Help bring democracy to the US
The citizens are stirring on both sides of the Atlantic in defence of democracy. In the US an eminent group, including Michael Rattner, Gore Vidal, Ramsey Clark and many others has just set up the International Endowment for Democracy -- an appeal for international help that
"asks the people of the world to contribute towards helping to save (and institute for the first time) democracy in the United States."
It only hurts when you laugh. Meanwhile, in Europe, where electorates appear to be equally turned off by the kind of representative democracy they have to live under, direct democracy is flourishing, according to a new report in Accountancy Business and the Public Interest, a journal that may not, hitherto, have been everybody's favourite beach read. This issue, though, is worth checking out for the substantial report on direct democracy in five countries in Europe, downloadable free here.
The New oD Today
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China's modernisation and its discontents
The catastrophic 50 mile toxic oil slick that is blighting Manchuria is only one symptom of the growing problems of China's modernisation. In openDemocracy earlier this year, the deputy minister of the environment Pan Yue warned of the limits to growth that China's disastrous environmental degradation will impose. Chemical spills pass, but the degree of air and water contamination, the falling water tables, the loss of agricultural land and the creeping desertification are not easy to reverse. There is a more fundamental problem at the heart of this and other obstacles to China's political and economic health -- the turbid official reaction, the continuing preference for cover up over action, the lack of transparency and acountability in the Chinese political system that magnifies the effect of such events. In another symptom of a dysfuntional system, the Chinese government has been battling to contain the damage caused by a copper trader who placed a series of wrong bets on copper futures earlier this year.
Hey Mac users and oD lovers, check out the openDemocracy widget by Marcus Gilroy-Ware. It gives you updates on new articles directly on your desktop. You know you want it.
Goodbye Habeas Corpus
The US Senate has just approved the Graham amendment, a last minute attachment to the Military Authorisation Bill, which would deprive the prisoners in Guantanamo of access to the US courts and leave them entirely at the mercy of administrative whim or military kangaroo courts. Many of the prisoners in Guantanamo have already been incarcerated for up to four years without trial; some have been physically abused, others are on hunger strike and suicide attempts are common. Despite their being labelled evil men by the Bush adminsitration, only a tiny handful out of hundreds of detainees who have passed through Guantanamo has been charged and, even in these few cases, the charges are thin. Justice is long overdue for these prisoners. Guantanamo is a long assault on the rule of law and it affects us all. This weekend, concerned lawyers are working to see if this amendment may yet be overturned. Below, a statement from the Centre for Constitutional Rights in New York lays out what is at stake.
Dance the guns to silence?
Ten years ago today an internationally renowned author and activist named Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other men were hanged in Nigeria. He had accused the Nigerian government of genocide of the Ogoni people, and Shell and the IMF of complicity.
Today, a silent vigil outside the Shell building in London and meetings of activists in Britain, Nigeria and elsewhere mark the tenth anniversary of the executions. In less than an hour at the time of writing, the winner of an art competition for a living memorial will be announced.
It’s part of a rainbow of events over the last few months to keep questions of corporate accountability and human rights on the agenda.
Soyinka read a moving account of his experience at the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit in New Zealand ten years ago. He had realised, he said, that Saro-Wiwa and his colleagues were done for when he was handed a leaflet from Shell saying they had no responsibility for what was happening. At the time Nelson Mandela was relaying an assurance he had received personally from Sani Abacha, the Nigerian dictator, to the effect that Saro-Wiwa and the others would be just fine.
Today’s vigil and the other events are organised by a consortium of organisations and led by Platform, a London-based arts and politics collective.
Platform has just published a book called The Next Gulf: London, Washingtonand Oil Conflict in Nigeria. The authors – Andy Rowell, James Marriott and Lorne Stockman – argue that “a new Atlantic Triangle” is being created that ties Britain, America and the Niger Delta together. “The first Atlantic Triangle was built on the exploitation of slaves; the second,” they say, “is the exploitation of oil and gas”.
Western interests in Africa are longstanding. But new kids on the block are becoming ever more active. China, for example, is rapidly expanding its footprint in Angola, Sudan, Nigeria and other countries on the continent.
Sitting alone at last night’s artist evening was a well known protestor from Tiananmen Square who now lives in exile in Britain. What chance that Chinese companies in Africa be held to account?
Don't be a lawyer in China
President Hu Jintao's visit to the UK has stimulated a discussion in the British media about whether Britain should stand up to China on questions of human rights and the rule of law , thus risking China's disfavour, or whether it's legitimate to concentrate on expanding economic ties and keeping criticism private. Tony Blair, asked what he would talk about with Hu Jintao, began his list with economic issues. His list never did reach human rights, or China's public desire that the EU arms embargo, imposed after Tiananmen, should be lifted.
Have we hit the ground yet?
“Baghdad, France”, “The Siege of Paris”, "Intifada at the City Gates”, are just a few headlines intended to describe the situation in the Paris suburbs.
The strange ways of Falungong
Hu JIntao, the president of China, is due for a big welcome during his two day state visit to Britain: not only does he get to stay with the Queen at Buckingham Palace, but the town is to be floodlit in red, in perhaps a misjudged attempt to make him feel at home. The East, of course, isn't really Red any more. Perhaps it's a sign that Chinese Communism has morphed seamlessly from threat to heritage, without passing through anything as definitive as collapse.
There are vocal opponents of the state visit of course. Mr Hu is a particularily resonant figure for the Tibetans, for instance, since he was party secretary in Lhasa in 1989, when Beijing ordered a brutal crackdown on demonstrations and imposed martial law, months before the more celebrated repression in Tiananmen Square. Also much in evidence in London over the next few days, though he claims the timing is a coicidence, is Chen Yonglin, formerly the first secretary of the Chinese consulate in Australia, who defected in June and has since been a vocal critic of the regime. Mr Chen appeared at what was described as a press conference in London's Foreign Press Association, along with three British politicians. The press conference was sponsored by an organisation identified only as the FSC Centre. Inquiries produeced the response that this was the "Future Science and Culture Centre" in Cambridge. You may be none the wiser, and nor was oD. But it began to feel like Falungong. And so it proved.
Now there is nothing wrong with Falungong putting its case against the Chinese government: they have as much right to do that as anyone else. But why the subterfuge? And why the video crews filming the audience, as well as the speakers? And why the still photographer taking pictures of everyone who asked a question? If Falungong advocates democracy and truth, as they say they do, how about a little transparency in their own operations?
For lack of a real person finds it surprising that only 64% voted against the ban on gun sales in Brazil, and suggests that with 36,000 annual gun deaths in Brazil, Americans should stop complaining about their 2000 Iraq war dead. Huh? Why?
Here are photos from the 2000 too many peace protest in New York's Times Square the day before yesterday. The NY Times has a chilling online interactive feature with the faces, names and ages of the (mostly) young men who died.
How's this for perspective instead? At least 26,732 Iraqi civilians dead, according to Iraq Body Count.
An Anti-Uribe blogger in Columbia, links to Isabel Hilton's article, Álvaro Uribe’s gift: Colombia’s mafia goes legit and says he feels it shows that scepticism in the world is greater than the Columbian press - or government - would make it seem.
openDemocracy event in New York
Obviously, everyone in NY should come to this. I'm very excited about the speakers. Check out Anthony Barnett's interview with Mary Robinson about her human rights work from 2003.
In New York, openDemocracy, the The Carnegie Council for Ethics and International Affairs, and New York Society for Ethical Culture present:
"Is a FAIRER Globalization Possible?"
*Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, and President of Realising Rights: Ethical Globalisation Initiative
Brazil on a knife edge
“Should the sale of guns and ammunition to civilians be prohibited?” This is the question that 122 million Brazilians answered 'No' to as they went to the polls yesterday to vote in the first referendum on gun control in the world.
The daily crime statistics would seem to have pointed overwhelmingly to an obvious Yes vote. There are currently an estimated 17 million guns in Brazil and 39,000 firearms deaths every year. Over 500,000 people have been killed by guns between 1979 and 2003 – more than in any other country in the world, including those at war.
However, to combat these shocking statistics, the powerful ‘No’ lobby – supported by the National Rifle Association (NRA) in the US and accused of a ‘dirty tricks’ campaign – has been promulgating the commonly held belief that the guns used to commit crimes are those acquired on the illegal market or diverted from state security forces. Enforcement, they say, would allow criminals in possession of weapons already to further threaten the security of ‘ordinary’ citizens.
Debating our debate
Marc Schulman's blog on the article I wrote with our Editor Isabel Hilton misses most of the points despite generous quotations - thanks for them. Solana linked to it below. It is far too defensive. A huge debate is finally opening up in the United States about the dangers of the way it is seeking to impose democracy, and it is not 'anti-American' to make these points just because one is not American.
As for the leadership of the anti-war demonstrations, I agree. We refer to the exceptional size and genuine character of the popular feeling against President Bush's war of choice. Alas, the leadership of the organisations that called them were there because they opposed the war in Afghanistan. In my view, their sectarianism ensured that there was no popular, or democratic follow-through.
There is a good discussion about this in Todd Gitlin's blog at TPM cafe.
In his blog, Marcus Gilroy-Ware who has written for openDemocracy about Wikipedia, defends the open source encyclopedia from The Register's Andrew Orlowski. Orlowski's article, "Wikipedia founder admits to serious quality problems" has been buzzing around the internet propelled by horror that someone could say something so mean about a collaborative success story. "Yes it's garbage," he says, "but it's delivered so much faster!" Admittedly, he makes some good points (you should read it) but not enough to merit such scorn. Like Marcus, I'm left with the sense that Orlowski doesn't quite get it. Has he ever edited a page himself?
In his blog, Somali-Norwegian Bill Ainashe shoots down Hazem Saghieh & Saleh Bechir's argument on openDemocracy that the "muslim community" is a European invention. He says the community even "predates the European colonialists" and was the foundation for a Muslim empire that ruled for centuries...