Thursday, March 20, 2008

Don't forget Earth Hour

Don't forget to mark your calendars for March 29th! It's Earth Hour and we want complete darkness for one hour.

China and Tibet

Sorry for not posting in ages. State and National qualifiers for debate and speech have consumed my life this past month.

I am somewhat disappointed with China right now over the whole Tibet issue. Not to say that I necessarily support Tibet's self-autonomy or don't support it; rather, I am disappointed over China's mentality that it should "clean itself up" for the 2008 Olympics.

A) China shouldn't try to gain international kudos for the sake of its reputation; and even if it does..
B) China shouldn't be hypocritical and then hide the well-known secret that it selling arms to Sudan, which in turn is purported going to the pro-government militais carrying out the genocide in Darfur.

Ultimately, I want China to be pro-human rights and more liberal and free (not necessarily in the form of a democracy), and even though I know it will take time for China to change this way and will require much bottom-up reform, I still am disappointed by this entire issue.

I see the Tibetan revolt by the monks and people and China's reaction to the revolt as the epitome as China's failed policy of just suppressing issues and letting them worsen. Even though I think Tibet is part of China, China's reaction is not helping and gives more power to the rebels.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Cuba now?

Since the early 19th century, the United States has had a keen interest in the island of Cuba. As US Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams, wrote in 1823 that Cuba is a “natural appendage” of North America. Later as president, Adams predicted Cuba would fall "like a ripening plum into the lap of the union." Unfortunately, Cuba didn’t fall to the United States in the manner Adams had hoped or planed. Ever since the Cold War, the United State’s policy towards Cuba is still one of containment, and has been so since Fidel Castro has been leader of Cuba. As the MSNBC of February 25, 2008 notes, Fidel Castro has been Cuba’s president for over forty years. He has weathered ten US Presidents, survived the downfall of the USSR, and lived before and after the rise of the Beatles. Therefore, with former President Fidel Castro stepping down last week and his younger brother Raul Castro officially being named President of Cuba on Sunday, February 24th, it is important to consider how this change will affect Cuba.

First, Cuba under Raul Castro will lead to new economic reform. The Xinhua News Agency of China reported a day after Raul’s confirmation as president that Raul’s primary goal is “to move the country forward.” Cuba’s largest problem is its pervasive poverty; since Cuba’s planned economy is heavily socialist, government policies affect its economy far greater than a capitalist country’s government would. Thus, Raul’s attempts at fixing the economy target both the government and the actual economy itself. As the Wall Street Journal of the same date reports, Raul plans to reduce government bureaucracy and streamline government functionality by cutting administrative bodies. Raul also plans to eliminate some government regulations, shifting the economy to a more capitalistic form. As the MSNBC of February 26, 2008 notes, even though Raul has not made concrete plans for how he will achieve his goals, his progressive stance will mean that Cuba will be headed down the road of reform. Among his goals, Raul wants to “improve salaries, eliminate costly subsidies, and phase out a dual-currency regime that he said had caused distortions in the economy.”

Second, Cuban relations with the United States might begin to thaw with this change in leaders. The USA Today of February 26, 2008 posted an opinion piece stating that “for nearly half a century, this country has blamed Fidel Castro for its bad treatment of Cuba.” Although Raul is still a Castro, his plans for reform and loosening of government domination over the economy in favor of a slightly more laissez faire economy is favorable news for the United States. As the Economist of February 23, 2008 reports, the US policy of containment of Cuba is archaic, since we are no longer battling communism, and its embargo against Cuba has failed. Thus, with Fidel’s resignation, the United States will be more prone to bringing normalcy back to Cuban relations. Furthermore, as reported by the Kansas City Star of February 26, 2008, both Democratic presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama favor an “eventual normalcy” with Cuba given the resignation of Fidel Castro. If the democratic party wins, which I hope it will, then we might see a return of normalcy to relations.

Lastly, Cuba under Raul Castro will hopefully lead to more political freedoms. One of the world’s greatest criticisms of Fidel Castro’s regime was its abridgement of human rights, such as free speech. However, Raul Castro is more willing to give freedoms to his people than Fidel. The Reuters of February 26, 2008 reports that under political pressure from the rest of the world, he did two key acts that underscore an important potential trend in Cuba under his rule: the releasing of several political prisoners and allowing peaceful protests to occur in Cuba. The Xinhua of the same date reports that even though Raul Castro has iterated that Cuba will not change its socialist policies, his actions show a willingness to grant more human rights to his people. Hopefully, this change is not just one-time.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Is this a joke?

; ; ; ; ;

Linguistics in the news! Word play! Wittgenstein! (ok, maybe not that last one...)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Earth Hour

A new global movement of cities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is being planned called Earth Hour. Scheduled for March 29, two dozen cities around the world plan to turn their lights off for one hour later this year in a worldwide campaign to raise awareness about global warming. The event is based on the first “Earth Hour” last March, when Sydney dimmed its skyline when residents, businesses and the local government took part in the first "Earth Hour" event that asked people to think about cutting their energy use. The International Herald Tribune of February 18, 2008 reported that the event is organized by the World Wildlife Fund, and is designed to continue to help remind people about the problem of global warming. Although the actual reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from this event will be minimal, the importance of the event is the cities that are participating in the event and the awareness they will generate. The Agence French Presse of February 28, 2008 reports that so far, 23 other cities from the Asia Pacific, North America, Europe and the Middle East had now signed up to be part of the 2008 event. The Associated Press of the same date lists the cities participating so far as Atlanta, San Francisco and Phoenix in the US; Thailand's capital Bangkok; Ottawa, Vancouver and Montreal in Canada and Dublin in Ireland and Australian cities Sydney, Perth, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane, Adelaide; Denmark's Copenhagen, Aarhus, Aalborg and Odense; the Philippine capital Manila, Fiji's biggest city Suva, Christchurch in New Zealand; Chicago; Tel Aviv and Toronto. Such an effort in so many cities across the world will spread much needed global warming awareness across the world.

So, even if your city isn't doing it, participate none the less!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

What are the effects of Kosovo's independence?

On Sunday, February 17, 2008, a historic event occurred in Eastern Europe. After years of ethnic conflict and repression by Serbia, Kosovo’s Parliament officially declared its independence as a sovereign nation. However, like a stone that falls into a pool of water, the effects of this action have had rippling effects across the world. Perhaps one of the most notable effects of Kosovo’s independence is the recall by the Serbian government of the Serbian ambassador to the United States because of the United States’ recognition of Kosovo. As the Sydney Morning Herald of February 18, 2008 reports, Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica told his parliament: “The government of Serbia ordered that the ambassador of Serbia in Washington urgently withdraw to Belgrade.” Quite obviously, this declaration of independence by Kosovo is controversial, and its effects are severe. Given this pretext, we must ask ourselves the crucial question, “What are the effects of Kosovo’s independence?” The answer to this question is threefold. First, Kosovo’s independence has renewed tensions between Kosovo and Serbia. Second, Kosovo’s independence has created international conflict over the recognition of Kosovo. Lastly, Kosovo’s independence will reduce the efficiency of the United Nations.

First, Kosovo’s independence has renewed tensions between Kosovo and Serbia. According to the Associated Press of February 18, 2008, Kosovo’s declaration of independence has incited much protest by the Serbians, who see Kosovo as part of Serbia. Serbs in Kosovo, such as those in the divided town of Mitrovica, protested Kosovo’s independence in the streets. Similar protests took place in other Serb-dominated towns of Kosovo, which is comprised mainly of ethnic Albanians. Furthermore, protests took place in Serbia over Kosovo. The Angence French Presse of February 18, 2008 reports that around 800 to 1,000 Serbian youth smashed windows of stores and attacked the US and Slovenian Embassies this Sunday over Kosovo’s declaration of independence; Serbia had to send riot police armed with tear gas to stop the violence. Nevertheless, the government of Serbia is also displeased over Kosovo’s independence. The Prime Minister of Serbia Vojislav Kostunica has told the press that Kosovo is still part of Serbia in his country’s eyes and that they would never recognize Kosovo: “As long as Serbs exist, Kosovo is Serbia.” The BBC of February 18, 2008 further notes that Serbia’s three political parties unified over their disproval of Kosovo’s declaration of independence and “in a rare show of unity, the leaders of the three main political parties in Belgrade agreed to call for a mass demonstration in the capital [this[] Thursday to show the widespread opposition to independence.” Luckily, the Washington Post of the same date reports that Serbia has ruled out any military action on its part. Clearly, Kosovo’s independence has renewed tensions between Kosovo and Serbia

Second, Kosovo’s independence has created international conflict over the recognition of Kosovo. The Associated Press of February 18, 2008 reports that Kosovo’s independence has sparked discussion around the world regarding whether or not to recognize Kosovo. While the United States immediately backed Kosovo, Russia and China joined sides with Serbia to refuse to acknowledge Kosovo. Because of the United States’ position on this matter, tensions between the United States and China and Russia have increased and Serbia has recalled its ambassador from the US. Furthermore, relations between China and Taiwan have been strained by this event after Taiwan stated that it was ready to give recognition to Kosovo. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Liu Jianchao stated to the China Daily about Taiwan that “The world knows that as part of China, Taiwan has no right and qualification to make the so-called recognition.” The New York Times of February 18, 2008 reports that Russia stated that if Kosovo can be declared free, then so can Abkhazia and South Ossetia , two Russia-backed separatist areas in Georgia, and hinted that it might recognize their independence if Western countries recognized Kosovo. The Russian Parliament released a statement that “the right of nations to self-determination cannot justify recognition of Kosovo’s independence along with the simultaneous refusal to discuss similar acts by other self-proclaimed states, which have obtained de facto independence exclusively by themselves.” The European Union was not so black and white on the issue. The Voice of America of February 18, 2008 points out that the EU could not reach a conclusion on recognition and thus decided to let each member decide the matter on themselves. Thus, it is clear that Kosovo’s independence has created serious controversy for the world.

Lastly, Kosovo’s independence has reduced the efficiency of the United Nations. Due to the polarizing nature of Kosovo’s independence, both Portugal and Malta have declared their difference on the issue to the UN. However, as the Ottawa Citizen of February 18, 2008 reports, despite Canada and Russia both launching an emergency session of the UN to discuss the issue, no conclusion could be made. Panama, which currently holds the rotating Security Council presidency stated that the Security Council is divided on the issue: “Some members consider it ‘an illegal act in contravention of resolution 1244’, while others consider it ‘a legitimate act’.” The Voice of America of February 18, 2008 reports that Germany, Britain, France and Italy have followed the United States in saying they would recognizing Kosovo's independence. Poland, Austria, and Sweden are willing to follow suit as well. However, Greece, Cyprus, Spain, Romania, and Slovakia have refused to acknowledge Kosovo. The problem with such a rift in opinion is that such differences on a heated issue will spill into other conflicts in the United Nations. Political analysts at the Associated Press of February 18, 2008 predict that Russia’s particularly passionate disapproval of Kosovo’s independence and heated discouragement of US recognition will affect Russia’s stance to Iran, which has recently been slightly more favorable to the US in the past few months. Clearly, the diplomatic rift caused by Kosovo’s independence will hurt the functionality of the UN, as member state’s use diplomatic leverage against each other to prevent each other from getting what they want.

Kosovo’s independence is a touchy issue for many. To the United States, it is vindication for all the injustices suffered during the 1990s. The French government calls this move by Kosovo a victory for common sense. However, other nations around the world are afraid that such an action by Kosovo will incite the separatist movements in their own region. Thus, when asking the question, “What are the effects of Kosovo’s independence?” we see that the answer is threefold: first, it has increased tensions between Kosovo and Serbia; second, it has sparked international conflict; and lastly, it has reduced the efficiency of the UN. One chapter in Kosovo's history may have now closed, but the story is far from over.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Pakistan <----- legitimacy?

Delay and drama and tragedy may make for a good movie but are never ingredients wanted in a parliamentary election. Despite all the setbacks in the Pakistani elections and the assassination of the PPP’s party leader, Benazir Bhutto, they were finally held today on February 18, 2008. Up until the election, political analysts, bloggers, politicians, and ordinary people alike across the world were skeptical about the elections. Some claimed the elections would not bring peace to Pakistan while others warned about vote rigging and other underhanded election techniques. Above all, they claimed that legitimacy would not be restored to the government by the election. But I think it has.

First, Musharraf’s reaction to the preliminary election results is indicative of his willingness to obey the will of the people. The New York Times of February 18, 2008 reports that part of the reason why Pakistan’s government was not considered legitimate was Musharraf’s dismissal last year of the Supreme Court chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who remains under house arrest and the suspension of other Supreme Court justices last Winter because they disagreed with Musharraf. Indeed, Musharraf’s policy in the past has been undemocratic in many ways, with him refusing to obey the law whenever he chooses. When the Washington Post of the same date reported that initial election results showed an overwhelming loss for Musharraf’s party, many were afraid he’d declare emergency rule again or employ some other maneuver to stay in power. However, this time, Musharraf has conceded to the results. The spokesman for the party, Tarik Azeem Khan, said: “We readily accept our defeat unlike in the past when losing parties alleged rigging. We accept that we were beaten fair and square." Thus, Musharraf’s reaction to the elections will give legitimacy to the new government by virtue of his acknowledgement of defeat.

Second, the credibility of the elections itself will give legitimacy to the new government. The Associated press of February 18, 2008 reports that many people were afraid that vote rigging would produce an illegitimate election, which would then translate to an illegitimate government. With the nearly complete election tally revealing that the Pakistan People’s Party has won 80 of the 242 contested seats, the Pakistan Muslim League-N with 66, and the pro-Musharraf party trailing with 38, international observers have also added that this election has been fair. The New York Times of February 18, 2008 adds that this election’s results are an “accurate reflection of the voting.” Thus, since the elections have been credible, the new government will be legitimate as well.

Lastly, and most importantly, the actual results of the election itself provide legitimacy to the new government. In the recent past, Pakistani governments have followed a trend of one party rule that is then toppled by a coup d’├ętat. The Associated Press of February 18, 2008 notes that many people were afraid that is the PPP were to gain overwhelming support, then it too might repeat a history of single party rule that has ultimately failed. However, the New York Times of February 19, 2008 reports that no one party has a majority; rather, power between the two major opposition parties is split. In other words, the BBC of the same date reports that the new government would have to be created by many coalitions of parties, giving a stronger voice to minor opposition parties and restoring the balance of power that is supposed to be inherent in a parliamentary system.

The former Chief of Staff of the Pakistani government, General Karamat, stated in an interview with the New York Times that “what we are seeing through these elections is moderate and liberal forces which [are] absolutely great.” Hopefully, a new, brighter episode of Pakistan’s history will begin now.