Sunday, May 12, 2013

Five Stories Of The Week: Ending May 11, 2013

News & Commentary


Here are five stories that shaped my world this week:

Anti-Semitism In Hungary: An article, by Zoltan Simon, in BusinessWeek says that anti-Semitism has become more noticeable and vocal in Hungary, a nation with a long history of anti-Jewish sentiment.  This is taking place as the World Jewish Congress meets in Budapest, the nation's capital.

Simon writes:
Jewish leaders from around the world called on Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to do more to stem rising antisemitism in the country as the premier urged “zero tolerance” for hatred. About 500 delegates of the World Jewish Congress started three days of meetings yesterday in Budapest, home to central Europe’s largest Jewish population. Antisemitism, including the rise of the radical Jobbik party, is “dragging the good name of Hungary through the mud,” WJC President Ronald S. Lauder said, with Orban in the audience.
Jobbik is the third-biggest party in the Hungarian Parliament. One of its lawmakers, Marton Gyongyosi, on Nov. 26 called for a list of Jewish legislators and government members who pose a “national security risk.” Jobbik held a demonstration on the eve of the WJC meeting in Budapest “to commemorate the victims of Zionism and Bolshevism.” More than 500,000 Hungarians, mostly Jews, were killed in the Holocaust, according to the Budapest-based Holocaust Memorial Center.
“Hungarian Jews need you to take a firm and decisive lead,” Lauder told Orban at the meeting yesterday. “They need you to take on these dark forces. They need you to be pro- active. They need your leadership in this fight.”
Hungary introduced an annual Holocaust memorial day under the previous Orban administration more than a decade ago and the current government banned Jobbik paramilitary groups and passed a constitution the Cabinet considers to be more effective in fighting extremism, the Hungarian leader said yesterday. The government blocked an anti-Semitic demonstration in Budapest last month and this weekend’s Jobbik protest took place after a court ruling overturned a police ban urged by Orban.
This is not free speech; this is free hatred, and it has no place in a democratic society. Prime Minister Viktor Orban has to do more, and if he doesn't, it could either mean that he has some unsaid sympathy for the forces of hatred, or that he fears political repercussions for taking a stronger, more visible stand against hated of Jews. The former makes him a closet anti-Semite; the latter a coward. Or perhaps the sentiments of Jewish-hatred run so deep in Hungary, and Orban can’t help but feeling the way he does. Let’s hope that this is not so.

InJustice In America: An article in The Economist says that President Obama needs to close Guantánamo and give the prisoners a fair trial or release them immediately. Continuing things as they are is a disgrace to America and its highest ideals. The fault lies chiefly with the American Congress.

The Economist writes:
Roughly 100 of the 166 detainees still in Guantánamo are now on hunger strike, and extra doctors were brought in this week to help with what the administration refuses to call force-feeding (see article). No matter what they have done, this is wrong. This newspaper has condemned Guantánamo as unjust, unwise and un-American for a decade. The spectre of prisoners denied either a fair trial or the possibility of release is Orwellian. Nothing has done more to sully America’s image in the modern world. They should be tried or set free, just as terrorist suspects are in every other civilised country.
Four years and three months ago, Barack Obama, in one of his first official acts as president, wrote an executive order to close the prison camp. This week he said Guantánamo “is contrary to who we are, it is contrary to our interests, and it needs to stop.” And yet it goes on. Some of the 166 have been there as long as 11 years, without ever even having been charged.
Most of the blame lies with Congress—with politicians from both parties. Mr Obama’s original plan to close the camp was scuppered by the Senate in 2009 when it voted, by 90 to six, not to let him use federal money to transfer the remaining prisoners in Guantánamo to a prison in Illinois for trial in a civilian court. Votes seldom get more bipartisan than that. In subsequent legislation Congress made it virtually impossible for detainees to be sent anywhere at all.
[...] 
Mr Obama and Congress have thus ensured that even the 86 detainees whom the administration has slated for release are stuck. The remainder, whom the Americans reckon have cases to answer, cannot be tried in civilian court because Congress has blocked that route, and the administration has given up trying to change its mind. With the Republicans now in control of the House, the chances of a reversal on that score look unlikely. Some are supposedly being tried by Donald Rumsfeld’s “military tribunals” at Guantánamo itself: but that process is so ugly and has run into so many legal difficulties that it has more or less ground to a halt. Sending them abroad for trial would not work, in most cases, either: the evidence is generally too weak or too tainted by torture (thank you, Mr Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney et al) to try them anywhere.
Yes, you can thank the inept Bush Administration for creating the judicial and legal mess that America finds itself in. But that does not mean it can't correct 11 years of mistakes. Since the prisoners have not had due process, its imperative that America release the prisoners now. It's the right thing to do, and improve America's international standing the world.

China's Cyber Attacks In America: An article, by David E. Sanger, in The New York Times says that the U.S. government has directly accused China of mounting cyber-attacks of American government computers and defence contractors.

Sanger writes:
While some recent estimates have more than 90 percent of cyberespionage in the United States originating in China, the accusations relayed in the Pentagon’s annual report to Congress on Chinese military capabilities were remarkable in their directness. Until now the administration avoided directly accusing both the Chinese government and the People’s Liberation Army of using cyberweapons against the United States in a deliberate, government-developed strategy to steal intellectual property and gain strategic advantage.
“In 2012, numerous computer systems around the world, including those owned by the U.S. government, continued to be targeted for intrusions, some of which appear to be attributable directly to the Chinese government and military,” the nearly 100-page report said.
The report, released Monday, described China’s primary goal as stealing industrial technology, but said many intrusions also seemed aimed at obtaining insights into American policy makers’ thinking. It warned that the same information-gathering could easily be used for “building a picture of U.S. network defense networks, logistics, and related military capabilities that could be exploited during a crisis.”
This is the threat of the modern age; theft by stealth. That the U.S. identified China as the author of much of the espionage directed against it is not surprising, given that China wants to become more of a military power. Instead of developing its own technologies, an expensive and time-consuming process, it wants to gain them by theft. It's important for the U.S., in this case, to both mount a strategy of protecting its vital interests and letting China know that it has been caught with its hand in the proverbial “cookie jar.”

The Greed Factor In Operation: An article, by George Monbiot, in The Guardian says something that many of us already know, namely, for the wealthy, it’s a matter of accumulating more with the aim of being on top of the heap, the king of the financial jungle, the pointed head of the pyramid. It’s getting more money for no other purpose than to be No. 1—a total waste of energy and a fool’s game. It's also, as Monbiot writes, “the politics of envy.”

For the wealthy, the greatest fear is that someone wants to take their money, thereby losing status and loss of identity. Monbiot writes about the power that money has over the monied class:
This pursuit can suck the life out of its adherents. In Lauren Greenfield's magnificent documentary The Queen of Versailles, David Siegel – "America's timeshare king" – appears to abandon all interest in life as he faces the loss of his crown. He is still worth hundreds of millions. He still has an adoring wife and children. He is still building the biggest private home in America.
But as the sale of the skyscraper that bears his name and symbolises his pre-eminence begins to look inevitable, he sinks into an impenetrable depression. Dead-eyed, he sits alone in his private cinema, obsessively rummaging through the same pieces of paper, as if somewhere among them he can find the key to his restoration, refusing to engage with his family, apparently prepared to ruin himself rather than lose the stupid tower.
In order to grant the rich these pleasures, the social contract is reconfigured. The welfare state is dismantled. Essential public services are cut so that the rich may pay less tax. The public realm is privatised, the regulations restraining the ultra-wealthy and the companies they control are abandoned, and Edwardian levels of inequality are almost fetishised.
Politicians justify these changes, when not reciting bogus arguments about the deficit, with the incentives for enterprise that they create. Behind that lies the promise or the hint that we will all be happier and more satisfied as a result. But this mindless, meaningless accumulation cannot satisfy even its beneficiaries, except perhaps–and temporarily–the man wobbling on the very top of the pile.
The same applies to collective growth. Governments today have no vision but endless economic growth. They are judged not by the number of people in employment – let alone by the number of people in satisfying, pleasurable jobs – and not by the happiness of the population or the protection of the natural world. Job-free, world-eating growth is fine, as long as it's growth. There are no ends any more, just means.
Who says that governments today are wise or even good at managing the nation’s wealth? Who says that most economists know anything about what is necessary for a nation to thrive and provide well-paying jobs to its citizens. Looking around at the level of unemployment around the world, the answer is that most don’t. And couldn’t come up with a meaningful or original idea, or strategy, if their life (or livelihood) depended on it. (One notable exception is Paul Krugman, the Nobel laureate and New York Times columnist.)

Fitzgerald’s passage, which aptly describes that period, is from the First Gilded Age. We are today living in the Second Gilded Age, which might be worse in its excesses and inequalities than the first. For the most part, western capitalistic nations are led by men and women who have got sucked in to the philosophy of GDP growth (who knows why?), free markets and austerity budgets—as if a nation was just one big household. It’s not and this is a poor analogy, and anyone who thinks otherwise is a fool.

It does not take a doctorate in economics to know that all three measures favoured by neo-cons have fundamental flaws for good governance. And yet this foolish child’s game of rewarding the wealthy to see who can gain more toys (or money)— played by adults with the minds of children— persists to this day and, more so, is glorified not only in the financial press, but also in the major media.

U.S. Pledges Aid For Syria: The U.S State Department said on Wednesday that it will give $100-million in aid to Syria during its humanitarian crisis, precipitated by a civil war that has been continuing for two years.
The United States is providing an additional $100 million in humanitarian assistance to support those affected by the violence within Syria and the more than 1.4 million refugees across the region. This new funding is in addition to the nearly $25 million in food assistance for Syria announced by Secretary Kerry in Istanbul April 21. The United States remains the single-largest contributor of humanitarian assistance for the Syrian people, and with today’s announcement, is now providing nearly $510 million in humanitarian assistance.
The United States reaffirms our support and appreciation to those countries hosting refugees, and commends their efforts to provide protection and assistance to all who are fleeing the violence inside Syria. The United States recognizes the significant strains on local populations and the economic impacts of providing aid to refugees, and commends the hospitality of the citizens and governments who are welcoming refugees into their communities. We call on all governments to continue keeping their borders open to all who are fleeing the violence in Syria.
Today’s $100 million announcement will support the activities of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), both within Syria and as part of the regional refugee response in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. 
This is good news and the right measure of support.  

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