Friday, December 30, 2011

Europe’s Squandered Minority

by Zeljko Jovanovic

Project Syndicate

December 30, 2011

Today, millions of Europeans are afraid and frustrated as they face unemployment, loss of savings and pensions, radically reduced social benefits, and other economic hardships. Their fears are warranted, because the current financial crisis is undermining the very union that was established to heal Europe’s wounds at the end of World War II.

But, in the midst of the general suffering, one group – the Roma – has been ignored. Europe’s largest and most disadvantaged ethnic minority, with a population equal to that of Greece, millions of Roma are trapped in extreme poverty and ignorance, compounded by widespread discrimination. Indeed, the 2009 European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey found that Roma experience more severe discrimination than any other ethnic-minority group in Europe.

Hard times provoke aggressive, vindictive, and intolerant attitudes, and Roma have become scapegoats in this economic crisis. In fact, Roma-bashing is helping far-right political parties to mobilize and nationalist leaders to win votes. Even some mainstream political parties have resorted to using anti-Roma rhetoric that would have been inconceivable a decade ago. But the Roma have refrained from reciprocating the sometimes lethal violence inflicted on them.


The Freedom Writer

by Ellen Bork

Wall Street Journal

December 30, 2011

When the dissident Liu Xiaobo won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize from his prison cell, the Chinese government reacted hysterically—denouncing the Nobel Committee, retaliating against Norway diplomatically and trying to intimidate foreign governments out of sending representatives to the ceremony. Mr. Liu had been arrested nearly two years earlier, just before the release of Charter 08, a declaration of democratic principles for China inspired by Charter 77, the Czechoslovak initiative led by the playwright (and later Czech president) Václav Havel that, 31 years earlier, led to the Velvet Revolution and inspired people throughout the Soviet bloc.

China's leaders should feel just as aggrieved by No Enemies, No Hatred, a collection that shows why the Communist Party fears this 56-year-old intellectual-turned-activist and his ideas. In essays on China's rise, Tibet, the impact of materialism and nationalism on morality and sex, the 2008 Olympics, and much more, Mr. Liu advances the antithesis to the Party line, writing "free from fear," as co-editor Perry Link puts it in his valuable introduction.

The essays appeared mainly in publications based in the U.S. and Hong Kong and found their way back to China via the Internet, which Mr. Liu celebrates, perhaps only half-jokingly, as evidence of a divine being. Interspersed throughout are poems, often searing, that attest to Mr. Liu's intellectual as well as emotional partnership with his wife, Liu Xia, an artist currently under house arrest. Rounding out the book are documents including the text of Charter 08, Mr. Liu's poignant statements at his 2009 trial and the verdict sentencing Mr. Liu to 11 years in prison.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Greece must not leave asylum seekers at the mercy of extremists

by Hans Lucht


December 29, 2011

On the morning of 25 May, Kelly from Ghana was on the bus going to a pickup place at the outskirts of Athens, where African immigrants and asylum seekers go to look for work, when he was attacked by a mob. He saw them from afar, standing at the bus stop – a group of about 10 young men – but thought nothing of it. They were probably going to one of the demonstrations, he supposed. But as they entered the bus, they pulled out bats, iron rods and knives, and attacked him.

As Greece struggles to avoid economic meltdown, dark-skinned immigrants and asylum seekers have become scapegoats in racially motivated attacks that, according to the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, have become an almost daily occurrence in Athens.

Last week, in cases pertaining to asylum seekers caught entering the UK and Ireland, the European court of justice upheld that asylum seekers could not be sent back to Greece because they risk being subjected to "inhuman or degrading treatment".

Ninety per cent of undocumented immigrants enter the EU via Greece. The Greek response has been to announce the construction of a barbed wire wall on the Turkish border, though the EU has made clear that such a wall will receive no funding. The influx of migrants has not been welcomed by some segments of the Greek population. Thus the extreme rightwing party Golden Dawn won its first ever seat on the Athens city council in November 2010 on an anti-immigrant agenda.


Friday, December 23, 2011

Five myths about Margaret Thatcher

by Claire Berlinski

Washington Post

December 22, 2011

Britain in the early 1970s was decayed, ungovernable and globally irrelevant, done in by the cumulative effect of postwar socialist reforms. Margaret Thatcher, who came to power as the nation’s first female prime minister in 1979, returned Britain to the realm of the great powers. Worshiped, feted, loathed and mocked, she is one of the most controversial figures of the 20th century. And now Thatcher, as interpreted by Meryl Streep, will be coming to a theater near you in the movie “The Iron Lady,”opening Dec. 30.

But even those most sympathetic to her tend to misunderstand her personality, her governing style and her accomplishments. Let’s examine these misconceptions.

1. The Iron Lady never backed down.

Not true. Her genius was her gift for choosing her battles wisely and avoiding those she couldn’t win. In 1981, for example, the National Union of Mineworkers — Britain’s most powerful union — threatened to strike. Despite urgent warnings from her advisers, Thatcher had made no preparations to withstand a conflict with the miners, and she capitulated immediately to their demands. She spent the next three years preparing to take them on: Her government stockpiled coal, devised schemes to smuggle strategic chemicals into power stations, changed the trade union laws and infiltrated MI5 spies into the miners’ inner circle.

When another strike loomed in 1984, she was ready. Previous mining strikes had ended after only weeks. Not this one. Over the course of a year, as Britain waited to see who would break first, Thatcher proceeded to crush the strike with a brutal, calculating ruthlessness that stunned the public. Neither labor nor the unions ever recovered.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Martin Sutovec (SME Daily)

Václav Havel

Wall Street Journal
December 19, 2011

When Václav Havel and 241 others signed Charter 77 during the Cold War in 1977, they were denounced by the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia as "traitors and renegades" and "agents of imperialism." Such were the epithets by which some of the most courageous Europeans of the 20th century were known.

Why did Charter 77 so offend the Soviet-backed rulers? The charter's original purpose was merely to protest the harassment and imprisonment of a Frank Zappa-inspired Czech rock band. It explicitly rejected any interest in becoming a basis for "oppositional political activity." It called on the government only to fulfill civil and human-rights commitments ostensibly guaranteed under Czechoslovakia's own constitution as well as the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, which the regime had signed.

But the Charter also exposed the hypocrisy of a system claiming to speak for a "people" whose rights it comprehensively violated. And it was disgust with such hypocrisy that animated Havel's life, first as a dissident playwright and polemicist and later as a statesman who stood up for his convictions, whatever the personal cost.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Riber Hansson

Help Wanted

by Thomas L. Friedman

New York Times

December 17, 2011

The historian Walter Russell Mead recently noted that after the 1990s revolution that collapsed the Soviet Union, Russians had a saying that seems particularly apt today: “It’s easier to turn an aquarium into fish soup than to turn fish soup into an aquarium.” Indeed, from Europe to the Middle East, and maybe soon even to Russia and Asia, a lot of aquariums are being turned into fish soup all at once. But turning them back into stable societies and communities will be one of the great challenges of our time.

We are present again at one of those great unravelings — just like after World War I, World War II and the cold war. But this time there was no war. All of these states have been pulled down from within — without warning. Why?

The main driver, I believe, is the merger of globalization and the Information Technology revolution. Both of them achieved a critical mass in the first decade of the 21st century that has resulted in the democratization — all at once — of so many things that neither weak states nor weak companies can stand up against. We’ve seen the democratization of information, where everyone is now a publisher; the democratization of war-fighting, where individuals became superempowered (enough so, in the case of Al Qaeda, to take on a superpower); the democratization of innovation, wherein start-ups using free open-source software and “the cloud” can challenge global companies.

And, finally, we’ve seen what Mark Mykleby, a retired Marine colonel and former adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, calls “the democratization of expectations” — the expectation that all individuals should be able to participate in shaping their own career, citizenship and future, and not be constricted.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Keeping the Arab Spring alive

Washington Post
December 17, 2011

It was a year ago Saturday that fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself aflame in the Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid, improbably providing the spark for what has become a regional revolution. The Arab Spring acquired its name in part because early commentators likened it to the upheavals that brought an end to dictatorship in other parts of the world — including the former Soviet bloc, East Asia and Latin America. It seemed logical that Middle Eastern states would, at last, follow the same path that led in other places from dictatorship and economic stagnation to free elections, free markets and integration into a global economy.

A year later, it’s clear that the Arab revolutions are different in some fundamental ways — and may not deserve the label of “spring.” Democratic transformations in other parts of the world since 1980 were largely peaceful, as autocrats from the Philippines to Chile yielded to “people power.” But while that paradigm mostly worked in Tunisia and in Egypt early this year, the subsequent months have been dominated by scenes of slaughter, as Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh have chosen to fight — even to the death — rather than give up. Mr. Gaddafi is gone, and the Assad and Saleh regimes may soon follow. But the thousands of deaths they caused have cast a pall over their countries; no one yet knows when and how the killing will end or whether there will be reconciliation.

A second difference in the Arab transformation is the worrying economic prospects of newly liberated countries. Eastern European and Asian countries adopted liberal market policies that led to booming growth; so, after a few years of drift, did most of Latin America. But Egypt and other Arab states so far are leaning toward a populism that could inhibit foreign investment and trade. They are also unlikely to receive as much Western aid as helped the new democracies of the 1980s and ’90s. Libya will prosper with oil. But many young Arabs may find that their aspirations for jobs remain unmet.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Beyond Guantánamo, a Web of Prisons for Terrorism Inmates

New York Times
December 10, 2011

It is the other Guantánamo, an archipelago of federal prisons that stretches across the country, hidden away on back roads. Today, it houses far more men convicted in terrorism cases than the shrunken population of the prison in Cuba that has generated so much debate.

An aggressive prosecution strategy, aimed at prevention as much as punishment, has sent away scores of people. They serve long sentences, often in restrictive, Muslim-majority units, under intensive monitoring by prison officers. Their world is spare.

Among them is Ismail Royer, serving 20 years for helping friends go to an extremist training camp in Pakistan. In a letter from the highest-security prison in the United States, Mr. Royer describes his remarkable neighbors at twice-a-week outdoor exercise sessions, each prisoner alone in his own wire cage under the Colorado sky. “That’s really the only interaction I have with other inmates,” he wrote from the federal Supermax, 100 miles south of Denver.

There is Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, Mr. Royer wrote. Terry Nichols, who conspired to blow up the Oklahoma City federal building. Ahmed Ressam, the would-be “millennium bomber,” who plotted to attack Los Angeles International Airport. And Eric Rudolph, who bombed abortion clinics and the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

In recent weeks, Congress has reignited an old debate, with some arguing that only military justice is appropriate for terrorist suspects. But military tribunals have proved excruciatingly slow and imprisonment at Guantánamo hugely costly — $800,000 per inmate a year, compared with $25,000 in federal prison.

The criminal justice system, meanwhile, has absorbed the surge of terrorism cases since 2001 without calamity, and without the international criticism that Guantánamo has attracted for holding prisoners without trial. A decade after the Sept. 11 attacks, an examination of how the prisons have handled the challenge of extremist violence reveals some striking facts:


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The long and winding road to cannabis legalisation

by Jan van Ours


December 6, 2011

In many Western countries, between one quarter and one third of the population admit to having used cannabis at least once in their lives – according to the official statistics. This column provides an in-depth review of existing economic, social, and media evidence for and against legalisation. It concludes that although there is of course uncertainty surrounding the long-term implications, prohibition is not working and it is time to legalise.

Although some countries have quasi-legalised cannabis use (the Netherlands), made cannabis available for medical purposes (California), or allowed the growing of a small number of cannabis plants for personal use (Australia), in most countries – the Netherlands included – cannabis supply, distribution, and use is prohibited (Reuter 2010). Nevertheless, in 2009, between 2.8% and 4.5% of the world population aged 15-64, corresponding to between 125 million and 203 million people had used cannabis at least once in the past year (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2011).

Table 1 presents cannabis use statistics for a number of countries, distinguishing between lifetime use (ever), recent use (last year) and current use (last month). The range in lifetime use is substantial from a low 21% in Sweden to a high 42% in the United States. The range in recent cannabis use is also substantial from a low 1% in Sweden to a high 14% in Italy. Finally, current use ranges from 1% in Sweden to 7% in Spain and the United States. What is also striking is the big difference between lifetime use and recent use. In the Netherlands for example 25% of the population aged 15 to 64 has ever used cannabis but only 7% has done so in the last year. Apparently, for a substantial part of the users, cannabis is not very addictive (see also Van Ours 2006 for details).