Tag Archives: politics

Very Small Thought on Syria Inspired by NPR Story

I listen to NPR everyday on my way to work and it never fails to impress, entertain, and educate me. Today, on my to the lab – I know I have to work on Sundays *insert sad face of some sort* – I was listening to a short story on NPR about the current Syrian crisis and alleged use of chemical weapons. The report also interviews a Syrian refugee currently residing in Beirut who was interrogated and imprisoned for >17 months by Assad’s secrete police on alleged charges of aiding the enemy. Aiding the enemy as in caring for the injured and providing food for the needy, as far as he said.

When Ms. Martin asked him why he left Syria, Mohammad – Syrian refugee in Beirut – did so not only because Damascus morphed into something completely alien to him, with increasing detentions, checkpoints and violence, but also whenever he, “thought of liberated area I saw people with guns, you know? I saw Islami[s]ts. I saw, I don’t know, maybe worse than Al-Assad by the way… I saw people with beards, wearing this Afghani [turban], in Damascus actually.”

He goes on to conclude what I think is the epitome of Syrian crisis at this point:

I’m not changing something bad for something worse.

I think that the reason behind US/Russia differential, hesitant treatment of the crisis could be attributed to, at least in part, the fear of Islamist extremism which has already proliferated in the region. And, this is what Mohammad is alluding to here.

Really cool story, and I encourage you to give it a listen.

The fruit of this passionate discussion about the Zimmerman case?

It is poignant. Or, rather, sad to see America goes feverishly preoccupied with a trial. It is sad because it will most probably subside in a week or less, and Trayvon Martin will be transformed to a mere story that is evoked sporadically just like Oscar Grant or Rodney King, for example.

I sincerely hope that this passionate discussion is fruitful. I really hope that this is more than a Facebook rant. If you to see change, people, then create it!

On a somewhat relevant note, it is rather sickening to see how media dictates public opinion, channels your attention, and sort of tells you how to think. Zimmerman was sentenced by people was before the verdict came out by the jury. Why, you might ask? Because of media- just like Casey Anthony’s case. Also, CNN closed its office in Baghdad so it can cover the Zimmerman case. Who cares about what is happening in the world anyways?

Ok, rant is over.

Fuss Over Section 4 Overruling?

So, I’m genuinely confused about the fuss over Section 4 overruling by the Supreme Court. I’d like to know how would this piece of legislation disproportionately disfranchise some? I’m well aware that there are clear as the sun cases where people are still fighting for their right to vote (which can be addressed on the state level, I suppose); but in the grand scheme of things I feel like we are segregating, tailoring laws to address challenges faced in the last century and abused today by politicians.

The important question, I think, is will the repercussions be as dramatic as those portrayed in the media? While I understand why we may be hesitant and distrustful of talking about race, identity, and privilege, but I think we need to be more comfortable addressing these questions and thinking about them critically.

Regardless, I did my homework about the topic and I concluded the following:

1) The legislation was introduced in 1965 for obvious reasons and was one of great many achievements brought by the civil rights movement;
2) The law – Sec. 4 and 5 specifically – does not reflect contemporary data and trends. Our demographics, etc. have considerably changed;
3) It is imperative that republicans and Tea Party-ers predominately support the legislation (and argue for smaller government intervention), while Democrats are divided between actively opposing it vs. remaining quite;
4) I still do not understand what prompted this law to be re-examined after it was ratified by the House, the Senate, the President, and ultimately the people. Maybe the recent election? Polarization of the political system?

Comments are free! I’m always eager to learn something new.

How We Lost the Syrian Revolution [Al-Monitor Article]

DisclaimerI have not written or contributed to this somber yet heartwarming Al-Monitor article from May 28, 2013 about the prospects of the Syrian uprising. I’m sharing it here for it provides substance and valuable insight into the underpinnings of the crisis.


Forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad carry their weapons as they move during what they said was an operation to push rebels from the road between Dahra Abd Rabbo village and Castello, in Aleppo, May 27, 2013. (photo by REUTERS/George Ourfalian)

By: Edward Dark

So what went wrong? Or to be more accurate, where did we go wrong? How did a once inspirational and noble popular uprising calling for freedom and basic human rights degenerate into an orgy of bloodthirsty sectarian violence, with depravity unfit for even animals? Was it inevitable and wholly unavoidable, or did it not have to be this way?

The simple answer to the above question is the miscalculation (or was it planned?) of Syrians taking up arms against their regime, a ruthless military dictatorship held together by nepotism and clan and sectarian loyalties for 40 years of absolute power. Former US ambassador to Syria Robert Ford specifically warned about this in his infamous visit to Hama in the summer of 2011 just as the city was in the grip of massive anti-regime protests and before it was stormed by the Syrian army. That warning fell on deaf ears, whether by design or accident, and we have only ourselves to blame. Western and global inaction or not, we are solely responsible for our broken nation at the end of the day.

Nietzsche once said, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.” That has proved to be very prophetic in the Syrian scenario. Away from all the agendas, whitewashing, propaganda, and outright lies of the global media stations, what we saw on the ground when the rebel fighters entered Aleppo was a far different reality. It hit home hard. It was a shock, especially to those of us who had supported and believed in the uprising all along. It was the ultimate betrayal.

To us, a rebel fighting against tyranny doesn’t commit the same sort of crimes as the regime he’s supposed to be fighting against. He doesn’t loot the homes, businesses and communities of the people he’s supposed to be fighting for. Yet, as the weeks went by in Aleppo, it became increasingly clear that this was exactly what was happening.

Rebels would systematically loot the neighborhoods they entered. They had very little regard for the lives and property of the people, and would even kidnap for ransom and execute anyone they pleased with little recourse to any form of judicial process. They would deliberately vandalize and destroy ancient and historical landmarks and icons of the city. They would strip factories and industrial zones bare, even down to the electrical wiring, hauling their loot of expensive industrial machinery and infrastructure off across the border to Turkey to be sold at a fraction of its price. Shopping malls were emptied, warehouses, too. They stole the grain in storage silos, creating a crisis and a sharp rise in staple food costs. They would incessantly shell residential civilian neighborhoods under regime control with mortars, rocket fire and car bombs, causing death and injury to countless innocent people, their snipers routinely killing in cold blood unsuspecting passersby. As a consequence, tens of thousands became destitute and homeless in this once bustling, thriving and rich commercial metropolis.

But why was this so? Why were they doing it? It became apparent soon enough, that it was simply a case of us versus them. They were the underprivileged rural class who took up arms and stormed the city, and they were out for revenge against the perceived injustices of years past. Their motivation wasn’t like ours, it was not to seek freedom, democracy or justice for the entire nation, it was simply unbridled hatred and vengeance for themselves.

Extremist and sectarian in nature, they made no secret that they thought us city folk in Aleppo, all of us, regime stooges and sympathizers, and that our lives and property were forfeit as far as they were concerned. Rebel profiteer warlords soon became household names, their penchant for looting and spreading terror among the populace inducing far more bitterness and bile than what was felt against the regime and its forces. Add to that terrible fray, the extremist Islamists and their open association with Al-Qaeda and their horrific plans for the future of our nation, and you can guess what the atmosphere over here felt like: a stifling primordial fear, a mixture of terror and despair.

So who was “us,” and why did we feel that we were any different or better? Well, by “us” I mean, and at the risk of sounding rather elitist, the civil grassroots opposition movement in Aleppo, who for months were organizing peaceful protests and handing out aid at considerable danger and risk to our own lives. “We” truly believed in the higher ideals of social and political change, and tried to emulate them. We tried to model ourselves on the civil rights movement of the US in the 1960s, Mandela’s struggle against apartheid, and the teachings of Gandhi: precisely what similar civil movements in other Arab Spring countries such as Tunisia and Egypt had done before.

For “us,” a revolution was a slow, deliberate and committed struggle for change. Like water drops repeatedly beating down on a boulder, eventually we would break it. But for “them,” well, their idea of change was throwing a ton of TNT at that boulder and having it, and everything around it, blown to smithereens. “We,” well, we mostly came from the educated urban middle class of the city. We came from all walks of life, all sects and all areas, and we didn’t care.

We never asked where that guy or girl was from or what they worshiped. Each one of us gave and contributed what we could, in the capacity we could. The leader of our group was a young Christian lawyer, a very active and dedicated young woman. The rest of the volunteers in our group were a microcosm of Syrian society; veiled girls, Shiite boys, rich kids and poor working class all working together for ideals we strongly shared and believed in.

Over the course of our activist work, some of our group were jailed and injured, one was even killed. That is why it never hit home so hard, and never have I felt as sad as when, shortly after Aleppo was raided by the rebels, I received messages from some of those people I used to work with. One said, “How could we have been so stupid? We were betrayed!” and another said, “Tell your children someday that we once had a beautiful country, but we destroyed it because of our ignorance and hatred.”

It was around about that time that I gave up on the revolution, such as it had become, and saw that the only way to Syria’s salvation was through reconciliation and a renunciation of violence. Many felt this way, too. Unfortunately, that is not a view shared by the warmongers and power brokers who still think that more Syrian blood should be spilled to appease the insatiable appetites of their sordid aspirations.

Even as activists, intellectuals, businessmen, doctors and skilled professionals fled the city in droves, others remained and still tried to organize civil action in the form of providing aid and relief work to the countless thousands of families that were now internally displaced inside their own city in desperate conditions. But it was clear that it was becoming futile. Everything had changed; it would never be the same again.

This is what it has come down to in Syria: It’s us versus them everywhere you go. Opposition versus regime, secular versus Islamist, Sunni versus Shiite, peaceful versus armed, city versus rural, and in all of that cacophony the voice of reason is sure to be drowned out. Whatever is left of Syria at the end will be carved out between the wolves and vultures that fought over its bleeding and dying corpse, leaving us, the Syrian people to pick up the shattered pieces of our nation and our futures.

Do we have recourse to blame anyone but ourselves for this? Was this our destiny, or the cruel machinations of evil men? Perhaps a future generation of Syrians will be able to answer that question.

Edward Dark is a pseudonym for a Syrian currently residing in Aleppo. He tweets at @edwardedark.

Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/05/syria-revolution-aleppo-assad.html#ixzz2VUJ8l1uZ

Book Review: The Price of Civilization by Jeffrey Sachs

Just finished reading Jeffrey Sachs’s awe-inspiring The Price of Civilization.

I picked up Jeffrey Sachs’ The Price of Civilization mainly because I opted for economics this time as opposed to science and philosophy (what I read, mostly). I had to decide between the Nobel-prize winner in economics Paul Krugman’s End This Depression Now! and this book. I picked Sachs’ for 1) his substantial experience in macroeconomics and shaping/reforming economies abroad (though I disagree – or does not know how I feel – about shock therapy as a solution to hyperinflation); 2) his background in development, sustainability, and developing political economy/economic theories; 3) being a globalization guru when talking about economy and politics; and, lastly 4) where he stands politically, socially, and environmentally (I did not sense any glaring biases in his analysis towards any party – he equally criticized both as argument demands).

In part one of the book, he diagnoses the economic crises, addresses Washington’s disconnect from the public, dissects “the free-market fallacy” in light of globalization and its effects on American society, politics, and good citizenship. Part two of the book is titled “The Path to Prosperity.” Prosperity that is lost in today’s economy. He argues that it is only with a mindful society, informed citizenry, and politically active public that we can move forward. He is very optimistic with the change our generation, The Millennial generation, will bring about. One that I personally look forward to.

Apart from that, he brings up an interesting point that the government, or various administrations, is not the only one to blame (though it’s got the lion’s share) for the economic mess we inherit; the public also shares some responsibility. The public has long lost its trust in the government, disengaged and polarized politically and socially; one argues for more government while the other argues for little to none. This left us fragmented, distracted, and simply unaware of powerful lobbing at work. Corporatocracy has distractedly and wrongly told the public that over-commercialism, over-consumption, low taxes, and short-sightedness are the solutions to our problems. These “solutions” augment our problems rather than remedy them, and he explains why.

The not-so-economics-savvy me found this book enlightening on so many levels. While I recognize America’s economic plight, I did not know, or was simply oblivious to, the core problems that spiraled us down (aside from those on the surface such as Wall Street market collapse of 2008, housing bubble, etc.). In a nutshell, the book strongly argues for a mixed-economy (the middle path as one may put it), one that has the private sector as well as the government wheeling the economy forward. Sachs recognizes, however, that the current government and political system, corporatocracy as he puts it, are not only incompetent but greatly corrupted by lobbies vested interests. It is imperative then that the reforms he puts forward include reforming the government through “honest, open, and transparent problem solving,” taking money out of politics, etc. I wholeheartedly agree that we need to move from short-term planning with little execution, to long-term planning and actually execution. America’s infrastructure is deteriorating, so as its healthcare system, science and engineering sectors, and its standing as the world’s leading economy. I think it is important to note that Sachs is not socialist, but a hardcore capitalist who believes that economic forces are not sufficient to run a marketplace.

My views resonant with those of his in that in order to live a healthy, sustainable, and happy life we need “to be ready to pay the price of civilization through multiple acts of good citizenship: bearing our fair share of taxes, educating ourselves deeply about society’s needs, acting as vigilant stewards for future generations, and remembering that compassion is the glue that holds society together.” He beautifully explains the challenges, and solutions, surrounding taking this route.

So, all in all, Sachs’ book gives us a clear, honest, and socially-responsible diagnosis of our political and economic crisis. It also provides a road-map, if you will, that walks us through how to get out of the pit.

Strongly recommended!

The Distracted Society

I’m almost done reading The Price of Civilization by Jeffery D. Sachs. I have to say that this book is invaluable to learn a LOT about not only mixed-market economy, but also why America’s economy and politics are crippled. He does not take the usual government is bad, deregulation is bad, capitalism sucks type argument. Instead, he outlines how globalization, society (us, people!), and government share some responsibility as to how we got awry economically, politically, and socially.

Here’s an excerpt which I like and thought about sharing. It argues that the “Age of Information” may/does not necessarily mean we are more educated, prosperous, and have peace of mind.

Chapter 8: The Distracted Society

An epidemic of ignorance

Print media continues its long-term decline. In 1960, print delivered an estimated 26 percent of words transmitted. By 2008, that had declined to 9 percent. While TV absorbed 42 percent of the daily hours the average American spends receiving information, print media accounted for a meager 5 percent. Reading for fun is a disappearing practice among the young, and the purchases of books went into a steep decline a decade ago. As Americans stop reading, ignorance of basic facts, especially scientific facts about such politically charged issues as climate change, has soared. Reading proficiency is also plummeting.

It would be a profound irony if the new “information age” in fact coincides with the collapse of the public’s basic knowledge regarding key issues that we confront both as individuals and as citizens. It’s far too early to tell whether the Internet and other connected devices will end up leaving society dumber or better informed. Will video games and online streaming of entertainment end up crowing out more meaningful reading and gathering of information? These risks seem real, at least according to the flood of recent books such as The Dumbest Generation, Idiot America, The Age of American Unreason, and Just How Stupid Are We?

Recent polling data and academic studies do suggest that American lack basic shared factual knowledge. As one author recently put it, “The insulted mindset of individuals who know precious little history and civics and never read a book or visit a museum is fast becoming a common, shame-free condition.”[1] If American high school test scores continue to rank poorly relative to other countries, so, too, will our economic prosperity, sense of economic security, and place in the world. Even more ominously, our capacity as citizens will collapse if we lack the shared knowledge to take on challenges such as balancing the federal budget and responding to human-induced climate change.

The Pew Research Center occasionally surveys the basic knowledge of the American public in its News IQ Quiz[2]. At the end of 2010, only 15 percent could identify the prime minister of the United Kingdom and only 38 percent could choose the incoming U.S. House Speaker from a list of four names. Slightly under half (46 percent) knew that the Republicans would control the lower house of Congress but not the Senate. And 39 percent correctly picked out defense as the largest budget item in a list that included Social Security, interest on the debt, and Medicare. None of these gaps in knowledge is a cardinal sin. As Pew put it, “the public knows basic facts about politics, economics, but struggles with specifics.” But when the country must grapple with complex choices about taxes, spending, military outlays, and the rest, the lack of basic knowledge becomes dangerous. A poorly informed public is much more easily swayed by propaganda and much less able to resist the dark maneuvers of the special-interest groups that pull the strings in Washington.

This book is heavily supported by facts and evidence. I very much encourage you to buy the book if you’re interested in learning about mixed-economy concept, current political and economical deadlock,  and how we can move forward and recover from such crisis.

[1] Mark Bauerkeubm The Dumbest Generation (New York: Penguin, 2008), p. 16.

[2] Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, “Public Knows Basic Facts About Politics, Economics, but Struggles with Specifics,” November 2010.

Greenwald’s Heated Exchange with Maher on “Night Time”

I do not think Bill Maher, the self-appointed champion of atheism and liberalism, was expecting Night Time yesterday to be as hairy for him as it ended up being.

The constitutional litigator, who is now a full-time columnist for the Guardian, Glenn Greenwald used reason and facts to expose Maher’s bigotry and supremacy. Greenwald argued that Islam is as violent of a religion as Christianity and Judaism. He reasoned that much of the instability and violence occurring in the Middle East is in part due to US interference in the region. Therefore, we as American citizens need to be aware of that and take responsibility. Some of it at least and not to completely blame “… that primitive religion out there.”

This is not the first time that Maher dismisses Islam as the one and only evil threat of all religions. He never digs deeper to understand whether or not Islam actually promotes what he thinks it does. An AFP report on a recent Gallop survey on Islam destroys Maher’s generalizations and perceptions of Islam. The study shows that of religion’s 1.3 billion followers 93% are moderates with the vast majority of 1.3 billion condemning 9/11 and other attacks against the US. So what does this leave us with for Maher? He bought into the disgusting rhetoric championed by radicals on the right.

What’s funny – or not funny, interesting maybe – is that whenever Maher doesn’t like something he says “That’s silly liberal view…. .” Here’s the Youtube video via StopTheWarCoalition: