the Fed has embarked on with rounds of quantitative easing is going to end. Whether or not the American economy will start losing momentum with this announcement and the impending budget cuts is the big question. Britain, a case study for austerity measures, seems to have done decently, even if there was a slight blip.

Still, they're not even close to getting out of the woods, and things don't look great. There's no need to even mention the disastrous implications of IMF measures on the poor debt lepers of the Eurozone. I'm slightly worried, to be honest, that the American economy might just relapse into contraction.

Still, you gotta balance the budget someday I suppose. 

On a somewhat related note, in my head, given recent events, I've already constructed how America could fall if her policy-makers aren't careful---rampant inflation caused by peak oil, food riots, a Republican administration that goes bats*** crazy about inflation and instability, and tightens money policy up to the maximum, with massive cuts in social welfare programs to balance out a China-like budget for domestic security (of course, tax increases will never come into the question, and in fact further tax cuts will be given.). Then, there will be riots about the cuts. because of previous cuts in welfare programs (low-income housing/education etc.) and the continuation of drug war policy, you have an underclass of people just spoiling for blood since they have basically been given nothing for their lives.

I guess that fills my "2012" quota of the year. incidentally, I guess that means the last time I can mention apocalypse is when the goddamn thing will be happening.

Uganda reverses course on executing gays.

I cannot believe how this law has stood despite violating basically every aspect of human rights. To me, it's an extension of the fundamentalist Christian "homosexual agenda" gone completely wrong, where Ugandan politicians are basically concerned about the most ludicrous thing (homosexuals recruiting children to join them), and therefore, they can justify gay rights advocates such as the assassinated David Kato becoming prey to irrational prejudices, and they can justify killing their own citizens for personal choices that do not really harm anyone else.

It has meant a whole lot of suffering for a whole lot of people, as Ugandans now feel they can persecute any actual or merely suspected homosexuals with impunity.

Even though the law is pared down to the point where capital punishment is probably going off the table, the imposition of a life sentence on anyone convicted of a homosexual act is still a possibility.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Silence on Bahrain

They say democracy has no borders, and liberty is free, but how come Bahrain gets silence, while Libya gets F-16s?

The American Dream

The poor becoming rich, hard work paying off, a man earning his rights-all that good stuff.

Clutch Time Predictions

Looks like three crucial games up tonight---

Two Game 7s and one ever-so-important Game 6.

The Flyers looked like they were going to choke the season away, but I guess they found a way to pull back. They've got a ridiculous core group of forwards with Giroux, Carter, Richards, Briere and Hartnell, which to me, is about as ideal a combination of talent and grit you can find in the league. With the momentum swinging in their favor, I think Philly takes this one, unless Ryan Miller pulls off a miracle shutout/one-goal game.

What can be said about Chicago-Vancouver? Luongo has always been a playoff choker in my books, and how fitting is it that Chicago is the one to remind him once again of his post-season ghosts? Vancouver's going to start him, despite going away from him in Game 6. That doesn't look too good. Despite the ridiculous star power Vancouver boasts with the Sedin brothers and Kesler, I'm gonna have to go with the Blackhawks in this one. Over the last month, Sharp/Kane/Toews have looked and performed like the best line in the NHL, and I think that will finally carry over to a Hawks series win. Doesn't hurt to have a game-changer like Hossa lurking around either.

As for Boston-Montreal...the head says Boston, what with Montreal performing an almost comic collapse. Heart says Montreal though. Hopefully the Price is right.

Of butterflies and ill winds---

"Blake is interesting. I have never met anyone so deliberately amoral. He suits the climate here: the madness, the pointless butchery... as I come to understand Vietnam and what it implies about the human condition, I also realize that few humans will permit themselves such an understanding. Blake's different. He understands perfectly...And he doesn't care."-Dr.Manhattan, Watchmen

I was looking at the photos of Senator John McCain smiling in Benghazi, and sometimes, when you connect things together, it all just collapses into a nice, tangled web.

America funded Mubarek's regime to promote Middle East peace, which is pretty much an euphemism for propping up Israel unconditionally. The second largest recipient of American foreign aid was Mubarak's regime. Israel was the first. This aid was allocated mostly towards military means---with a heavy emphasis on arms and jets. This will not change even with the recent round of cuts brought to pretty much all other forms of American foreign aid. America slashed budgets for the Peace Corps, but somehow found its' way to giving more money to Israeli warfare.

"The budget proposes $3.075 billion in US military aid for Israel, $75 million more than in fiscal year 2011. "

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, reflecting the view of many of his fellow congressmen, thinks giving arms and bombs to Israel and any countries that support it is "strategically vital to US security interests." Nary a thought is given to the possibility that supporting HIV/AIDS treatment in Africa or migrant assistance programs will maybe help alleviate some of the suffering of the class of people that are the most likely to become future terrorists-namely those so poor that they simply don't give a f**k anymore.

There is no thought given to the fact that while the United States nominally promotes democracy and liberty, it props up regimes that torture, imprison, and murder their own citizens, so long as they fit "American security interests".

Revolution, after all, is easier to make on an empty stomach and a just cause. Extreme conditions give rise to extreme politics. These were lessons human history has been trying to teach us endlessly---somewhere in the endless chorus of "never again" that came up after the most horrific Holocaust is the notion that we are saying "never again" not only to the terrible killing of innocents, but also the desperate conditions that gave rise to such inhumanity. We should have learned that never again meant not only never again to the Holocaust, but never again to the Weimar Republic, and never again to Versailles.

Sadly, we have never fully grasped this lesson. Perhaps in time we will, but it is clear we have not fully appreciated how a butterfly fluttering its' wings could, in theory, unleash a tsunami on the other side of the world.

Ayman al-Zawahiri was born to an upper-middle class family in Cairo. He came from a large family of doctors and scholars. In his youth, he loved poetry, and hated "violent sports". His family was "religious, but not overly pious." Disgusted by the authoritarian Sadat regime, he eventually formed an underground cell that called for revolution. After Sadat's assassination, Vice President Mubarek succeeded Sadat, and imposed the same heavy-handedness his predecessor had. Ayman, along with 1500 others, were imprisoned and tortured, and languished in the same prison system that kept Egypt's new, fresh-faced Facebook revolutionaries just so recently.

Three years later, he left for Afghanistan as soon as he was released. It was there that he met Osama Bin Laden, and it was there that they spearheaded the "mujaheddin" or insurgency against the occupiers of Afghanistan. In the interests of freedom, the mujaheddin were given American rockets and guns to fight America's enemy at the time-the big, mean Soviet Union.

Ayman al-Zawahiri  is now the eternally hunted "operational" head of Al Qaeda, one of those very few men who seem to have become more myth than flesh in the eternal war for peace.

As you reflect on this sobering tale, you can't help but think there is something we can learn from this. Perhaps military might and hard power, as well as its' extension through military aid to dubious regimes, all in the name of national security, is not all it is cracked out to be---you cannot help but think that every time the United States has been forced into conflict in the last fifty years, she has failed to reach any of her strategic goals (the Iraqi/Afghan mess, Vietnam falling, Korea line, Somalia in ruins). Yet America and her NATO allies continue to spend on what seems to be an eternal arms race for overbearing, all-consuming military might. Military spending is the largest discretionary spending item in the American budget. The American military accounts for 43% of the world's military expenditure at a cost of about $687 billion per year, which is about 7 times more than China spends (as of 2009). If you take any military statistic, you will quickly see that America is in effect embroiled in an arms race with herself. It becomes laughable when you consider that of the other 57% of the world's military expenditure, most are spent by some of America's staunchest allies (significantly the NATO bloc of Italy, Germany, France, and Britain as well as Japan). However, even with all this power, America still cannot seem to achieve the "nation-building" goals it sets for itself.

Perhaps then, there is something to say about the "strategic importance" of soft power, and of helping the poor and sick citizens of ruined Third World countries. Maybe when the American people call for cuts in foreign aid, it is because they think America spends 25% of her GDP on helping the world, whereas the country should spend something around 10% of GDP, while in reality America only spends about 0.5% of its GDP on foreign aid, of which a large proportion is military aid destined to Israel and her allies. Maybe if we, the developed nations, earnestly sought to help other nations, rather then exploit them to our own material ends, we might actually have less security concerns. Maybe if we saw other human beings as people rather then as threats, the cycle of violence that arms-giving and the military-industrial complex promote would abate. Maybe if we earnestly promoted democracy and freedom without exception, we would have little need for violent rebellions to do the same. I can only qualify all of this as a maybe since it has never been tried on a large scale since the Marshall Plan that lifted Europe back towards economic success after WW2--- a resounding success by most measures. I can also only say maybe because it seems that for now, the politics of today will never allow this to happen.

This was made painfully obvious to me when I saw McCain's headshot in Benghazi. With his hawk-like rhetoric, and the announcement that President Obama was authorizing the use of drones (yes, the very same drones that have caused a furor in Pakistan, Yemen and Afghanistan for causing numerous civilian deaths), and talk of America arming the Libyan rebels, I could not help but think of the ill winds that one butterfly can bring. The only thing left to puzzle over would be where the tsunami would hit next.


This is just a blog I set up to try to get some of the stuff I write out there.

I've narrowed it to three spheres I have always had a strong affinity for; the application of international law and the politics that comes with policy decisions (especially when it comes to human rights abuses), economics, and sports.

Now you might say the three topics have little in common, but as with everything in our world, subtle connections exist. The wages of sports players teeter on the edge of the same economics that govern the dynamics of drug lords and dealers. People in the Third World are systematically devalued by their economic condition, and therefore are vulnerable to human rights abuses. Sports are sometimes the only escape for those left poor in rights and objects, and they sometimes represent the only way out for the talented young children stuck in the never-ending cycle of poverty. Sports also allow people to hope, and to dream.

I hope you all enjoy reading this as much as I enjoy writing it.