Monthly Archives: December 2012

Egyptian Police State Rising?

An interesting bit of news concerning what the prosecutors are doing in light of the referendum on December 15th. This could cause some major issues for those who want a long-term democratic society in Egypt:

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s chief prosecutor ordered an investigation on Thursday into allegations that opposition leaders committed treason by inciting supporters to overthrow Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

The probe by a Morsi-appointed prosecutor was launched a day after the president called for a dialogue with the opposition to heal rifts opened in the bitter fight over an Islamist-drafted constitution just approved in a referendum. The opposition decried the investigation as a throwback to Hosni Mubarak’s regime, when the law was used to smear and silence opponents.

The probe was almost certain to sour the already tense political atmosphere in the country.

The allegations were made initially in a complaint by at least two lawyers sent to the chief prosecutor earlier this month. They targeted opposition leaders Mohammed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace laureate and former head of the U.N. nuclear agency, former Foreign Minister Amr Moussa, and Hamdeen Sabahi. Both Moussa and Sabahi were presidential candidates who competed against Morsi in the last election.

There was no immediate comment by any of the three opposition leaders named but the opposition dismissed the allegations.

Emad Abu Ghazi, secretary-general of the opposition party ElBaradei heads, said the investigation was “an indication of a tendency toward a police state and the attempt to eliminate political opponents.” He said the ousted Mubarak regime dealt with the opposition in the same way.

Yahoo

They cite the fact that there were some violent demonstrations as apparent proof against opposition leaders. Ever is this the big issue of democracy — pinning the issues that plague any group, the actions of a minority within a larger group as the standard by which the leadership goes. In reality, this is not a proper method of analyzing and holding guilty the opposition leaders at all — and we all know it.

Of course, this same villainy can be applied to any political system anywhere where we often see liberals or conservatives point to the actions of minorities within those groups being greatly unflattering. We cannot hear about the Tea Party without someone pointing out that there were violent folks or Nazis in that group, and we cannot hear about some generally mainstream leftist group without hearing about some of the greater absurdity that happens at its lower ranks. These are often used to pollute elections and distort the reality of the situation while the prosecuting group maintains they are doing this for the best interests of everyone.

It reminds me of how Europe handles the far right wing.  But instead of literal prosecutions they just go nuts with their media sources — which I am sure is happening in Egypt as it is.

European Banks Now Falling Under ECB

Thanks to Igor Antunov — it now appears that finally the Germans will get something out of the fact that they pay for all of Europe. They are now forcing a large amount of European banks to play under the rules of a central banking system that will invariably lead to the centralization of power working for the interests of the Germans and of Europe for a whole.

Europe took its first big step towards banking union early on Thursday morning, as eurozone finance ministers finally agreed a plan to cede power to a common bank supervisor in Frankfurt.

After almost four months of fraught diplomacy that laid bare deep Franco-German divisions, finance ministers brokered terms for the European Central Bank to begin direct supervision of big eurozone lenders from early 2014.

The reform requires governments to surrender jealously guarded control over national banks, in the most concerted financial integration project since the creation of the single currency.

Under the compromise, the ECB will have direct responsibility for banks with assets of more than €30bn, or representing more than a fifth of a states’ national output.

This covers almost all French lenders but leaves most of Germany’s retail banking sector — and its politically powerful network of savings banks — effectively exempt and under the ambit of the German national authorities.

 CNN

 The Germans have done two things cleverly:

– Stripped away the power of the imbecile regimes throughout Europe from being able to control a number of their banks and put it in the hands of a commission located in Frankfurt.

– Written it in such a way as that their own banks will largely not be subject to this committee.

A brilliant victory for Germany who has managed to keep much of their financial sector unscathed while bringing the irresponsible children under a blanket of power (and supervision).

Russia Admits Syrian Rebels May Win

A stark revelation from the Russians who are seemingly the only friends of consequence to the Syrian regime:

Syrian rebels are gaining ground and might win, Russia’s Middle East envoy said on Thursday, in the starkest such admission from a major ally of President Bashar al-Assad in 20 months of conflict.

“One must look the facts in the face,” Russia’s state-run RIA quoted Mikhail Bogdanov as saying. “Unfortunately, the victory of the Syrian opposition cannot be ruled out.”

Bogdanov, a deputy foreign minister and the Kremlin’s special envoy for Middle East affairs, said the Syrian government was “losing control of more and more territory” and Moscow was preparing to evacuate Russian citizens if necessary.

Advancing rebels now hold an almost continuous arc of territory from the east to the southeast of Damascus, despite fierce army bombardments designed to drive them back.

The head of NATO said he thought Assad’s government was nearing collapse and the new leader of Syria’s opposition told Reuters the people of Syria no longer needed international forces to protect them.

“The horrific conditions which the Syrian people endured prompted them to call on the international community for military intervention at various times,” said Mouaz al-Khatib, a preacher who heads Syria’s National Coalition.

“Now the Syrian people have nothing to lose. They handled their problems by themselves. They no longer need international forces to protect them. The international community has been in a slumber, silent and late (to react) as it saw the Syrian people bleeding and their children killed for the past 20 months,” he added in the interview on Wednesday night.

He did not specify whether by intervention he meant a no-fly zone that rebels have been demanding for month, a ground invasion – which the opposition has warned against – or arms shipments.

He said the opposition would consider any proposal from Assad to surrender power and leave the country, but would not give any assurances until it saw a firm proposal.

Reuters

In the game of politics it is never good for you to admit weakness to the international community and before your enemy. It is almost the equivalent of giving aid to the enemy, in a sense, and the fact that the Russian military has admitted as such openly means that there are major issues facing the Syrian regime in spite of having the apparent upper hand.

Could this be drawing closer to some sort of conclusion — or are both sides entrenched well enough that the fighting may very well continue on?

Syrian Moderates Upset On Behalf Of Islamists

I love to see it when people shoot themselves in the foot — it is like they just wanted to reveal how desperate they are as a coalition as well as how potentially ideologically bankrupt the revolution is at the same time. What we have here is either an admission of their weakness to accomplish the task and thus requiring the aid of Islamist goons or it is a rare glimpse into what these liberal democrat heroes fighting dictatorship really want.

THE decision by more than 100 nations, including Australia and the US, to recognise the new Syrian opposition coalition has immediately come under a cloud as the opposition’s new leader criticised Washington for declaring one rebel force a terrorist group.

Sheikh Mouaz al-Khatib asked the Obama administration to rethink its decision to blacklist Jabhat al-Nusra, an Islamist militia that the US has linked to al-Qaeda in Iraq.

”The logic under which we consider one of the parts that fights against the Assad regime as a terrorist organisation is a logic one must reconsider,” he told reporters at a gathering of officials from 124 nations and organisations in Morocco.

US officials did not react to his statement, but Deputy Secretary of State William Burns said the cleric had been invited to visit Washington soon.

Sydney Morning Herald

 

The fact is that the fairly liberal Obama administration has some concerns backing Jabhat al-Nusra… I am well aware that Obama is no
sheep when it comes to these issues ans has done his fair share of bombing Pakistani villages, etc. but the fact remains that he is a far cry from the hawkish Republicans (well… at least in what he says)…

 

A Nobel Peace prize winner is condemning this organization yet the officially endorsed coalition of folks we want to make up the future of Syria seems to have no problem with these al-Qaeda linked thugs.

 

Apparently, this organization is not a fan of anyone who isn’t a Sunni Muslim (source).

 

Not a smart move, Syrian National Council.

2012 Sets Record High For Jailed Journalists

Turkey is the main offender — this would seem surprising to many people but Erdogan isn’t exactly a saint and the rise of more serious Islamic influences there certainly did not help… not to mention the perpetual persecution of the Kurdish people. The Kurds perhaps have been more emboldened by their gains in Iraq after Hussein’s death and may be committing what amounts to a great offense in the eyes of some Turks by daring to fight for an amount of autonomy which they deserve:

Imprisonment of journalists worldwide reached a record high in 2012, driven in part by the widespread use of charges of terrorism and other anti-state offenses against critical reporters and editors, the Committee to Protect Journalists has found. In its annual census of imprisoned journalists, CPJ identified 232 individuals behind bars on December 1, an increase of 53 over its 2011 tally.

Large-scale imprisonments in Turkey, Iran, and China helped lift the global tally to its highest point since CPJ began conducting worldwide surveys in 1990, surpassing the previous record of 185 in 1996. The three nations, the world’s worst jailers of the press, each made extensive use of vague anti-state laws to silence dissenting political views, including those expressed by ethnic minorities. Worldwide, anti-state charges such as terrorism, treason, and subversion were the most common allegations brought against journalists in 2012. At least 132 journalists were being held around the world on such charges, CPJ’s census found.

Eritrea and Syria also ranked among the world’s worst, each jailing numerous journalists without charge or due process and holding them in secret prisons without access to lawyers or family members. Worldwide, 63 journalists are being held without any publicly disclosed charge.

Vietnam, Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, and Saudi Arabia rounded out the 10 worst jailers. In two of those nations, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, the authorities used retaliatory charges such as hooliganism and drug possession to jail critical reporters and editors. In 19 cases worldwide, governments used a variety of charges unrelated to journalism to silence critical journalists. In the cases included in this census, CPJ determined that the charges were fabricated.

(Read detailed accounts of each journalist imprisoned worldwide.)

In Turkey, the world’s worst jailer with 49 journalists behind bars, the authorities held dozens of Kurdish reporters and editors on terror-related charges and a number of other journalists on charges of involvement in anti-government plots. In 2012, CPJ conducted an extensive review of imprisonments in Turkey, confirming journalism-related reasons in numerous cases previously unlisted on the organization’s annual surveys and raising the country’s total significantly. CPJ found that broadly worded anti-terror and penal code statutes have allowed Turkish authorities to conflate the coverage of banned groups and the investigation of sensitive topics with outright terrorism or other anti-state activity.

Committee To Protect Journalists

Naturally, the Kurds were targeted. Before people begin saying that they were, indeed, somehow terrorist-journalists (a popular combination traditionally, right?) need we be reminded that the conservative (in the Western sense) military was also infamously purged by Erdogan?

It is just an issue of the new order of Turkish politics has only managed to worsen what was already there.

We always think of us as being so progressive and that the world will never ‘go back’ to some point that we perceived as being worst. The truth of the matter is that many societies have seen none of this progress that Westerners always feel in their heart of hearts. And it really isn’t progress what we call ‘progress.’ It is a mere distraction… I am not sure what makes me think of this but it is rather silly to spend a moment considering of how the most progressive Islamic country on the exterior manages to come out on top of this list.

Things appear to be good to everyone simply because of some front. In reality, it is a tragedy. But a lot of folks think that progress is bikinis and smart phones.

Just because you were out there yelling “We / Are / The 99%” in a country where the poorest are greatly richer than in other places does not mean that there is some progress. Believing that because you live in a squishy, warm little world where things are getting better does not matter one iota.

History is not linear and thinking of it in such terms is so arrogant and preposterous.

We go one way and then we go another way; always looking for some sort of mythical balance that changes with each generation and to each person.

… But, do go on and tell us about Palestine.

We are all curious to hear about what you have to say about this while other issues remain entirely ignored.

Morsi Backs Down; Victory For Egyptian Democracy?

Pres. Morsi of Egypt was looking markedly similar to a dictator as he had a series of laws which enabled him blanket power to deal with all of the pains that come with the birth of democracy. This is an absolutely important victory for Democracy as a whole:

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has annulled a decree he issued last month granting him sweeping emergency powers, in a push to defuse political tensions and deadly violence gripping the country.

But a spokesman, speaking late Saturday in Cairo, said a referendum on a controversial draft constitution will still go forward as planned December 15.

An opposition umbrella of liberals, secularists and supporters of the former regime claim the draft constitution was pushed through by President Morsi’s Islamist backers, without opposition participation. They have demanded the referendum be canceled and a new draft formulated with opposition input.

Voice Of America

And that is where you have it — the crux of the problem always comes when the majority seek to essentially eliminate the rights of the minority. Of course, talking about rights here is not that… fun. We have the classical liberal concepts of what are the most basic rights of a human being but these are alien to a good degree to people of other cultures.

While appearing to be universal (and having the seal of the ‘UN’ in some cases) these still remain to be largely Western norms. It is easy to see how aspects of it are intrinsic to modern societies but it is also quite easy to see that there is a certain superficiality in all of this. Superficiality in the sense that our societies already exist in certain ways with certain guidelines. There is almost this inherent undertone in each culture, an inherent structure in each society, and deviation from it produces a whole slew of issues. This poses a lot of issues for democratic issues and society — in the philosophy of groups.

And now what can we do?

Part of us wants to see Egyptian democracy function in a purely secular, non-Islamic way but the means by which it is acceptable to make a democracy end up with situations like this where the Egyptian electorate very well may not be friendly to having a purely Western democracy along Western lines. This is what happened in Iran and it can be argued that it is happening in Turkey right now.

This is the ceaseless comedy of the Middle East, our perspectives and “democratization.”

At least there appears to be good news solely in the curbing of the apparent dictatorial powers of Morsi.

Assad Mulling Over Asylum

Potentially big news though one can never be sure of the veracity of such things:

The embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is considering the possibility to claim political asylum for himself, his family and his close circle in Latin America if he has to cede power, a newspaper reported Wednesday.

“Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister held meetings in Cuba, Venezuela and Ecuador over the past week, and brought with him classified personal letters from Assad to local leaders,” the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, reported.

Some Western and Arab countries have previously offered embattled Syrian President Assad to seek asylum and protection for his family if he leaves power.

But the window of opportunity seems to be closing for him. On Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hinted that he would not favor an asylum deal for Assad as a way to end the country’s civil war.

Ban was asked Wednesday about the potential for such a deal. He refrained to comment directly on the matter but told The Associated Press that the United Nations doesn’t allow anyone “impunity.”

Ban says that “whoever commits (a) gross violation of human rights must be held accountable and should be brought to justice. This is a fundamental principle.”

al-Arabiya

Assad leaving could end the civil war but in the long run it could really result in throwing together a new government that will be riddled with all the problems of trying to bring together a coalition that is comprised of people wanting liberal society and a lot of other people wanting Islamist theocracy.

Knowing how things are going in Egypt as it is right now, what makes us think that there would be good results?

We can always look forward and hope for the best but this might just be a case where Westerner’s hopes will outstrip the reality.

… whether or not Assad decides to go into asylum can have a big effect but whether or not it will actually mean the transition to democracy will be better or worse, who knows.

It might just leave the opposition with enough steam to start killing one another.

China Jails 10 for Illegally Detaining Petitioners

It would appear that they are turning over a new leaf in China in their fight against corruption:

BEIJING — A Beijing court has sentenced a group of men for illegally detaining people seeking to have their complaints heard by the central government, state media reported Sunday, in an apparent blow against attempts by local governments to cover up corruption and other abuses of power.

Beijing’s Chaoyang District Court sentenced one defendant to a year and a half in prison on Nov. 28 and gave months-long sentences to nine others, according to state media reports. The plaintiffs were not identified and calls to the court rang unanswered.

The report could not immediately be confirmed and it wasn’t clear when the sentences were handed down. The official China Daily newspaper briefly ran a story on its website saying the sentences had not yet been handed down, but later removed the report.

The official Guangmingwang website said the men had detained a number of people from central Henan province who had traveled to the capital hoping to have their complaints settled by the central government. Such petitioners are frequently intercepted by local government agents and detained illegally in shabby hostels commonly known as “black jails.”

The website said police acting on a complaint raided a compound in the northeastern suburbs of Beijing at the beginning of May and freed a dozen illegally detained petitioners who said they had been beaten and threatened for having brought their complaints to Beijing.

The government has recently begun acknowledging the existence of black jails as part of modest attempts to stamp out the most glaring abuses of power, but has met with only middling success. A central government order to close representative offices maintained in Beijing by local governments for the purpose of blocking complaints and lobbying for projects and funding has been mostly ignored.

The petitioning system harkens back to ancient times when Chinese emperors were obligated to hear complaints brought from commoners in the provinces. In recent years, it has been employed to skirt violence, threats, and bureaucratic hurdles put in place to block redress over corruption, illegal land seizures, unjust discrimination and other abuses at the local level.

Washington Post

Very amazing.

It is perhaps the case that the central authorities are interested in asserting their own power more completely over the outlying provinces. It is also possible that these are for the more pure purpose of the general improvement of their nation.

There are many vocal protestors who have already gained much attention elsewhere with their antics. They also have a tendency to blow up and become international stories joyously spreading egg all over the face of the Chinese government — whatever the case may be, it is without a doubt good to see the world’s most populous nation at least on the surface taking action against these thugs.

Whether this is a dog and pony show not even meant to have long lasting impact, just a flash in the pan hoping to quiet criticism, we will have to wait and see if the trend persists.

Mississippi Could Hit Record Low

Some shocking news for all of the consumers throughout the United States — and potentially an indicator of climate change.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is bracing for what could be a historic low levels of water along the Mississippi River that likely would halt barge traffic in the heart of the storied river.

Such a sudden stop would directly impact the American consumer.

“The Mississippi River is the lifeblood of the Gulf and Midwest, so a shutdown of traffic on the river — whether at the mouth, the middle, or the headwaters — is a great concern,” noted Rep. Jeff Landry, R-La., whose district sits in the lower portion of the river. “If we shut down the river to commerce, we will see higher prices in basic commodities such as food and electricity and fewer jobs for hard-working mariners.”

About $7 billion in commodities such as corn, grain, coal and petroleum are set to flow along the river in the months of December and January, according to American Waterways Operators, the trade group that represents barge companies along the river.

A drop in water level could result in barges carrying lighter loads or ceasing operation altogether.

Every inch of freight that barge companies lose equals hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue. The result could be higher prices at the grocery store and at the gas pump.

With no rain at all, the river’s historic low could be reached by Dec. 22, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. Navigation and commerce traffic could be impacted as soon as Dec. 11 near St. Louis — a critical area where natural rocks beneath the river will become exposed.

The Army Corps has begun a 24-hour operation dredging the river.

ABC News

As last summer was amongst the hottest and driest that America ever faced (great source, StateImpact)we could really be looking at the results of climate change. Naturally, this means some major issues for the environment and even some of the forms of transportation we’ve depended on. The effects of climate change are far more far spread than one would think, impacting virtually everyone, everywhere.

I am normally not the sort of person anybody would brand an environmentalist but certainly I must say that I do have some concern about the state of the environment — it really should not be treated as a left/right issue. Rather, we need to be open minded and take the facts as they come.

It only makes sense that many of us start to change some of our behaviors to decrease our impact on the environment. I think many of us are in the process of doing it… the more widespread the movement to lessen impact becomes the better but as consumerism in other societies is skyrocketing as they claw to get close to what we have the question is — will it ever be enough?