Category Archives: Human Rights

The Road to “United States of Europe” Is Rather Bumpy


For the past one month Ukraine has found itself at a crossroad and based on the plentiful accounts in the media, the country has only two choices in terms of direction—Europe or Russia—one of which should lead to prosperity and the other to further degradation. Since November 21, Independence Square in Kiev has been overtaken by protests against the current President, Viktor Yanukovich, and demands for his resignation abound. The protests are a consequence of the president’s failure to follow through with the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. The deal could mark an important step toward European integration for Ukraine and the suspension of talks between Yanukovich and the EU under the alleged insistence of Russia highlights the biggest obstacle to a smooth process.

Image: BGNES

Image: BGNES

The protests have largely been peaceful, but on several occasions the situation escalated. On November 30, for example, witness reports confirmed beatings by riot police and prompted various human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch (HRW), to voice outrage at the police brutality against civilians and journalists. HRW has subsequently demanded a thorough investigation, but while the ruling party acknowledged the complaints, it also dismissed them as unnecessary and as the means to cause panic and chaos. On December 8, the statue of Vladimir Lenin was toppled as protesters voiced their intention to eliminate Soviet influence from their country. Russian officials have reportedly expressed surprise over the attention the situation in Ukraine has attracted both domestically and internationally.

Most analysts appear to agree on two important characteristics of the recent events in Ukraine:

  • First, the increased tensions reflect the polarization between European and Russian economic pressures. Claims abound that President Yanukovich’s decision became a reality after significant push from the Russian President Vladimir Putin. Indeed, while Western leaders have threatened Ukraine with possible economic sanctions, a BBC report indicates that Yanukovich and Putin have reached an agreement that would lead to significant economic assistance from Russia. The bailout package is expected to pull the Ukrainian economy out of the gutters and “keep the country from bankruptcy next year”. Putin’s desire to alleviate the struggles of the Ukrainian economy is seen as a clear sign of his intention to keep Ukraine close and the European Union at a distance.
  • Second, the protests in Kiev are a perfect example of a generational rift: the younger generation tends to support the idea of a united Europe and a common European identity while the older generation insists on strong connections with Russia. Older generations, having lived though the impact of another union, the Soviet that is, seem a bit more skeptical as to the impact the EU could have and voice concerns that the independence of their nations is still in jeopardy. Conversely, the younger generation is fed up with the difficult economic situation in their native countries and see accession to the EU as an opportunity to move West and find better jobs.

Interestingly, the two most prominent characteristics of the developments in Ukraine correspond to the two ideals behind a united Europe—economic interdependence and a common identity. Economic integration was the major focus of the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community (EEC), precursors of the EU, with the idea that those bound by economic interests will not be concerned with waging a massive and murderous war against each other. For a while, Europe seemed to be on the way to a bright future marked by peace and economic interdependence.

Another, and a bit more problematic, theme accompanying the establishment and enlargement of the EU is the search for the so-called common European identity. A shared cluster of characteristics, distinct to Europeans, is expected to smooth and ease the ultimate integration of all European countries into a community living harmoniously. As Delanty points out, however, this concept of a common regional identity sprouted out of and has been sustained by separation rather than by integration and peace. It is also important to acknowledge Peter van Ham’s observation about the enigma of what exact values, beliefs, and shared hopes would constitute the roots of this budding European identity and the likelihood of such an identity to allow Europeans to feel socially connected on a larger than the commercial level. The intention is for a diverse group of nations to come together under the umbrella of Europeanness and exist and prosper as one body. Moreover, a certain ‘European Gemeinschaft’ is viewed as a necessary prerequisite for the successful enlargement of the EU. It is not clear, however, whether the European identity already exists and the path toward integration is meant to solidify that identity or if the integration itself is supposed to create and reinforce the so-called European identity. The ultimate hope is that an emphasis on a common identity, along with economic interdependence, would reinforce the unification of European states and turn Europe into a powerful actor on the global stage.

In the last two decades it has become painfully clear that with former communist republics seeking admission, the two EU pillars of economic stability and common European identity are threatened and a truce is unavoidable. The idea of a united and strong Europe might still just be that: an idea. In Ukraine, some emphasize, what stands out is “the imaginary Europe that has captured Ukrainians’ minds”. A common market and identity that can keep nations together can only work if a basic level of economic and social development already exists. The original member states relied on and acted out of a shared political and economic template that was not what the new members are familiar with. The economic disparities between the long-time Western members and the new Eastern members place a strain on the union and jeopardize the hopes for economic stability across Europe. Indeed, a discussion about European disintegration has become prominent, especially in the first decade of the 21st century. Support for the EU and its mission has fallen in several of the more powerful European states such as Britain and France.

No doubt the region referred to as Europe is comprised of significant cultural, political, economic, and religious diversity. To have these distinct areas join into a united supra-national organization will take effort, time, and most of all compromise. The economic differences are so enormous that the integration under a common market seems unlikely. Former communist nations have standards of living that are at least 40 percent lower than the standard of life in older members of the EU. Political differences are also significant and while the early accepted Baltic nations are working hard at developing stable democracies, many nations in the Central and Eastern region have found themselves in more repressing regimes than at the end of the Soviet era. Different economic standards ultimately result in distinct ways of life, diverse beliefs, and a color palette of worldviews that in turn create issues with the concept of a united Europe. While language diversity is respected in the union, the cultural and social history it is accompanied by has so far not faced a warm welcoming. In terms of geography, all EU countries technically belong under the umbrella of Europe, but in terms of culture and way of life, not all within the confines of the old continent feel European or are treated as such. While demanding respect for all members within a specific state, the older members of the EU have yet to show a similar practice toward EU citizens across the EU regardless of their country of origin.

Recent reports indicate that President Yanukovich and his government have agreed to resume talks about the deal with the EU, but considering the information provided above, it is clear that a smooth integration would likely not be a reality. Indeed, while an agreement with the EU would in the long run benefit the country, the protesters on the streets of Kiev should not expect an immediate improvement in terms of economic development. This has certainly been the case in Bulgaria, which joined the EU in 2007. It seems that the leaders and governments of developing nations seeking admission into the union know that aid is coming with the membership, and they also know that to a degree, they have to help themselves. And as Framer shrewdly observes, these leaders help themselves the same way political elites everywhere do it: by helping themselves “to whatever they can get their hands on”. While corruption prevails and EU aid disappears down mysterious alleyways and bank accounts, those who suffer the consequences are the common people who really do not care who is in control as long as they have a decent life and are able to provide for their families without having to leave the country and be underpaid, and hated and abused for being there and allowing themselves to be underpaid. So while an entry into the EU is viewed as the way out of economic depression and into prosperity and development, one cannot help but be haunted by the questions asked by Eduardo Galeano, “How many people prosper in prosperity?/How many people find their lives developed by development?”

Ultimately, what is crystal clear is that former communist nations in Europe will not be left alone—either by the EU or Russia. Both powers claim to advocate for the small sovereign nations to be allowed to exert their independence, but no one really lets them make the decision on their own. A country is left to choose between the influence of one big entity over another and who is to say what choice comes with more negative consequences. Considering the continued economic hardships, the high corruption levels, and the escalating mistreatment of immigrants in the West, it is no surprise that some in the newest EU members believe that one repressive and discriminatory regime has simply been replaced by another. Former communist nations are treated like immature younglings who need the guidance of an adult to mature and civilize. Whether that adult is the European Union or the former Soviet Union is truly irrelevant. Churchill may have believed that building “a kind of United States of Europe” is the future of a prosperous Europe, but after over sixty years of hard work and construction, the road to a united Europe still resembles more the Soviet era remnants dissecting Eastern Europe than a German autobahn. As a person who has been on both, I must admit, I am not a fan of either.

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Last Call for a Resolution


Last Thursday, a new round of talks began in Geneva between Iran and the P5+1 countries. The P5+1 countries are comprised of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, namely the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, China and France, plus Germany. Observers of the talks seemed quite optimistic given the understanding stance of both the United States and Iran in recent talks.

There is certainly reason for this optimism as a rapprochement between the United States and Iran is seen as more viable now than ever before. During the UN General Assembly in September, there was a historic phone call between President Obama and the newly-elected moderate, President Rouhani. Moreover, Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, are spearheading the current negotiations. This is the highest-level face-to-face interaction between American and Iranian government officials in decades. The involvement of such high-level officials clearly indicates seriousness on the part of both countries in trying to resolve this issue diplomatically.

The Geneva talks were expected to bring a resolution to Iran’s controversial nuclear program, which it claims is solely for nuclear energy, medical treatments and research. Other countries, specifically Israel, the US and some Western European allies, are of the opinion that Iran is attempting to build nuclear weapons and is deceiving the IAEA and the world. And some countries were not shy to express their honest opinions about a resolution. Secretary of State Kerry arrived at the talks after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv. Netanyahu was very open about his dissatisfaction of a possible resolution. “This is a very bad deal and Israel utterly rejects it. Israel is not obliged by this agreement and Israel will do everything it needs to do to defend itself and defend the security of its people”.

Israel seems to have attempted to do everything it needs to stop an agreement, as the talks took an unexpected turn for the worse, when many believed a resolution was near. As Western and Iranian negotiations were putting the finishing touches on a resolution, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius joined in the talks last minute and the negotiations unraveled. Shortly thereafter, the talks ended with plans to resume again on November 20th. France has become one of the most important allies to Israel after the US, and it seems this triggered the unraveling of the negotiations. Prime Minister Netanyahu was not ready to accept a resolution that would allow Iran to maintain its nuclear capabilities and possibly reduce certain sanctions in return for transparency.  Netanyahu, along with neo-conservatives on Capitol Hill, are very much of the belief that the sanctions are working, and should be increased to mount pressure on Iran. Prime Minister Fabius was in agreement with Netanyahu on this point and refused to accept the resolution in its current format.

While the Obama Administration is pushing for a diplomatic solution as a means to protect the US, Israel and its interests in the Middle East, a rift is quickly growing between the US and Israel on its strategy towards Iran. After Netanyahu’s disapproval of a deal before the Geneva talks began, Secretary of State Kerry publically asked certain countries to not jump to conclusions before knowing details of the proposed deal. White House spokesperson Josh Earnest also dismissed criticism from Israel over a deal as “premature”.  Israel’s uncompromising stance, while praised by certain neo-conservative lawmakers back in Washington DC, is becoming more and more unpopular. This window of opportunity to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue will not be open forever, and Iran and the US are aware of this.

If a better compromise is reached in the coming weeks, then France and Israel are not judged as harshly. However, if talks do fail, “France may have effectively scuttled any option of ending Iran’s nuclear program without using military force, something no country — including Israel — wants to do.”

This delay in the talks till November 20th could be detrimental if proponents of war and additional sanctions build momentum in Congress. This has put the White House on defense in vocally calling for Congress to approve of a diplomatic solution and an alleviation of sanctions. As Congress debates increasing sanctions, Secretary of State Kerry has stated that he believes it would be a “mistake” and suggested a temporary pause. He was also expected to brief members of the Senate Banking Committee at a closed-door session later in the week on this issue.

Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council says that it is clear that the US Administration and others want a deal signed before a debate on sanctions heats up in Congress again. “Part of the reason why the talks continued until 2 a.m. in the morning on what was in reality the fourth day when they were supposed to be two days is precisely because of the awareness on all sides, except for the French, that if they don’t get something now, it’s going to be more difficult.” Momentum is currently very high to reach an agreement. On November 20th, Iran and the P5+1 countries need to remember that the security of an entire region is at stake. If all parties do not make compromises, everyone will come out a loser in the end.

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The Plight of Domestic Workers as a Concern for Anti-Human Trafficking Activists


On November 6, 2013, the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at the John Hopkins University hosted the Protection Project Eighth Annual Symposium on the issue of trafficking in persons. The focus of this year’s symposium was the plight of domestic workers. In the course of four panel discussions, a plethora of experts shared basic statistics to illustrate the scope of the problem, highlighted particular aspects that place domestic workers in vulnerable situations, debated with whom the responsibility for addressing the problem lies, and offered suggestions and recommendations on what needs to be done.

Many would argue that human trafficking has in recent years, for better or worse, certainly become the issue du jour. News reports on the problem are now an everyday occurrence and the number of books, films, or TV shows addressing it have proliferated at a lightning speed. The common denominator in nearly all instances of attention, however, is the inevitable focus on sex trafficking. Although an estimated 53 million people are employed as domestic workers—over 80% of whom are women and young girls—trafficking of persons for the purpose of labour, specifically domestic work, rarely grabs the attention of the general public and therefore, as Tiffany Williams, an LGSW Campaign Coordinator at the National Domestic Workers Alliance, emphasized, the issue has for too long been ignored equally by media, students, activists, NGOs, and law enforcement agencies.

There are several reasons the often horrific situation of domestic workers has remained largely unnoticed and difficult to address.

  • Domestic workers live and work in private homes, behind closed doors, and any great harm done to them remains invisible. It is important to note that even without the issue of trafficking, the situation of domestic workers needs to be addressed as the particularities of their no ordinary work place increase their vulnerability to abuse and suffering.
  • Domestic workers are isolated. They are never off duty and therefore often have no social life. By becoming housecleaners and care takers in foreign lands, many women and young girls seemingly manage to contribute to those they left behind. At the same time, however, the same jobs that provide for their families also separate them from the ones they care most about. Feeling the pressure from home and being aware of their lack of rights, they quietly endure conditions far from ideal.
  • Domestic work has historically been used as a form of social subordination, of women in general and minority women in particular. As Neha Misra, a Senior Specialist on Migration and Human Trafficking at the Solidarity Center, emphasized, migrant workers have historically deliberately been excluded from labour laws, but the case of domestic workers is particularly ignored because the problems are hidden. Consequently, domestic workers are kept as non-actors, as people with no political power who could do little to incur change.
  • Domestic work has been and still is considered women’s work and as a result falls in the informal sector and is viewed as an industry of lesser respect. For example, Neha Misra indicated that 1 in 3 women in the Middle East and 1 in 4 women in Latin America are domestic workers. Domestic workers are regarded as non-persons who could easily become both sex and labour slaves.

Although at the symposium there seemed to be an agreement on the vulnerable position of domestic workers, a debate ensued when the aspect of responsibility was mentioned. Should origin or receiving countries bear the task of improving the situation of domestic workers?

Many of the panelists at the symposium exposed cultural aspects of certain receiving countries to depict the complexity of the issue. Indeed, the Middle East and the North African regions are with the highest demand for domestic workers and many of the states in those geographical areas are characterized as adhering to the kefala system. The kefala system reflects a form of sponsorship (guardianship) that requires domestic workers to become dependent on employers who are responsible for the workers’ visas and legal status. Such dependency places migrant labourers in vulnerable positions as employers often keep their passports and leave them with no option but to tolerate any abuse that accompanies their everyday existence.

While the states of the Persian Gulf are often attacked for the aforementioned kefala system that locks domestic workers in the control of employers, Neha Misra was quick to emphasize that the United States is not far behind with a similar system of work visas that tie workers to their employers even if the conditions are horrific. Tiffany Williams of the National Domestic Workers Alliance confirmed Ms. Misra’s statement and outlined employer-controlled visas (specifically in the United States) as an added layer of vulnerability for domestic workers.

Mr. Osama bin Abdullah Al-Absi, Chief Executive Officer of the Labour Market Regulatory Authority in the Kingdom of Bahrain, stressed that though the receiving countries are often charged with the responsibility to address and solve the problem, the problem does not really start when the domestic worker enters the destination country. He highlighted that often both the receiving family and the domestic worker endure irreversible damage when provided false information about each other by the middle men—the recruiting agencies in both receiving and origin countries. In response to an audience question, however, he pointed out that while the irreversible damage should certainly not be seen as equal, activists must not ignore one side of the equation.

The discussion on responsibility certainly highlighted that in order to comprehensively address the situation of domestic workers, instead of playing the blame game, both origin and destination countries must examine existing systems that repress domestic workers and implement changes that ensure domestic workers enjoy the same rights as other labourers.

An international attempt to recognize and address the plight of domestic workers is the International Labour Organization (ILO) Domestic Workers Convention (No 189). It was adopted in 2011 and entered into force on 5 September 2013.  The goal of the convention is to ensure decent work for domestic workers. The convention is historic because it is the first international framework that addresses domestic work and exposes the social and economic contributions of domestic workers. At the least, the convention outlines basic standards for working conditions of domestic laborers and offers provisions for private employment agencies.

C-189 has so far been ratified by ten countries: Bolivia, Germany, Guyana, Italy, Mauritus, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Philippines, South Africa, and Uruguay. It is important to note that even countries that have not ratified the convention have began to implement amendments to national legislature to address and incorporate the established international standards for domestic workers. For example, the United States has not ratified the convention and as one of the panelists bluntly indicated, “there is no chance in hell” that it will do so, but there have been promising actions by individual states, such as California, New York, and Hawaii, that have focused on establishing a domestic workers Bill of Rights.

ILO Convention 189, as well as the efforts at national and state levels, indicates that the plight of domestic workers will no longer be ignored. However, there is still much to be done in order for the problem to be properly addressed. At the international level, for example, a future goal would be to encourage more countries to ratify the convention and to make sure adequate institutions are put in place to implement the standards as outlined in C-189. The ultimate goal is to have the basic rights of domestic workers protected regardless of their origin or destination country. As Neha Misra argued, while existing bilateral agreements between origin and destination countries seem to address the issue, they ultimately do not work because the countries of origin are in a weak bargaining position and the receiving countries, if pressed, would simply move to another country of origin with less stricter laws.

At the state level Amy Mahoney of the International Organization for Migration emphasized the importance of focusing on reintegration efforts as well. Attempts to address the problem should not be concerned solely with what could be done before workers leave but also with what needs to be done when they come back. On that note, Tiffany Williams challenged the notion of victimhood, spoke about moving beyond survival, and underlined the value of survivors themselves “breaking the chain” and speaking for the millions of workers in the United States. I agree. Regarding domestic workers as victims implies that they are powerless, dependant, and unable to make it without support. We should instead see them as survivors—survivors who could adapt to the most inhospitable and dangerous environments, who could manage to grasp the value of life even when it is uncertain and painful, or maybe because it is uncertain and painful, and who are content to be alive. Worker-led mobilization efforts and survivor-led empowerment should therefore be integral to any state attempt to address the problem.

Lastly, at an individual level, the general population needs to realize that domestic work is work, often hazardous and undervalued, and the people who make sure the work is done deserve safe conditions, proper treatment, and most of all recognition. After all, the truth is that it is not the job itself that should be viewed as degrading; what reduces the status of domestic workers is the loss of independence and responsibility that has traditionally accompanied the work. To properly address the problem, therefore, the larger population needs to realize the importance and value of domestic workers who do “the work that makes all other work possible”.

Krasi Shapkarova is a recent graduate of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, with an MA in International Human Rights and concentration in forced labour and human trafficking. She is now based in the Washington D.C. area.

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Refuge from Climate Change




In 1988, two United Nations organizations, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The scientific intergovernmental organization was later endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly through Resolution 43/53. The role of the IPCC is to “assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation.”

Reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in recent years demonstrate a near consensus on climate change and the role that human activity plays in its development. Climate change is one of the most important issues of our time, given its worldwide scope and capacity to change the face of the planet forever. From Hurricane Katrina, dubbed the most destructive hurricane to strike the US, to the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami that resulted in more than 18,000 deaths, it is clear that erratic weather patterns and major shifts in our climate can have immense effects on our everyday lives.

Last week, a New Zealand court heard the appeal of a very novel type of asylum seeker: a climate change refugee. The individual, who cannot be named due to New Zealand immigration law, is seeking refuge in the country for himself and his family, due to rising sea levels in his home country of Kiribati. “Kiribati, an impoverished string of 33 coral atolls about halfway between Hawaii and Australia, has about 103,000 people and has been identified by scientists as one of the nations that is most vulnerable to climate change. The country’s atolls have an average height above sea level of just 6.5 feet.” According to this individual, his family had to seek higher ground as so-called king tides have become a norm in Kiribati, killing crops, flooding homes and sickening people.

The world’s oceans have been rising at an annual rate of 0.1 inches since 1970, and this poses a great risk for low-lying island countries, such as those in the South Pacific. Countries such as Tuvalu, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands are at great risk due to rising ocean levels. Earlier this month, an international panel of climate scientists issued a report saying that it was “extremely likely” that human activity was causing global warming, and predicted that oceans could rise by as much as 3.3 feet by the end of the century. If that were to happen, much of Kiribati would simply disappear.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees defines a refugee as “someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries.” While this definition is very thorough and constructive – given the causes of migration in the past – it does not fully encompass all acceptable causes of migration. In today’s world, people are not only harmed and persecuted by war or violence, but also suffer greatly due to drastic weather patterns in places they call home. While estimates vary on the rate and speed at which our oceans are rising and our climate is changing, there is much concern about vulnerable populations in certain countries. If climate change does continue its course with no fundamental obstacles placed in its place, entire populations of South Pacific island countries should be considered possible future climate change refugees. And this is not taking into consideration other consequences of climate change that include droughts, deforestation and flooding.

According to Renaud et al, there are three types of environmentally driven refugees or migrants. Environmental emergency migrants are people that are displaced due to sudden events, especially disasters. These migrants flee to save their lives due to events such as floods, hurricanes, tsunami waves, and volcanic eruptions. There is also a high chance that these migrants will eventually return to their homes once they no longer in immediate danger. Environmentally forced migrants are people who have to abandon their homes in connection with worsening environmental condition. These migrants are forced to leave because of gradual and often irreversible degradation of the environment, with limited opportunity to return to their homes. The causes of such displacements include: droughts, coastal deterioration, and deforestation. Finally, there are environmentally motivated migrants, who decide to migrate from a deteriorating area anticipating negative environmental changes in the future. This migration is a response to environmental degradation, but it is not an emergency action. Environmental emergency migrants are quite common, given the frequency with which certain countries are hit with earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and tsunamis. The theory for the future, however, is that we will be seeing a higher number of environmentally forced migrants, as certain regions will become entirely uninhabitable.

Norman Myers, a British environmentalist, has written extensively on the subject of environmental migrants. In his paper, Environmental Exodus, Myers put the number of climate change refugees at 200 million by 2050. Various NGOs and both the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change and the president of the UN General Assembly in 2008 have mentioned this number. While Myers does point out that this number is in the upper limit, many have questioned the methodology and accuracy of his estimate. Irrespective of whether this estimate is entirely accurate, it is a fact that ocean levels are rising, and many low-lying countries are at risk. It is a fact that droughts, deforestation, tsunamis and massive earthquakes are making certain areas of the world highly volatile places to live. And it is a fact that we need to start paying attention to the consequences of climate change, one being mass migrations around the globe.

Legal experts believe that the appeal of the individual from Kiribati seeking asylum in New Zealand will be denied, given an earlier tribunal decision, which rejected his claim on the grounds that his life wasn’t in jeopardy and many others on Kiribati faced similar problems. The legal principle at the moment, according to Bill Hodge, a constitutional law expert at the University of Auckland, only recognizes the individual risk and not the collective risk. If the man’s appeal is rejected, he will be deported with his wife and three New Zealand-born children, the youngest less than a year old. While this individual is likely to be deported along with his family, he has raised a very important issue which governments must sooner than later make a priority. Climate change is a social problem, and its consequences can be dire for millions in vulnerable locations.

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Today in Trade History: How Mexican Cowboys Prove Tom Tancredo is an Idiot



Today in trade history, I’m going back to my roots. On October 20, 1835, the American trading vessel Pilgrim anchored in a Mexican harbor, and on October 21, its crew went ashore to do business. The local community was a diverse mix of Mexican ranchers, descendants of Spanish missionaries, and the native Acjachemen tribe, whose economy began and ended with cows. When trading ships like the Pilgrim came to ports all over the coast, pretty much all they were looking for was cattle hides, tallow, and other cow-related products. The bluffs around this port, however, were so steep that the sailors just tossed the hides over the cliffs onto the beach below like giant leather frisbees, getting a few caught halfway down. The captain, not wanting to lose money, heroically demanded one of his men climb down the cliffs to free them. The sailor who did so, Richard Henry Dana, went on to write one of the best records of that region and its trade that exists, a book entitled Two Years Before the Mast. The city that now sits on that harbor is named Dana Point in his honor, and the neighboring city of San Juan Capistrano is my hometown. The Mexican cattle ranching haven was California.

There are two reasons this story is important and not just self-indulgent. One is that despite Dana being a raging leftist who wrote his book as an honest account of the miseries of shipboard life for a common crewman, the American people happily missed the point entirely in favor of the romanticism of a foreign land, thus setting the stage for The Grapes of Wrath and The Real Housewives of Orange County. The second reason is that the story is a nice illustration of why America has nothing to fear from Latino influence. There has never been an America with California in it that did not include Latino influence.

You’ve probably never heard of the California Hide Trade, but it is the reason California’s major cities became major. The Hide Trade lasted just a couple of decades as the Mexican ranchers flourished, extended from Boston to Peru to Alta California to Hawaii to China, and included trade assists from the British and Russians. Foreign sailors and traders often settled and intermarried with local Mexican and indigenous groups, linking up the disparate peoples who would one day build the gayest city in the Western Hemisphere (excepting maybe Rio).

The list of interesting things about this trading route is endless. One Boston company (Bryant, Sturgis & Co., which owned the Pilgrim) so dominated the hide and tallow trade that the local name for the United States was “Boston.” American ship captains made evading Mexican tariffs into an art form, primarily through bribing the hell out of the tariff collectors and competing with each other for who could get away with paying the least. And the pelts of cute little Californian otters were so popular in Canton that the otter population got drastically reduced, so good one, China.

The Pilgrim sailed the Hide Trade route carrying Richard Henry Dana, who was not your typical sailor. Son of a prominent Cambridge family and a Harvard boy, he betrayed some nascent hippie tendencies when he supported a student protest as a freshman and received a six-month suspension in return. In his junior year, he contracted measles and suffered vision loss. Instead of doing a rich boy tour of Europe to recover, he let his hippie flag fly and joined a two-year voyage out of Boston, around South America, up to California and back again. He resolved to live the life of a common sailor and see what it was like.

Turns out, it sucked. The hours were long, the conditions were horrible, and the food was legendarily bad. The story of the ship captain pressuring crew to climb down cliffs and retrieve cow hides for his own gain illustrates how little sailors’ lives were worth, but during the voyage Dana also witnessed a crewmember getting severely beaten by a superior, and had an activist epiphany. He returned to Harvard, got his law degree, and spent the rest of his life defending common sailors in court and helping found the anti-slavery Free Soil party. Publishing Two Years Before the Mast was supposed to help the cause, and in some ways it did. But much like Upton Sinclair later found, the reading public often decides all on its own what it will be interested in, and in Dana’s case, the reading public was roughly 1,000 times more interested in the pretty coastline and shiny, shiny gold of California than they were in the rights of ship crews. And who can blame them?

Kids who grew up in or next to Dana Point generally know a little bit about this. Most of us were taken to see Dana’s statue in the harbor as a field trip, some were made to read Two Years Before the Mast by an ambitious English teacher. A few were hardcore and spent a weekend bunked up in the replica of the Pilgrim that floats in Dana Point Harbor today, a kind of educational hazing service the Harbor offers in order to give 6th graders a taste of what it was like to be a sailor back then. In general though, the legacy of Dana in Dana Point is very much adventure and cowhides, and very little labor rights advocacy.

Dana’s accounts of Mexican California, not coincidentally, make it sound pretty American. Its economy was basically an American cowboy fantasy. When Mexico secularized the missions, it promised to give half of the Church’s land and property to the Native Americans, but mostly did not do any of that. Immigration policy in Alta California was more or less “if you can get here, you can stay (but getting here’s the hard part)”. What’s more American than all of those things?

The reason we share so many similarities is that we share a complicated history, which really kicked off with trade. Every street name in my hometown is in Spanish for a reason, but it doesn’t make the place any less American, as this weirdness can prove. Anyone who complains about the Spanish language in America or the rising numbers of Latino Americans should remember the California Hide Trade, and find something better to be worried about.

Richard Henry Dana: Fighting for the Common Sailor and Looking Good Doing It

Richard Henry Dana: Fighting for the Common Sailor and Looking Good Doing It

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Barriers to Women’s Representation


On January 11, 2013, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia announced that he is granting women a 20 percent quota on the Shura Council, the legislative body that advises the king on matters pertaining to the country. This decision translates into 30 women in the previously all-male body. This decree was seen as the first step, albeit a small one, toward the ultimate goal of women’s suffrage and guaranteed women’s rights. King Abdullah has further declared that during the next municipal elections in 2015, women will be able to vote as well as run for office. One of the current female members of the Shura Council recently challenged the existing ban on women drivers, and her action suggests that although moving at a glacial pace, a change in the right direction for women’s rights might be underway.

However, even if every country grants women the right to vote, barriers still exist that prevent women from being nominated, running for, and being elected to political office. With a few exceptions – primarily the Nordic countries (Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland), Belgium, and the Netherlands – most states have a long road to cover before women could have an equal chance of being nominated and elected for political office, and particularly for a leadership position such as the President or Prime Minister.

Around the world, the numbers of women entering political elections and winning leadership positions are certainly at an all-time high. According to the International Knowledge Network of Women in Politics, the percentage of women heads of state is 42% in Europe, 23% in the Americas, 19% in Sub Saharan Africa, 16% in Asia, and 5% in the Arab World. Despite the increased number of elected women during the last several decades, it is evident that there is still a huge gap in terms of women’s political representation between countries in which women have the opportunities to advance and countries that still present both formal and informal barriers to women’s empowerment and success in the realm of politics.

Different approaches are utilized to examine this persistent phenomenon in an attempt to determine the variables with the greatest impact. Three approaches seem to be the most popular: the institutional approach, the structural approach, and the political culture approach.

Proponents of the institutional approach argue that institutions determine and shape the way in which a certain phenomenon is played out. In the context of the gender gap in politics, that translates into the idea that political institutions restrict women’s access to leadership positions in politics. Two institutional factors often mentioned in studies on women’s representation are the type of electoral system and gender quotas. An interactive overview created by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) provides a summary of the various possible combinations between electoral systems and quotas. The table clearly indicates that depending both on the type of quota and the electoral system, the likelihood of women being nominated and elected for a political office ranges from very low to very high. Therefore, considering institutional factors, one can conclude that it is not the electoral system or the type of quota present that has an impact on women representation. Rather, it is the characteristics of both institutional factors, as well as the relationship between the two, that determine whether the political climate will be favorable to women.

Advocates of structural factors emphasize the impact of economic development in general, and modernization specifically, on the change in social structures and the resulting improvements in terms of health, education, and occupations for women. For example, in his analysis of several variables in the context of the European Union nations, Daniel Stockemer finds that aside from the type of electoral systems, the two other variables that have a significant impact on women’s representation are the number of women in professional positions and the overall number of years women have had the right to vote. However, considering the fact that women are far from bridging the gender gap in politics in many of the wealthiest and most economically developed nations in the world, structural factors seem to take a back seat to institutional and cultural factors. While structural factors seem to facilitate women’s empowerment, they do not account for the continued presence of barriers in terms of women’s representation.

In recent years, therefore, the focus of the study of women’s representation seems to have shifted toward an analysis from a political culture perspective. The argument is that a political culture that is more favorable to women in politics will create fewer obstacles to representation and consequently reduce the gender gap. Despite the increased interest in women’s rights and the concept of gender equality, deep-rooted traditional beliefs continue to present an obstacle to women’s interest to run for office or society’s tendency to vote for women in high political offices.

Two prominent scholars examining issues of gender, political culture, and representation are Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart. These two authors argue that institutional and structural explanations, while effective in certain respects, fail to account for differences across countries with similar characteristics or for differences across countries at the polar ends of the development spectrum. Instead, they place the emphasis on the impact of culture and highlight that egalitarian attitudes and belief in social equality are the possible explanations for the highest representation being in the Scandinavian nations while other developed nations, such as the United States, lag far behind. Further, they contend that cultural attitudes toward women and the female role could also be the explanation for why countries in the Arab world continue to rank at the bottom of any measurements of women empowerment or representation.

The scholars emphasize that in the context of the Muslim world, cultural influences are extremely important in the realm of politics and often hurt women’s chances for equal representation in leadership or otherwise positions. For example, less than 10% of parliamentarians in the Arab world are women and, even worse, there does not seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel. Norris and Inglehart contend that “the true clash of civilizations” is not any real difference in opinions toward democracy between Christianity and Islam; the actual divide, the authors argue, is along the lines of sex. Even if the majority of people in Arab nations seem to express willingness to a transition to democracy, persistent beliefs that men make better political leaders will continue to support the barriers to women’s representation. Simply encouraging transitions to democracies only in terms of fair elections and universal suffrage is not enough, Norris and Inglehart argue. The West, and specifically the United States, must do better in acknowledging the value of culture and allot resources to target human development. As they strongly conclude, “Culture has a lasting impact on how societies evolve. But culture does not have to be destiny”.

While it seems that proponents of the political culture approach have focused on the impact of culture in specific areas in the world, namely the Arab World and other restrictive in terms of women’s rights governments, it is of utmost importance to note the impact of culture and attitudes toward women in the developed Western world as well. While some nations, such as the Scandinavian countries, are leaders in respect to female political leadership, others, such the United States and France, are trailing behind. Even when women are in terms of law equal to men and have equal access to political offices, it is clear that beliefs about the nature of women, as not aggressive or rational enough to handle politics, impact the likelihood of women to be elected to higher political offices. In countries in which personal characteristics matter in a potential candidate, women tend to run for office in limited numbers if at all. The United States is a great example. It is clear that the representation in the media of female and male politicians is quite different. It has been argued that masculine characteristics are valued in the realm of politics and women either will not be elected because they are not aggressive enough or will be targeted for not acting as ‘proper’ women if they do behave in what is deemed a masculine manner.

Changing formal institutions, however costly and difficult it might be, is perhaps easier to imagine and implement than changing the informal institutions or the political culture of a state. The impact of personal characteristics and the influence of the traditional culture are hard to bypass and a paradigm shift is necessary for the beliefs and attitudes of those involved to change. More women in politics and a change in the treatment of these women – by other politicians, by the media, and most importantly by the general public – might result in an equal representation. If political culture is indeed what determines the likelihood of women running and being elected for office, then the road to addressing and targeting the barriers to such achievements will be hard to travel. If we take the Scandinavian countries as an example, it is well-documented that it took several decades for women to reach the level of high political representation in these countries. And even among these exemplary states, complete gender equality in politics has not yet been reached. I am not sure if women in other nations would like to wait decades before such equal representation is achieved.

Krasi Shapkarova is a recent graduate of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, with an MA in International Human Rights and concentration in forced labour and human trafficking. She is now based in the Washington D.C. area.

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Malala Is Anything But A Western Puppet


Malala Yousafzai meets with President Obama. Photo credit: Reuters

Malala Yousafzai meets with President Obama. Photo credit: Reuters

When it was announced that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) won the Nobel Peace Prize, many were stunned by the decision.  This sparked a divisive discussion about why Malala Yousafzai, the clear favorite to win the prize, was overlooked.

Although many were disappointed in the decision, multiple scholars and media outlets felt the Nobel Prize committee was spot on and accused Malala of simply being a stooge for Western ideals.  Some pundits were more courteous than others; the Washington Post said the Nobel committee did Malala a favor, because, “Awarding Malala the highest honor in peacemaking, at the pinnacle of the campaign to remake her into a Western celebrity, would have validated that effort, deliberately or not.  It would have reaffirmed that too common Western habit that, by giving a powerful symbol a greater platform and lots of accolades, we’ll have fulfilled our duty.  Like a sort of slacktivism writ large, awarding Malala the Nobel would have told us what we wanted to hear: that celebrity awareness can fix even the worst problems.”  The New York Times reported that many in her home, the Swat Valley of Pakistan, felt that she either didn’t do enough for her home, was part of a larger western conspiracy, or that there were plenty of other female advocates for education who should equally be recognized.  Some even went so far as to assert that Malala’s rise to fame was the result of a western, white savior complex, and that Malala herself was a puppet of the west, incapable of criticizing Western Governments or society.

Are these criticisms really all that fair?

Coincidentally, the day the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded was also International Day of the Girl.  The Day of the Girl is a response to a massive problem facing the world today: the inequality girls face in all aspects of society.  The day was a call to action to do more to ensure and achieve gender equality.  Gender equality is an absolute necessity for global peace and stability.  In India, adolescent pregnancies result in the loss of nearly $10 billion USD in potential income annually.  In Uganda, 85 percent of girls leave school early.  Globally, 14 million girls are forced to marry against their consent before turning the age of 18.  Do not think for a second that this is merely a developing world problem; in the U.S., 1 in 5 girls is a victim of sexual abuse.

Education has the ability to reduce the social, political, and economic equality gaps that every girl faces at some point in her life.  A little over a year ago, Malala was shot by the Taliban for advocating girls education, as well as women’s rights.  Although she quickly rose to fame after nearly dying from her critical condition, the notion that the West has used her to promote western values is grossly exaggerated.  The violation of the rights of women and girls, particularly the challenges of access to education has and will be one of the biggest challenges the international community faces.  Despite the tragedy she suffered, Malala continued to stand up for her rights, as well as the rights of others, rather than be cast as a victim or spend her life in hiding from the Taliban.   She continues to speak out for the rights of girls to be educated, despite the fact that Pakistani Taliban members vowed this week to kill her, given the next opportunity.

As for her media tour: so what?  Causes don’t get noticed unless there are interviews, speeches, compelling stories, and cries for action.  It’s also where you can find sympathetic donors to your cause.  Speaking at the United Nations gave her the ear of the entire world, and interviews with Jon Stewart and other members of the media introduced her to new audiences that may have not known about her work.  Increased awareness of one of the most ubiquitous and uncontroversial human rights violations of our time is good for everyone, because it promotes peace and security for the world.

Finally, let’s remember Malala is a person that can make her own decisions.  To simply paint a picture that this is an instance of the West saving a poor little brown girl is to deprive Malala of her own agency, and to privilege the Western (and her critics) reaction over Malala’s actions. She demonstrated multiple times last week that she is a free-thinking individual, especially when she visited the Obamas in the Oval Office and requested that the President stop using drone strikes as a counterterrorism measure in Pakistan, telling him that it led to resentment from the Pakistani people.  Reasonable people can agree that it takes some bravery to tell the leader of the free world to stop doing something.

It’s very easy to get bogged down in a debate about human rights, privilege, agency, and imposing values on others.  This is not an instance where this discussion is necessary.  To criticize Malala for being a stooge of the west, or the west for helping her become a successful advocate is wrong.  This is not about the West vs. the rest of the world, white vs. brown, the privileged vs. the unprivileged.  This is about closing the gap on inequality in global education for girls.  A world where all children are educated can only be a more beneficial and peaceful one.

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China’s Main Internal Challenges In the Next Decade


As China’s celebration of Golden Week, the holiday commemorating the founding of the People’s Republic on October 1st, 1949, winds down and millions of Chinese return to their everyday routines, it is a time to consider the obstacles that the world’s most populous nation currently faces. China’s famed economic growth has been slowing recently and many wonder if Beijing will be able to persist and maybe eventually overtake the United States. In a recent book, Yan Xuetong, the Dean of Tsinghua University’s International Relations Department and one of China’s most prominent public intellectuals, optimistically forecasts that China will, in fact, be able to maintain its growth. Yan argues in History’s Inertia (lishi de guanxing), his new book, that China should be able to maintain its economic boom over the next decade and maintain an annual growth rate of roughly 5% after that, which will be enough to see China become a global superpower. The key to achieving this, Yan asserts, is introducing substantive reforms that will allow the country to adapt and overcome circumstances just like during the “reform and opening” that Deng Xiaoping oversaw in the 1980s. Those reforms allowed China to recover from decades of stifling central control and grow into the powerful nation it is today. Here is a rundown of some of the main issues these new reforms will have to address in the coming years. All of these topics are worthy of extensive and in-depth exploration, but a brief overview will suffice for now.

Corruption: This is probably the most serious issue because no matter what reforms Xi Jinping and co. introduce, nothing will happen if Beijing can’t enforce them adequately and uniformly, and local government officials are notoriously evasive when it comes to doing things that they don’t exactly want to. As I predicted in an earlier post, Beijing seems intent on demonstrating that it is serious about cracking down on high-profile corruption; Bo Xilai’s life sentence, which was harsher than many expected, is a strong indicator of this seriousness. Beijing’s merciless conviction of one of the nation’s most well-loved and well-pedigreed rising political stars should have sent a clear message to those who might consider graft or using their offices for personal gain. Xi has gone on the record saying that tackling corruption is his highest priority; taking down a highly visible crook is one thing, but most Chinese are more concerned about small-time official corruption than headline-grabbing national cases. The local corruption cases are the cause of most of the things that make the Chinese lose faith in their government, such as poorly constructed infrastructure projects that collapse, contamination of food due to poor industrial oversight, and a general lack of faith in the justice system. For real success over the long term that will help maintain the public’s confidence in the government, Beijing needs to keep doing more to create a pervasive anti-corruption culture in all levels of government, not just catch the big fish.

Population and labor force: China’s population is expected to peak at 1.4 billion around 2026. While a population as large as this brings its own particular problems, the biggest threat to continued Chinese growth and stability stemming from this is the dependency ratio. The dependency ratio is the number of non-workers (i.e., dependents) to workers in an economy and is a crucial indicator of growth prospects; an economy that is too weighed down by elderly and children will have difficulty accumulating savings, among other things. China is aging quickly, setting up a series of major problems later on. This is tied to the fertility rate, which has been falling for decades and is currently 1.56. China’s labor force peaked in 2011 and saw a decline of .6% in 2012. As the labor force continues to shrink, China will be hard-pressed to keep up its economic growth. Beijing has been thinking about reforming the One Child Policy for some time but has only adopted the mildest of modifications. Improvements will not happen overnight even if radical policy changes are made; indeed, with a chronic problem like this, only long-term solutions can work, so radical adjustments would not help even if the Party wanted to take that route. Since there will not be enough working-aged adults in China to comfortably support both themselves and dependents in coming years, one solution may be to allow in more immigrants, but given the already huge population, this is politically sketchy at best. There have been other consequences of China’s artificially manipulated fertility, such as gender-based selective abortions that have caused men to severely outnumber women, but arguably the labor force issue is poised to create the biggest stumbling block for the country.

Pollution: China’s pollution problem includes both air quality and contamination of other natural resources. As was mentioned in an earlier post, Beijing is planning a massive 1.7 trillion RMB initiative to combat smog. This plan will reduce PM2.5 contamination by 25% , lower Beijing coal use by 50%, cap the number of vehicles at 6 million, and force 1,200 companies to either close up or meet stricter standards by 2017. This plan, if successful, could prove to be a model for the other Chinese cities that suffer the most from smog – Beijing isn’t even the most polluted – and go a long way toward satisfying the demands of the increasingly well-off urban middle class for cleaner living. The more the government is associated with unclean air, the less legitimacy it will retain in the eyes of the public as the effects become increasingly visible. Cleaning up the air and water will be crucial both to maintain the Communist Party’s legitimacy and to keep the health of the Chinese people from being harmed any further than is already unavoidable.

Water: China has about 6% of the world’s fresh water supply and has to provide for a fifth of the entire human race with that amount. According to the Wilson Center, however, one out of every two gallons of water in China is polluted. Half of all groundwater and 2/3 of all surface water is contaminated. This is largely from industrial pollution but also from power generation: 70% of all power in China comes from coal, consumption of which will increase as much as 30% in the near future. What’s more, the processing and use of coal requires a great deal of water, which is already scarce in much of China: 80% of the nation’s coal comes from water-scarce regions. Further complicating this is the fact that most of China’s water is in the south, whereas most of its agricultural land is in the north. The government has just finished a massive undertaking to re-route water from the southern, more heavily populated regions to the relatively sparsely populated north… in order to grow the food with which to feed the population-heavy south. China, as the world’s largest grain producer, desperately needs water to grow its food but at the same time is increasing its use in power generation, which demands more water, leaving less for domestic use. At current rates, China is expected to be more or less out of water as soon as 2030. Beijing desperately needs a solution here since water is literally the sine qua non of everything else it might wish to do: without a stable water supply, no country can hope to survive. A good place to start would be to cut back on energy that requires water – the tricky part is that most methods of conventional power generation also require water, not just hydropower – and to import more grain while decreasing domestic production, but this problem has no easy solution and few hard ones.

Human rights: Yan Xuetong believes that as China’s power draws nearer to the US’s, the differences in the ideological aspects of their political institutions will weaken, which will include their views on human rights. For the time being, however, Beijing is infamous for its problematic relations with ethnic minorities, its issues with human trafficking, and its harsh crackdowns on political dissenters. In order to be viewed as legitimate in the eyes of the world, Beijing must attempt to resolve these matters favorably. Even the issues that seem simple, however, like internet restrictions, are politically difficult: as long as the Party fears that an open and free internet will undermine its power, net access will remain restricted. Some observers were hopeful that a new free trade zone in Shanghai with unrestricted internet access might herald a new liberality in this regard, but these reports were ultimately proven false for now.

Much of early Chinese political thought strongly emphasizes the aspect of morality in the leadership of a state; if a state is governed with morality, others will naturally be drawn to it and validate its authority without a need for subjugation by force. In the 7th century BCE, Guanzi wrote, “If a country is large but governed by one who is petty, the country will be governed in accordance with that man; if the country is small but governed by a great man, the benefit to the country will be great.” Without this element of morality, only military strength will be able to maintain a country’s status, which will fade as its power does. This is the difference between “humane authority” and a hegemony or tyranny. If China is to become (and remain) a superpower over the next decade, humane authority will be the only way to both overcome its current obstacles and remain stable in the future. If it tries to hold onto power merely through sheer force and fails to address its underlying critical contradictions, as other superpowers have tried to do in the past, it may end up on the ash-heap of history, after all.


Alexander Bowe has an MA in International Studies from the Korbel School and is currently a doctoral candidate in Political Science at Tsinghua University.

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Austria Votes


Vienna, Austria


While the world had been attentively watching the UN General Assembly taking place in New York, politicians in Austria have been busy campaigning for months. The Austrian legislative elections will be held this Sunday, on the 29th, across the country to determine representation in the National Council. On the federal level, Austria has two main elections, one for the head of state (Federal President) every six years, and one for the 183 seats on the National Council (Nationalrat) every five years. The National Council elections are determined by party-list proportional representation, and with 92 seats needed for a majority, a grand coalition of major political parties has been the norm in the last few years.

During the last elections in 2008, a grand coalition was formed between Austria’s two largest parties, the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ) and the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP). SPÖ’s Werner Faymann, who became Chancellor, has governed the coalition. However, since 2008, support for both major parties has fallen noticeably. This in turn has increased support for two other parties, the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) known for its right-wing national conservatism, and the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ), also a right-wing party. Both parties made significant gains in the 2008 elections, and FPÖ’s popularity has been increasing ever since. The BZÖ lost some of its support after the death of its founder, Jörg Haider, shortly after the elections. Moreover, the BZÖ has seen nine of its twenty-one members in the National Council change their party affiliation in the last five years: five members have joined Team Stronach, a party running for the first time this year, and four others joined forces with the FPÖ.

Team Stronach has also been able to hurt the FPÖ’s current popularity in the polls. Team Stronach, is headed and funded by Austrian-Canadian businessman and billionaire, Frank Stronach. His party calls for a return to the Schilling or an anti-euro alternative, a 25% flat-rate income tax, and an end to conscription. While many see Frank Stronach as an outsider, the party polls between 10 to 12% in Gallup polls, while only existing since September of last year.

The Green party (Die Grünen) currently holds twenty seats in the National Council and has solidified their position as the fourth-largest party in opinion polls. Their charter states that their vision is that of a “caring society of free people in a healthy environment”. Die Grünen campaign diligently for immigrants and minorities, and are therefore highly scrutinized by the FPÖ.

And the FPÖ has not been immune to immense scrutiny itself. Headed by Heinz Christian Strache, the FPÖ is known for its nationalistic right-wing ideologies that border on white supremacy. Previous campaign slogans include “Love for the homeland, over Moroccan thieves” (Heimatliebe statt Marokkaner Diebe), “Go back home over Islam” (Daham statt Islam), and “Vienna cannot turn into Istanbul” (Wien darf nicht Istanbul werden). For many liberals, it is very disconcerting how popular Strache and the FPÖ have become with the youth. Strache’s Facebook page has over 160,000 followers, he frequents clubs and bars to socialize with young voters, and ironically, he recently came out with a rap song to support his nationalistic campaign.

While it is highly unlikely that the FPÖ will get a majority win in the upcoming elections this Sunday, there is still concern for how many seats they will gain, and whether a coalition will have to be formed with them. It seems that Strache’s social media presence and youthful attitude has won him a lot of popularity, and maybe it’s time for the other parties to also take cue. Otherwise, Austria will become yet another European country moving to the extreme right – a position that has proven disastrous in the past.

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Trouble in Mindanao

Overview of the city as government forces attempt to free hostages from the MNLF

Overview of the city as government forces attempt to free hostages from the MNLF


A lot of blood has been shed in the last few weeks: suicide bombings in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan; shootings in Chicago, Kashmir, and Washington, DC; and hostage crises in Kenya and the Philippines. Some of these conflicts are well-known and well-publicized. Over 200 members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) entered Zamboanga City and seven neighboring districts, taking hostages and boarding themselves up in government buildings. The historical background of this conflict is less well-known but no less important.

The fighting between rebel groups, based in Mindanao, and the Filipino government has been going on since the late 1960s.  Continue reading

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