Archive for the ‘history’ Category

The killer punch that sinks the McCain carnival

Monday, September 29, 2008

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McCain’s politics of personality

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

John McCain saluting at an audience member during a campaign rally in Lebanon, Ohio, 9 September 2008Via the BBC

Analysis from the Daily Dish

So far, he has let us all down. My guess is he will continue to do so. And that decision, for my part, ends whatever respect I once had for him. On core moral issues, where this man knew what the right thing was, and had to pick between good and evil, he chose evil. When he knew that George W. Bush’s war in Iraq was a fiasco and catastrophe, and before Donald Rumsfeld quit, McCain endorsed George W. Bush against his fellow Vietnam vet, John Kerry in 2004. By that decision, McCain lost any credibility that he can ever put country first. He put party first and his own career first ahead of what he knew was best for the country.

And when the Senate and House voted overwhelmingly to condemn and end the torture regime of Bush and Cheney in 2006, McCain again had a clear choice between good and evil, and chose evil.

He capitulated and enshrined torture as the policy of the United States, by allowing the CIA to use techniques as bad as and worse than the torture inflicted on him in Vietnam. He gave the war criminals in the White House retroactive immunity against the prosecution they so richly deserve. The enormity of this moral betrayal, this betrayal of his country’s honor, has yet to sink in. But for my part, it now makes much more sense. He is not the man I thought he was.

And when he had the chance to engage in a real and substantive debate against the most talented politician of the next generation in a fall campaign where vital issues are at stake, what did McCain do? He began his general campaign with a series of grotesque, trivial and absurd MTV-style attacks on Obama’s virtues and implied disgusting things about his opponent’s patriotism.

And then, because he could see he was going to lose, ten days ago, he threw caution to the wind and with no vetting whatsoever, picked a woman who, by her decision to endure her own eight-month pregnancy of a Down Syndrome child in public, that he was going to reignite the culture war as a last stand against Obama. That’s all that is happening right now: a massive bump in the enthusiasm of the Christianist base. This is pure Rove.

Yes, McCain made a decision that revealed many appalling things about him. In the end, his final concern is not national security. No one who cares about national security would pick as vice-president someone who knows nothing about it as his replacement. No one who cares about this country’s safety would gamble the security of the world on a total unknown because she polled well with the Christianist base. No person who truly believed that the surge was integral to this country’s national security would pick as his veep candidate a woman who, so far as we can tell anything, opposed it at the time.

McCain has demonstrated in the last two months that he does not have the character to be president of the United States. And that is why it is more important than ever to ensure that Barack Obama is the next president. The alternative is now unthinkable. And McCain – no one else – has proved it.

Land (and ecological) rights will be the new frontier

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Who owns land? Indeed, can one rightfully claim ownership of what were originally, before the rise of homo sapiens, ‘neutral’, ‘free’, or ‘unclaimed’ places? These are profound questions, ones that go right to the root of Western, industrialised, secular society.

You may have read in the media recently about the ‘previously uncontacted tribe’ in the Amazon (although the organisation that campaigns on their behalf, Survival International, never claimed the tribe was ‘previously uncontacted’).

Survival campaigns for the rights of indigenous people, one tribe of which, the Amazon Makuxi Indians, lives on a specially demarcated reserve. The official recognition hasn’t stopped a local farmer from using his political muscle and resources to intimidate them, however.  Here is troubling footage of what is happening to the Makuxi, conveying in a small way what has been happening for centuries all over the world; don’t watch it if you’re squeamish or young.

No doubt, rising oil prices, biofuels, the cost of food etc. are all playing their part in pressuring farmers and landowners. But what’s been happening in the Amazon, in Zimbabwe (land grabbing farmland ‘back from’ whites), Botswana (diamond prospecting ousting the Kalahari Bushmen) and elsewhere could just be the thin end of the wedge.

I suspect that people’s rights in relation to what some call ‘ecological services’ – healthy water, air, soil and, I’d perhaps add, experiences of wildness – will be the next frontier for those interested in society’s development, i.e. coming historically after democratic, women’s and civil rights progress in European and US social trajectories.

The great birthing – the significance of the US presidential election

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Like me, you may have become fascinated – obsessed, even – with the presidential election in the United States.

Some might think that the levels of money being raised are obscene. To that perspective, I’d counter that people’s participation rather than corrupt secret deals is the cause. Others may think that no politician can be honourable. To this perspective, I’d counter that we’re all human but that some are better than others.

I believe this election is the most important the world will know for a very long time. The stakes are the highest they have been.

Can the growing sectarian conflict in the world, that’s embroiled with American foreign policy, be reversed? Can the rhetoric of intolerance, and the belief that might is right, be overcome? Can the political will be generated to address global warming, and other seemingly intractable issues like the rising food prices globally? America can shine a light and do something positive to address each of these questions.

In sum, this election may be the last time that any one nation state has the chance to prevent the erosion of human civilisation as we know it. It’s about sustainability in its deepest sense.

Now I don’t believe any one individual alone can solve these issues. However, the president of the United States, as of 2008, sure sets the tone and leads by example in how to go about addressing them.

If it’s about anything in particular, I’d suggest the election is about the ability to manage amidst complexity.

McCain, unfortunately for him and the Republican Party, has the wrong policies. Clinton has the wrong decision-making approach.

To my mind, the tortuous Democratic nomination campaign reflects the labour pains of a new kind of politics, one that Senator Barack Obama seems the better able to appreciate. Obama has, broadly speaking, both the right policies and the right decision-making approach. (For those who missed it the first time, read Andrew Sullivan’s article, The New Face of America, published in the Times.) That is, of course, from my point of view, but I believe he gives people confidence that he is able to handle, grapple with, and forge pathways through complexity.

Like many others of his supporters, I was disappointed that Clinton won the Pensylvania primary, but I wasn’t surprised. Not only was it predicted and she heavily favoured. If you think about it, anything big that tries to be born has long and drawn-out labour pains.

An important part of the new politics is the grass-roots organising going on, facilitated by the internet. The fundraising has been staggering. The ability to reflect and share ideas and perspectives on the campaign, online, is also formidable. Candidate’s supporters in a very real sense are guiding where the campaign goes. The feedback from a candidate’s speech to a supporter’s online donation can be immediate.

Innovatively, an American NGO, MoveOn.org, which has endorsed Obama, is currently hosting an online competition for the best ‘Obama in 30 Seconds‘ advert. I’ve watched a few now, engrossed in how keen people have been to express themselves in aid of a political campaign.

Something I have found heartening has been how people have been effected when they have met Obama in person, heard him speak at rallies, and have had a chance to size him up; like here.

Here are four of my overall favourites

And my vote would be for ‘My Name Is Barack Obama – Afraid’

Meet the 9,550 year old tree

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

world's-oldest-tree-sweden.jpg

A spruce tree found in Sweden –

[…] scientists found a cluster of about 20 trees that are 5,660, 9,000 and 9,550 years old. They used carbon dating on the cones and wood, found underneath its crown, and that showed that its root system had been growing for 9,550 years. Spruce trees grow by cloning so they produce exact copies. It was explained that “while any individual tree growing in the area would itself not be more than a few hundred years old, any tree found on site over the centuries would be generated from the same genetic root system. There is constant turnover in what is actually growing above ground but genetically, the trees growing today are the same as those from thousands of years ago.” A fence is being erected around the tree to protect it from trophy hunters.

– from Treehugger. And this from the BBC

The discovery of the tree has been surprising, because the spruce had until now been regarded as a relative newcomer in the region.

“Our results have shown the complete opposite, that the spruce is one of the oldest known trees in the mountain range,” Mr Kullmann said.

He explained that 10,000 years ago the spruce would have been extremely rare in the region and that it was conceivable Mesolithic humans might have imported the species as they migrated northwards with the receding ice cap.

The discovery also shows that it was much warmer in the region at the time than had been thought previously, perhaps even warmer than today, he added.

What’s so great about Tibet anyway?

Monday, March 31, 2008

Good overview at Slate about why China is so interested in Tibet: nationalism mainly, followed by strategic and economic factors (i.e. mountain-range buffer zone and mining respectively. The linked-to article on the Chinese mining industry doesn’t say anything about uranium deposits there, though – which, according to the Tibetan Government In Exile, are the largest high-grade deposits in the world.) There’s also a nice ‘bonus explanation’ as to when Buddhist monks can get violent, ending with the following proviso –

It’s important to note, however, that the actual extent to which monks were responsible for the violence in Tibet remains unclear. Monks instigated the initial demonstrations, but lay Tibetans may have ratcheted up those protests to riot status.

Influencing the conversation: Gore’s self-funded ad blitz

Monday, March 31, 2008

Superb interview, which prompted a personal reflection on his failed 2000 presidential campaign, despite his attempt (‘words fail to describe’ etc.) to evade the question – i.e. ‘shattering’.

Vodpod videos no longer available.From CBS News.

Note Gore’s message – ‘Yes We Can’ mitigate the devastating effects of man-made global warming (which sounds good as far as an Obama endorsement is concerned).

[One of the things I find interesting about his approach is his casting of the issue as a moral-cum-spiritual problem, one that concerns basic survival –

“We all share the exact same interest in doing the right thing on this. Who are we as human beings? Are we destined to destroy this place that we call home, planet earth? I can’t believe that that’s our destiny. It is not our destiny. But we have to awaken to the moral duty that we have to do the right thing and get out of this silly political game-playing about it. This is about survival,” he said.

I had thought basic survival comes first on the (Maslow) hierarchy of needs – with spiritual/moral needs coming later, once basic survival needs have been satisfied. (I kind of like Max Neef’s take on this; see the Maslow wikipedia link above. Maslow could have been projecting a whole lot of cultural junk, about the developmental stages of evolution towards ‘civilisation’, into his hierarchy – but that’s a whole other discussion.) Maybe Gore’s understanding of the relationship between survival and morality reflects a difference between British and American culture. I don’t know. To my mind, matters of survival don’t necessitate lofty arguments about morality but rather the finding of food, water, air, shelter and warmth. And probably laughter too. Anyway…]

Perhaps unsurprisingly many are envisaging Gore as a possible bridge between the Democratic party and the White House. What did I say? I still maintain, though, that Obama should be at the top of the ticket.

Some intervention into the presidential campaign his ad campaign could be.

Time for Clinton (and probably McCain too) to step aside

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Today, Obama gave the speech of his campaign, maybe his political life. Facing immense scrutiny regarding his alliance with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama had to explain how he could vehemently disagree with Wright’s highly politicised outbursts whilst maintaining his friendship. Andrew Sullivan rightly, I think, says this is a speech America has been waiting for for a long, long time –

Update
This MSNBC discussion confirms the ripples the speech will have.

The Great Leap Forward, phase II – governance and complexity in China

Friday, March 14, 2008

Good reportage from the BBC’s Business Correspondent, Paul Mason –

The economy is overheating: 8.7% annualised inflation; a 23% rise in food prices.

In a wholesale market in Shanghai, I met stallholders furious at being squeezed between rising farm prices and the low disposable incomes of their clients.

In the glitzy cocktail bars of that city, I met others able to ride the wave of the overhead.

Some 150 million people are now gambling their savings on the stock exchange. The typical investor is young, female and wears Burberry.

They are confident their government will not allow the current stock market bubble – 400% up in four years – to turn into a crash.

But when you get out of the eastern seaboard and see the industrial heartland of China, it is clear the economy may not be the biggest problem.

There is a water crisis: major rivers like the Yangtze are being polluted beyond repair.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government is planning to divert whole river systems to feed and water Beijing during the Olympic Games.

For me, the question is this: can China’s governance system cope with the increasingly complex and critical decisions that economic development is posing?

In other words, is its development model sustainable – or will too rapid and one-sided progress hit the buffers, economic, environmental and social?