T   P   O
The Patient Ox (aka Hénock Gugsa)

G r e e t i n g s !

** TPO **
A personal blog with diverse topicality and multiple interests!

On the menu ... politics, music, poetry, and other good stuff.
There is humor, but there is blunt seriousness here as well!

Parfois, on parle français ici aussi. Je suis un francophile .... Bienvenue à tous!

* Your comments and evaluations are appreciated ! *

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Income Distribution Trends - by CBO (*)

Income Distribution Trends (1979-2007)
Report by CBO (*) - October, 2011


After-tax income for the highest-income households grew more than it did for any other group. (After-tax income is income after federal taxes have been deducted and government transfers—which are payments to people through such programs as Social Security and Unemployment Insurance—have been added.)

CBO finds that, between 1979 and 2007, income grew by:
• 275 percent for the top 1 percent of households,
• 65 percent for the next 19 percent,
• Just under 40 percent for the next 60 percent, and
• 18 percent for the bottom 20 percent

The share of income going to higher-income households rose, while the share going to lower-income households fell.
• The top fifth of the population saw a 10-percentage-point increase in their
share of after-tax income.
• Most of that growth went to the top 1 percent of the population.
• All other groups saw their shares decline by 2 to 3 percentage points.

(*) CBO = Congressional Budget Office
source: cbo.org 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Rabbit-Hole Economics - by Paul Krugman

Rabbit-Hole Economics
NY Times Op-Ed Columnist
Published: October 13, 2011

Reading the transcript of Tuesday’s Republican debate on the economy is, for anyone who has actually been following economic events these past few years, like falling down a rabbit hole. Suddenly, you find yourself in a fantasy world where nothing looks or behaves the way it does in real life.

And since economic policy has to deal with the world we live in, not the fantasy world of the G.O.P.’s imagination, the prospect that one of these people may well be our next president is, frankly, terrifying.

In the real world, recent events were a devastating refutation of the free-market orthodoxy that has ruled American politics these past three decades. Above all, the long crusade against financial regulation, the successful effort to unravel the prudential rules established after the Great Depression on the grounds that they were unnecessary, ended up demonstrating — at immense cost to the nation — that those rules were necessary, after all.

But down the rabbit hole, none of that happened. We didn’t find ourselves in a crisis because of runaway private lenders like Countrywide Financial. We didn’t find ourselves in a crisis because Wall Street pretended that slicing, dicing and rearranging bad loans could somehow create AAA assets — and private rating agencies played along. We didn’t find ourselves in a crisis because “shadow banks” like Lehman Brothers exploited gaps in financial regulation to create bank-type threats to the financial system without being subject to bank-type limits on risk-taking.

No, in the universe of the Republican Party we found ourselves in a crisis because Representative Barney Frank forced helpless bankers to lend money to the undeserving poor.

O.K., I’m exaggerating a bit — but not much. Mr. Frank’s name did come up repeatedly as a villain in the crisis, and not just in the context of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, which Republicans want to repeal. You have to marvel at his alleged influence given the fact that he’s a Democrat and the vast bulk of the bad loans now afflicting our economy were made while George W. Bush was president and Republicans controlled the House with an iron grip. But he’s their preferred villain all the same.

The demonization of Mr. Frank aside, it’s now obviously orthodoxy on the Republican side that government caused the whole problem. So what you need to know is that this orthodoxy has hardened even as the supposed evidence for government as a major villain in the crisis has been discredited. The fact is that government rules didn’t force banks to make bad loans, and that government-sponsored lenders, while they behaved badly in many ways, accounted for few of the truly high-risk loans that fueled the housing bubble.

But that’s history. What do the Republicans want to do now? In particular, what do they want to do about unemployment?

Well, they want to fire Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve — not for doing too little, which is a case one can make, but for doing too much. So they’re obviously not proposing any job-creation action via monetary policy.

Incidentally, during Tuesday’s debate, Mitt Romney named Harvard’s N. Gregory Mankiw as one of his advisers. How many Republicans know that Mr. Mankiw at least used to advocate — correctly, in my view — deliberate inflation by the Fed to solve our economic woes?

So, no monetary relief. What else? Well, the Cheshire Cat-like Rick Perry — he seems to be fading out, bit by bit, until only the hair remains — claimed, implausibly, that he could create 1.2 million jobs in the energy sector. Mr. Romney, meanwhile, called for permanent tax cuts — basically, let’s replay the Bush years! And Herman Cain? Oh, never mind.

By the way, has anyone else noticed the disappearance of budget deficits as a major concern for Republicans once they start talking about tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy?

It’s all pretty funny. But it’s also, as I said, terrifying.

The Great Recession should have been a huge wake-up call. Nothing like this was supposed to be possible in the modern world. Everyone, and I mean everyone, should be engaged in serious soul-searching, asking how much of what he or she thought was true actually isn’t.

But the G.O.P. has responded to the crisis not by rethinking its dogma but by adopting an even cruder version of that dogma, becoming a caricature of itself. During the debate, the hosts played a clip of Ronald Reagan calling for increased revenue; today, no politician hoping to get anywhere in Reagan’s party would dare say such a thing.

It’s a terrible thing when an individual loses his or her grip on reality. But it’s much worse when the same thing happens to a whole political party, one that already has the power to block anything the president proposes — and which may soon control the whole government.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Yes, the times: "They are a-changing!" - by TPO

"The times ... they are a-changing!" (*)
If your time to you is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.

(*)Bob Dylan: "The Times, they are a changing." 
Voter Suppressant

"Voter Suppressant"

Real Life Adventures

"Real Life Adventures"

Wall Street Protester

"Wall Street Protester"

The Land of Nod - by Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson

The Land of Nod

by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)

From breakfast on through all the day
At home among my friends I stay,
But every night I go abroad
Afar into the land of Nod.

All by myself I have to go,
With none to tell me what to do --
All alone beside the streams
And up the mountain-sides of dreams.

The strangest things are there for me,
Both things to eat and things to see,
And many frightening sights abroad
Till morning in the land of Nod.

Try as I like to find the way,
I never can get back by day,
Nor can remember plain and clear
The curious music that I hear. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Bridging the Digital Divide - by The Boston Globe

Bridging the Digital Divide
Boston Globe Editorial 
  October 11, 2011

"The Aakash Tablet"

[India’s $35 computer: The Aakash Tablet]

The One-Laptop-per-Child initiative, which was founded in Cambridge and has spent years trying to bring low-cost technology to schools in developing countries, could be forgiven for viewing the Aakash tablet introduced in India this month as an upstart rival. The new tablet, available to Indian schools for $35, is aiming to meet the same need, even as One-Laptop-per-Child is developing its own low-cost tablet.

But instead of bearing a grudge, Nicholas Negroponte, the MIT professor who heads One-Laptop-per-Child, offered Indian officials full access to their technology, a letter outlining the lessons they’d learned, and an invitation to Cambridge.

Negroponte deserves credit for putting cooperation ahead of competition, especially since Indian officials had earlier decided against buying the program’s computers. The more groups tackling the global digital divide, the better; variety ensures there will be a multitude of approaches. For instance, One-Laptop-per-Child’s tablet is expected to cost a bit more, but will be solar-powered, an enormous advantage in many developing countries, and place greater emphasis on student engagement. As the different approaches develop, what wouldn’t be productive is pointless competition when the unmet needs are still so great.

Indeed, India is a particularly dramatic case study in what a yawning divide remains. A nation of 1.2 billion, India has only 18 million Internet users — compared to 500 million in China.

Driving down the price of the hardware needed to connect them all has been much more daunting than once expected. Indeed, the original goal of the Indian initiative was to make a $10 computer, a goal which proved infeasible. Such setbacks underscore the continued need to work together — and not to let rivalries get in the way of closing the digital divide.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Heartwarming Anecdote - by TPO

U.S. flag in a marquee

A Heartwarming Anecdote (*)
by TPO


He writes: My lead flight attendant came to me and said, "We have an H.R. on this flight." (H.R. stands for human remains.) "Are they military?" I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Is there an escort?” I asked.

“Yes, I already assigned him a seat.”

'Would you please tell him to come to the flight deck? You can board him early," I said.

A short while later, a young army sergeant entered the flight deck. He was the image of the perfectly dressed soldier. He introduced himself and I asked him about his soldier. The escorts of these fallen soldiers talk about them as if they are still alive and still with us.

“My soldier is on his way back to Virginia ,” he said. He proceeded to answer my questions, but offered no words.

I asked him if there was anything I could do for him and he said no. I told him that he had the toughest job in the military and that I appreciated the work that he does for the families of our fallen soldiers. The first officer and I got up out of our seats to shake his hand. He left the flight deck to find his seat.

We completed our pre-flight checks, pushed back and performed an uneventful departure. About 30 minutes into our flight I received a call from the lead flight attendant in the cabin. “I just found out the family of the soldier we are carrying, is on board,” she said. She then proceeded to tell me that the father, mother, wife and 2-year old daughter were escorting their son, husband, and father home. The family was upset because they were unable to see the container that the soldier was in before we left. We were on our way to a major hub at which the family was going to wait four hours for the connecting flight home to Virginia .

The father of the soldier told the flight attendant that knowing his son was below him in the cargo compartment and being unable to see him was too much for him and the family to bear. He had asked the flight attendant if there was anything that could be done to allow them to see him upon our arrival.

The family wanted to be outside by the cargo door to watch the soldier being taken off the airplane.. I could hear the desperation in the flight attendants voice when she asked me if there was anything I could do. “I'm on it,” I said. I told her that I would get back to her.

Airborne communication with my company normally occurs in the form of e-mail like messages. I decided to bypass this system and contact my flight dispatcher directly on a secondary radio. There is a radio operator in the operations control center who connects you to the telephone of the dispatcher. I was in direct contact with the dispatcher.

I explained the situation I had on board with the family and what it was the family wanted. He said he understood and that he would get back to me.

Two hours went by and I had not heard from the dispatcher. We were going to get busy soon and I needed to know what to tell the family. I sent a text message asking for an update. I saved the return message from the dispatcher and the following is the text:

“Captain, sorry it has taken so long to get back to you. There is policy on this now and I had to check on a few things. Upon your arrival a dedicated escort team will meet the aircraft. The team will escort the family to the ramp and plane side. A van will be used to load the remains with a secondary van for the family. The family will be taken to their departure area and escorted into the terminal where the remains can be seen on the ramp. It is a private area for the family only. When the connecting aircraft arrives, the family will be escorted onto the ramp and plane side to watch the remains being loaded for the final leg home. Captain, most of us here in flight control are veterans. Please pass our condolences on to the family. Thanks.”

I sent a message back telling flight control thanks for a good job. I printed out the message and gave it to the lead flight attendant to pass on to the father. The lead flight attendant was very thankful and told me, “You have no idea how much this will mean to them.”

Things started getting busy for the descent, approach and landing. After landing, we cleared the runway and taxied to the ramp area. The ramp is huge with 15 gates on either side of the alleyway. It is always a busy area with aircraft maneuvering every which way to enter and exit. When we entered the ramp and checked in with the ramp controller, we were told that all traffic was being held for us...

“There is a team in place to meet the aircraft,” we were told.

It looked like it was all coming together, then I realized that once we turned the seat belt sign off, everyone would stand up at once and delay the family from getting off the airplane. As we approached our gate, I asked the copilot to tell the ramp controller we were going to stop short of the gate to make an announcement to the passengers.

He did that and the ramp controller said, “Take your time.”

I stopped the aircraft and set the parking brake.

I pushed the public address button and said, “Ladies and gentleman, this is your Captain speaking I have stopped short of our gate to make a special announcement. We have a passenger on board who deserves our honor and respect. His Name is Private XXXXXX, a soldier who recently lost his life. Private XXXXXX is under your feet in the cargo hold.. Escorting him today is Army Sergeant XXXXXXX. Also, on board are his father, mother, wife, and daughter. Your entire flight crew is asking for all passengers to remain in their seats to allow the family to exit the aircraft first. Thank you.”

We continued the turn to the gate, came to a stop and started our shutdown procedures. A couple of minutes later I opened the cockpit door. I found the two forward flight attendants crying, something you just do not see.

I was told that after we came to a stop, every passenger on the aircraft stayed in their seats, waiting for the family to exit the aircraft.

When the family got up and gathered their things, a passenger slowly started to clap his hands. Moments later more passengers joined in and soon the entire aircraft was clapping. Words of ‘God bless you, I'm sorry, thank you, be proud,’ and other kind words were uttered to the family as they made their way down the aisle and out of the airplane.

They were escorted down to the ramp to finally be with their loved one.

Many of the passengers disembarking thanked me for the announcement I had made. They were just words, I told them, I could say them over and over again, but nothing I say will bring back that brave soldier.

(*) TPO received this writing inside a prayer chain letter. He has edited out all the mushy (religious and political) mumbo jumbo and presented the essentials of the wonderful story.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Great Day - by W.B. Yeats

"The Great Day"
by W.B. Yeats (1865-1939)

Hurrah for revolution and more cannon-shot!
A beggar upon horseback lashes a beggar on foot.
Hurrah for revolution and cannon come again!
The beggars have changed places, but the lash goes on.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Shrek"s Wedding in Ethiopia - by TPO

Shrek's Wedding in Ethiopia (*)

(*)Wedding song in Tigrigna!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Prescription for the GOP - by The L.A. Times

Rx for the GOP: You should own universal healthcare
by The Los Angeles Times / Opinion Staff October 3, 2011

President Obama has rolled the dice to get challenges to his healthcare reform law fast-tracked to the Supreme Court in election year 2012, and not a year later.

The political chatter figures that if the court finds the insurance mandate part of the law constitutional, the president wins big points just before the election. And if the court gives a thumbs-down to the mandatory insurance element, the Obama administration could make political hay of this too.

Such a ruling might also mean a ripple effect through other parts of the healthcare overhaul law, effectively annulling them too: In short, back to square one –- no, square zero -– on remedying the healthcare mess.

Republicans should have long ago seized healthcare reform and universal coverage with both right hands and made it their own.

It is economically counterproductive -- even economically destructive -- that in this nation, healthcare goes with the job, not with the individual.

One of the biggest brakes I know on entrepreneurial potential here is the catastrophe of healthcare. How many people with great ideas and the know-how to start their own businesses have to stay enslaved to the corporations they already work for, in jobs where they feel frustrated and wasted, just to keep the health insurance that comes with the job –- something they can't get, or can't afford, on their own?

Americans are confident and creative and willing to bet the farm, literally, on their inspirations, but don't ask them to risk their kids' lives, or their own as the breadwinners, and go without health insurance.

Their children may have a preexisting condition -- even something as minor as an allergy -- that either disqualifies them outright from insurance coverage or prices them out of the market.

Or a parent may have some fairly minor medical issue, or even not so minor -– an ulcer, or a bum knee -– that also makes insurance impossible to get, or so expensive as to be useless. It is shameful that medical bills are behind more than 60% of the personal bankruptcies in this country. Homeowners, college grads -- doesn't matter. Being sick can mean more than mere death; it can mean homelessness and penury.

So people stay on at jobs they hate, and the whole country loses a good idea and a good business that never gets to go into business.

The second reason Republicans should be joined at the hip with universal health coverage is a crass political one. The GOP is doing just about everything it can to attack unions -– except this one smart thing.

Unions battle on behalf of their members, and healthcare is foremost among those battles. The supermarket workers union in L.A. just went a few rounds on that one. Universal healthcare coverage would take that issue off the table; unions couldn't use it to organize, to recruit or as a matter of dispute with management. What's not to like about that, GOP?

Republicans often invoke the past, so how about rolling the clock back 100 years, to the Republican Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, running in 1912 as a Bull Moose on a platform that called for "the protection of home life against the hazards of sickness, irregular employment and old age through the adoption of a system of social insurance."

That, as TR liked to say –- in the cheery, encouraging meaning of the word, not the current beat-up-on-ordinary-folks meaning of the word -– would be "bully!"

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Bus Ride to Fugue (Part V - Conclusion) - by Hénock Gugsa

The Bus Ride to Fugue (**)
Part V – Conclusion
by Hénock Gugsa
She walked as if she was in a trance as she took the six or seven steps to reach the back of the bus. Carlos, Pepe, and I were for the moment all just staring at her confoundedly. Then I found myself looking at where her feet were touching the floor of the bus. Some kind of steamy, hazy cloud was floating there. It actually never rose above ankle level and just hovered there. The girl seemed to in effect be floating on air as she made her progress toward us.

“¡Ay,caramba!” Pepe almost screamed, but immediately after that he grunted in pain ... Carlos had just kicked him hard under the seats.

The girl looked keenly into my eyes for maybe five seconds. For all I know, she probably had some magical powers of divining a person’s essence to find out if it is good or evil. All the same, she seemed to be satisfied and sat down unceremoniously on the vacant seat next to mine. I was sitting by the window on the left hand side of the bus. Carlos and Pepe were on the other side of the aisle. Poor Pepe was sitting by the window there, and he was probably wishing he had his friend’s seat.

“Are you gentlemen perhaps on the wrong bus?” The girl asked all three of us in a clear and level voice.

We all looked uncertainly at her as we sat there frozen to our seats.

“You all know this bus goes to Fugue, right?  This is a company bus,
and it is not for the general public use. Waldo, the driver, should not have let you on the bus without checking first.”

I recovered from my reverie, and stammered a reply. “We all three are headed for Fugue. Don’t worry. We may look lost, but we are not.”

“All the same, this is not a bus for the general public. Why did you get on? Why are you guys going to Fugue?”

Carlos spoke up. “Señorita, I am Carlos. My friend, Pepe here, and I are going to Fugue ... to the factory, to work there. They hired us through an agency.”

“And my apologies, young lady, where are my manners? My name is Matt Howard. And I’m going to Fugue to visit a friend and stay there maybe three or four days.”  I now had my stammer under control.

She looked perplexed. “This is crazy. You guys shouldn’t be going to Fugue. You don’t know what you’re getting yourselves into. Fugue is not a place for normal people. I should know, and I only go there two or three weekends a year to visit my grandma.”

Pepe spoke up from the other side of the aisle, “I am Pepe Alejandro, señorita. Carlos and me, we are not afraid to go anywhere if we can find a job. We were without a job for almost three months before somebody told us about this place. We heard they make pianos and organs there. So, how dangerous can that be?”

“Pardon me, Pepe. But you probably never met anyone from Fugue before you got on this bus. Right? Well, the reason is right here in front of you. These passengers you see in the bus, including my cousin Wally over there, probably make up ninety-five percent of Fugue’s population.”

“But, young lady, sorry I did not catch your name. Are you from Fugue?” I apologetically cut in.

The girl with the pale green eyes and striking auburn hair blushed momentarily.

“My name is Emily Stoltz. I don’t really live in Fugue, but I have family there. My grandma, she’s ninety-two. She still lives in Fugue. She's lived there all her life, she was there before the factory was built. My dad was born there, and died there at the age of forty-three. My mom came there from Brainerd briefly. She hated Fugue, said it was an evil place and went back to Brainerd. I was born in Fugue, but my ma whisked me off to Brainerd and I lived there most of my life. I’d visit my dad and grandma once a month when my dad was still alive. Now, I live and work in Minneapolis. I probably see my grandma three or four times a year now.”

“¡Mucho gusto, Emilia!” beamed Pepe.

“Nice to meet you, Emily,” I said almost in unison with Pepe. “But please explain to me what is the danger to us in going to Fugue?”

“Well, you Matt, for example. When did your friend move to Fugue? Did you even know Fugue? Have you heard from your friend regularly before you got his invitation to come up there? And you two guys ... did anybody tell you about the living and working conditions in Fugue?”

Pepe, Carlos, and I were all of a sudden uneasy by the realization that we were headed to a place about which we knew next to nothing. We might as well have been like sheep being herded to a slaughterhouse.

It dawned on me that the invitation I got from my friend had come out of the blue. It was indeed very strange that I’d hear from him suddenly and without warning after three long years. Come to think of it ... was it really his voice on my voice-mail recorder? And why was it that he never called or wrote before that?

I made up my mind on the spot as I am wont to do in similar situations. I decided to get off the bus immediately and return home. But first, I wanted to make sure about the welfare of my new-found friends.

“But, Emily, what about you? Are you safe going to this place?” I asked, and the tremor in my voice evidently registered the level of apprehension I was feeling. Carlos and Pepe were beginning to show small signs of unease in their situation also.

“I'll be okay, don’t worry about me. I’m going to my grandma’s, she always looks after me. I’m only going to her place, and it’s only for a couple of days and they all know me there. But, you three should get off this bus right now before it is too late. We have now maybe ten miles left to go before we reach Fugue. Just get off here now, and go back to where you know you'll be safe.”

“Carlos and Pepe, I think we should listen to Emily and get off this bus now. I’m going to ask that scary driver, what’s his name, to stop the bus right now and let us off right here and right now. We can figure out a way to get back, I have my cell phone and we can call for help or something.” I started to get up from my seat, and Emily got up also to let me out from my window seat.

But strangely, Pepe and Carlos remained in their seats.

“We are not worried, Mateo. You can leave if you want to, we are staying. We need this job, and don’t worry we always watch out for each other anyway. We’re like hermanos ... like brothers.” Carlos said firmly.

Emily looked at them in disbelief. “You are, what's the word, locos. Listen to me. You are going to turn out like all these guys you see in front of you. They are only out for their monthly bus ride, chaperoned by Waldo over there. They won’t even get off this bus except in Fugue. They’re like prisoners, and they don’t even know it. My cousin, Wally there, barely recognizes me. He never utters a word, and he has practically lost his hearing. They are all in the same situation, poor souls. So, I beg you people. Please get off this bus now while you have the chance.”

“Yes, well. Thank you, Emily. I, for one, am going to take your advice. I wish we had met under better circumstances. But, call me or visit me at Metro College when you have a chance. And thank you for bringing me to my senses about this trip.” I smiled at her. “Well, good-bye and good luck, Carlos and Pepe. I hope things work out for you both.”

I took out three of my business cards from my wallet, and handed them out to these three dear people. "Let's keep in touch whatever happens," I said bravely.

I pressed the nearest button to tell the driver to stop the bus. A sudden screeching noise came out of nowhere as the bus abruptly stopped. I nearly got hurtled to the front of the bus as proof of Newton’s first physical law - A body in motion will stay in motion unless it is acted upon by another body of equal and/or opposite state. I was only stopped by the action of my grabbing the back handle bar of one of the passenger seats. Actually, I almost slid and nearly landed on my back on the floor of the bus.

Waldo, the driver, was looking back at me with furious and loathing eyes. The bus had now come to a complete stop, and the engine was barely audible. I straightened myself up with as much dignity as I could muster, and walked to the front of the bus.

I asked the evil driver how much I owed. He was now squinting at me with those hateful eyes.
As he opened the door, he hissed out one word at me: “Out!” 

I looked back once at my friends; they were all waving at me. Carlos and Pepe shouted, “¡Adios, Mateo!”

Emily simply beamed a compassionate smile at me as I practically jumped out of the bus and made my hasty exit. I had debarked safely and with all my gear in tact.

Once on the ground, I backed away from the bus and waited for it to move on. Waldo spat out the toothpick from his mouth and closed the door violently; but he seemed to linger there undecided without putting the bus into motion.

I waited to see what was going to happen next. Three or four minutes went by in this state of uncertainty. Then, without much ado, Waldo put the bus into gear at last. The behemoth heaved a strange mechanical sigh and began moving.

Carlos and Pepe had stubbornly stayed inside the bus. To his credit, Waldo had given them ample opportunity to bail out. But they wouldn’t, and I felt sad for them.

So there I was alone on a lonely highway, and it was almost noon. The overcast sky had cleared up, and the sun was actually starting to share its light and warmth again. I stood and watched as the bus disappeared from my view, but I was now feeling like I had just escaped the jaws of death or even worse ... insanity!

Ten minutes later, I had gotten lucky again. I hitched a ride back to the Cities in a cheerful, green Land Cruiser with a charming family of vacationers. In no time, life was back to normal again for me.

** "The Bus Ride to Fugue" is a work of fiction. All names and characters are purely the products of the writer's imagination. "Fugue" is also fictitious and does not represent any place from the present or the past.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Long Arm of China - by Joshua Kurlantzick

The Long Arm of China
By Joshua Kurlantzick
The Boston Globe, September 24, 2011

China’s relationship to democracy is closely watched on the world stage. As the largest authoritarian nation, and within a decade potentially the largest national economy, China exerts significant influence on the balance of democracy across the developing world.

For decades, foreign observers and many Chinese reformists have focused on China’s own internal political movements, watching as it alternately becomes more open to dissent and competing voices, then clamps down. These days, China actually appears to be regressing, despite its capitalist economy and some recent protests in cities like Dalian. Over the past year, the government has cracked down hard on protest groups, and it has increasingly monitored and filtered the Internet and microblogging sites. According to Yasheng Huang, a China specialist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, China’s political system was more liberal in the 1980s than today.

While observers have focused on China’s internal politics, however, an important and worrisome change has been taking place outside its borders: Beijing increasingly appears to be thwarting democracy in surrounding countries. Local officials from Cambodia, Thailand, Kyrgyzstan, and other Asian nations increasingly receive training in China, where they learn repressive Chinese judicial, policing, and Internet control tactics. China has pushed neighboring nations to crack down on activists there who criticize the People’s Republic. In Central Asia, meanwhile, China has helped create a regional organization to prop up authoritarian rule.

China’s challenge to democracy constitutes a significant shift from the global status quo over the past two decades. After the end of the Cold War, no major nations posed a serious challenge to the spread of liberal democracy. Chinese officials, hewing to a maxim coined by former leader Deng Xiaoping, generally avoided intervention in global affairs, declaring that China was still a developing nation with much to learn from other countries.

But in recent years China has become much more assertive internationally?—?and the stakes for global democracy are high. If China helps shift the balance against democracy in its neighborhood, it will complicate US policy, strengthen authoritarian regimes, and do serious damage to rights activists, journalists, and other people pushing for democracy in developing nations.

Over the past four years, as China’s economy booms and Western economies stagger, China’s “soft power”?—?or cultural and economic influence?—?has grown, and it has gained a new ability to influence political life within other countries. The most recent Economist Intelligence Unit survey of global democracy found that the global financial and economic crisis “has increased the attractiveness of the Chinese model of authoritarian capitalism for some emerging markets.”

Beyond simply serving as an example of success, however, some Chinese officials have sought to actively promote the Chinese model abroad. Beijing has invited local officials from across Southeast and Central Asia?—?at least several thousand officials each year?—?to come to China for training in legal and police procedures. As attendees at the Southeast Asian and Central Asian training sessions told me, these sessions seem designed to draw distinctions between China’s model of development and that of democracies. Indeed, Chinese trainers explicitly credit Beijing’s ability to take decisive action with the country’s success, contrasting that regime with what they describe as the failed policies of Western democracies. Some officials from Thailand and Cambodia reported to me that their Chinese trainers discussed judicial strategies that help preserve “stability”?—?and keep the government in power.

In Cambodia, according to a number of Cambodian activists and human rights specialists I’ve spoken to, members of China’s Communist Party have advised Prime Minister Hun Sen’s party on how to use laws for libel and defamation to scare the independent media, create a network of senior officials who can control major companies, and instill loyalty in special police and bodyguard forces. And, in recent years, Hun Sen has indeed utilized libel laws to suppress opposition, built up his personal bodyguard, and used these tactics to help ensure his continued rule, despite the fact that Cambodia technically has regular elections.

“You already don’t have a lot of strong democratic values here,” said Roland Eng, a longtime senior Cambodian official and diplomat. “You have [government] people seeing how well China has done, going to China all the time. What they come back [to Cambodia] with is how much faster and easier China has had it without having to deal with an opposition...and they have learned from that.”

In other cases, China has worked to shore up autocrats facing popular pressure, or even helped authoritarian rulers track down and arrest their own dissidents and critics. In one notable example, after large-scale demonstrations in Uzbekistan in 2005, the authoritarian Uzbek regime cracked down hard on protesters, killing at least several hundred in the city of Andijon by firing indiscriminately into crowds. In response, Uzbek activists called for foreign governments to pressure the Uzbek government to own up to the massacre and to reform. Many governments complied, including not only the United States but also other Asian nations. China took the opposite approach: Not long after the massacre, Beijing praised the crackdown as necessary and then welcomed Uzbek leader Islam Karimov in Beijing with a state visit and a gun salute, showing that China would stand firmly behind him. More dangerously, China then worked with other nations to deny asylum to any refugees fleeing Uzbekistan, and quickly announced a new energy deal that would provide the Uzbek government with millions in revenues.

Similarly, after last fall’s elections in Burma, another state on China’s borders, Beijing helped shore up an authoritarian government. At the polls, where the Burmese government did not allow international election monitors, military-dominated parties won decisively. Beijing quickly endorsed the questionable results, providing legitimacy to the Burmese regime.

Working with Russia, Chinese leaders have even created an international organization to push back against democracy. In 1995, the two authoritarian giants founded the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional group linking the two powers with Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. The organization was ostensibly designed to promote regional trade and diplomatic ties. Since the pro-democracy revolutions of the mid-2000s, however, Moscow and Beijing have used the Shanghai group to argue that such revolutions, and democratic change in general, are illegal violations of national sovereignty. Under China’s influence, the organization portrayed electoral democracy as a kind of Western?—?that is, foreign?—?idea, one not necessarily suited for Central Asia or other developing regions. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, wrote political scientist Thomas Ambrosio, was attempting to be not another intergovernmental talk shop but “the embodiment of a new set of [nondemocratic] values and norms governing the future development of Central Asia.”

Finally, China is even exerting influence on the foreign press, using its diplomatic relationships and rising economic and trade clout to push neighboring nations to crack down on activists and journalists who offer a critique of Beijing. In Indonesia, for example, China reportedly pushed the Indonesian government to shutter a radio station, Era Baru Radio, that sometimes broadcast information about Falun Gong, an organization that has criticized the Chinese government and is effectively banned in China. According to reports by monitoring organization Reporters Without Borders, Indonesian police subsequently forcibly closed the station. China has used similar tactics to attempt to silence critics of Beijing in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Kyrgyzstan, and other countries.

Through these efforts, China is exerting real influence on democracy in Asia. In a study of Southeast Asia, Indonesian scholar Ignatius Wibowo found that with only a few exceptions, each country’s political model has moved toward China and away from liberal democracy over the past decade, because of both China’s advocacy and its success, as contrasted with the West’s failures. Wibowo found that many Southeast Asian leaders and top officials are implementing state strategies modeled on China’s, including taking back national control of strategic industries, recentralizing political decision-making, reestablishing one-party rule, and using the judicial system as, increasingly, a tool of state power?—?all changes that undermine democratic development.

China’s antidemocratic policies are only one piece of a global trend. The international monitoring organization Freedom House found that global freedom plummeted in 2010, for the fifth year in a row?—?a decline most pronounced among what it called the “middle ground” of nations, primarily in the developing world, that have begun democratizing but are not solid and stable democracies. One of the major reasons for the drop, the organization noted, was the increasing aggressiveness of China.

In many places, China’s influence adds pressure to democratic backsliding that is already occurring. In Cambodia, for instance, where the government of longtime Prime Minister Hun Sen has become increasingly authoritarian, China’s rising influence means that countries such as Japan or France, which have pushed for more openness, are finding themselves marginalized. Hun Sen himself has said as much. In a speech to inaugurate a new road funded partly by Chinese aid, he lauded Beijing for offering him assistance with little pressure, contrasting this with democratic donors. “When China gives, it doesn’t say do this or that. We can do whatever we want with the money,” Hun Sen said, according to wire service reports.

What’s more, a weakening of democracy in a vital region like Asia may make multilateral cooperation more difficult and conflict more likely. Historically, the United States has cooperated most effectively with other democratic nations, whose style of leadership and decision-making are more open and more understandable to American politicians. But when the United States has tried to cooperate with China?—?two years ago American officials even talked of a “G-2” of the United States and China ruling the world?—?collaboration has been hindered by the opacity of the Chinese government, which even many savvy American officials find hard to comprehend.

A more active China also presents American policy makers with another challenge: how to confront China’s influence directly. In a report released two years ago?—?for which this writer contributed a chapter?—?Freedom House outlined how China was undermining democracy on its borders, and proposed that the United States and other democracies make their engagement with China more contingent on countering Beijing’s antidemocratic tactics. Other human rights groups and democracy experts argue that the United States needs to counteract China by reengaging with international democracy organizations, like the Community of Democracies, and working more closely with emerging powers like Brazil and India to promote democracy in their neighborhoods.

Similarly, many US and European officials have pushed for China to be included in meetings on donor aid to certain countries, so that leaders like Hun Sen might be less able to play China off against democratic donors. Sometimes, as with Cambodia, China has agreed to join donor meetings. But in other cases, Beijing has refused to coordinate its assistance with other donors?—?for now, retaining all the leverage it has, and adding to the fears of democratic nations that the world’s biggest economic success story is also becoming their largest political rival.

Joshua Kurlantzick is fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations. His book on the challenges to democracy will be released next year.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The E.S.L Ranch (*) - by Rod Miller

By Rod Miller

Stranded, I was, in some cow town,
Out of work and down on my luck;
No way to pay for my next meal
With my finances at less than a buck

When a man drove up in a pickup truck,
Said he was looking for a worker to hire.
Hauled me off to the middle of nowhere;
Dumped me out next to a campfire.

I'd just settled in for a good night's sleep
To rest up for the coming day's work
When hell broke loose with a vengeance
And awakened me with a jerk.

Get up you waddy! some guy hollered,
Can't ya hear coosie a-callin'?
Haul yerself out of them sougans!
Roll up that hen-skin and paulin!

Put on a load of Mexican strawberries
An' some sinkers to line yer flue,
Then grab a kak and come on back
And I'll tell ya what you're to do.

Rattle yer hocks down to the cavvy
An' with a reata snag a cayuse,
Then light out into the brasada
And chouse any critters that's loose.

I stammered at the man, dumbfounded.
He said, There ain't no time fer palaver!
If ya wanna be a ranahan
Get forked and get out on the gather!

Well, I resigned my position on the spot,
Mind reeling and spirit broken-
Starving's easier than working a job
Where English isn't spoken.


Copyright © 1998 Rod Miller.
(*) E.S.L = English as a second language.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Hate Speech Ignored - Robert L. Bernstein

Why do human rights groups ignore Palestinians’ war of words?
By Robert L. Bernstein
Washington Post / Opinion / 09-27-2011

Two dominant forces have defined Arab nations in modern times: autocratic leadership that has denied basic freedoms to its own people, and a deeply ingrained and institutionalized anti-Semitism, centered on a hatred of Israel. Freedom is a growing possibility in light of the Arab Spring, but for this freedom to lead to peace, progress must be made in ending hate speech and incitement to genocide. This is particularly true in Gaza, the West Bank, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran. Yet at this moment of possibility, the United Nations is fueling discord and anti-Semitism.

The United Nations is doing this by granting legitimacy to Hamas, a terrorist Islamic group, and the Palestinian Authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas. A vote to add to the United Nations a new member state that calls for the elimination of its neighbor and glorifies terrorism will make peace harder — not easier — to achieve. While Hamas’s calls for genocide most certainly should be condemned, those who would accept the position Abbas has taken, even as recently as Friday, when he submitted to the United Nations an application for statehood, should be aware of the work of Palestinian Media Watch. The group, an Israeli research institute focused on monitoring the messages of all aspects of Palestinian media, has detailed some of the deception of the Palestinian Authority, even during moments of peace talks. For example, while portraying himself to the West as a man of compromise, Abbas said flatly last October that “we refuse to recognize a Jewish state.”

Most shockingly, human rights groups have become the unwitting accomplices of the United Nations as almost every mainstream human rights group has ignored hate speech and incitement to genocide, not only against Israel but against all Jews. The call to genocide has been accompanied by a sophisticated arms buildup along Israel’s Lebanon border over the past five years, defying Security Council Resolution 1701, which called in 2006 for an end to hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel. Even after the 2009 war in Gaza, particularly since the Arab Spring has opened up the Sinai, thousands more rockets continue to pour into Gaza, circumventing the Israeli blockade.

Human Rights Watch, which I founded 33 years ago, continues to attack many of Israel’s defensive measures during war, yet it says nothing about hate speech and incitement to genocide. To cite just one example, the speaker of the Hamas parliament, Ahmad Bahr, called in April 2007 for the murder of Jews, “down to the very last one.” Imagine what leading human rights groups would say if this same speech and incitement were coming from Israel, aimed at the Palestinians.

Human rights groups, which could be highlighting the crimes of Arab dictatorships against Israel and each other, have instead chosen to focus primarily on Israel. They continually discount the extraordinary steps Israel takes to protect civilians on both sides — steps approved by military experts, such as using pamphlets, phone calls and even noise bombs to scare people away from a location before a bombing — while whitewashing Hamas’s desire to eliminate a whole country as just bluster and meaningless words. One would think that, of all organizations in the world, human rights groups would particularly believe that words matter. Words inform intent and influence action. Words and actions need to be taken seriously, especially when they are sponsored by governments.

The real obstacle to long-term peace is the endless and overwhelming words of hate and incitement to genocide effectively spread to Arabs and Palestinians. One example is the textbooks given to millions of children in Saudi Arabia, distributed in the Arab world and beyond, that label Jews “monkeys and pigs.” This continues to foment discord, radicalism and violence.

The absence of criticism by the United Nations and human rights groups is more than just a lack of judgment and fairness. It is proof that the Arab Spring has yet to thaw the old thinking that has stymied progress toward peace for far too long. There will be no peace between Israel and the Arabs while hatred and incitement to genocide continue. Sixty years of spewing hate won’t be undone in a day. Human rights groups should be leading this battle — not ignoring it.

Robert L. Bernstein, the former president and chairman of Random House, is chairman of the group Advancing Human Rights and founding chairman emeritus of Human Rights Watch.