March 2012 Newsletter

Welcome to the Saturday, March 31, 2012 issue of this Peace&∓Justice action email!

These blogs containing the newsletters will keep with the basic peace and justice touchstone of not filtering out reality (within human limits) – a people of peace must engage in the full human dynamic. Thus these blogs will only be moderated to catch spam and attacks on personal character, falling heavily on the side of freedom of speech. It is hoped that passion and respect can be held in balance.

Secondly, please note that this newsletter is actually a combined February-March edition. Unfortunately the February edition got snared in a convergence of changed hardware, software and conflicting schedules and was never sent. So this edition contains a few remaining relevant pieces from it, plus the usual March items.

Finally, this has delayed until the April edition, another new feature. It will be an occasional section that focuses more in-depth on an issue. It will now start in April and will focus on the issue of “Mental Health”. This topic more generally points to the topic of Human Nature, which underlies, informs or shapes notions of peace and justice.

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THE ARAB SPRING – ONE YEAR LATER
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It has been a year since the “Arab Spring” uprisings. While this newsletter is primarily focused on actions that might move us to a more decent world (and an action on this topic follows in the next section), the scope of the past year`s upheavals is worth some brief reflections, which will be focused on four countries: Egypt, Syria, Mali and Turkey.

However firstly I want simply to list the scope by country. Most lists include between 15 – 18 countries. Rulers have been forced from power in four countries (Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen); civil uprisings have erupted in Bahrain and Syria; major protests have broken out in six countries (Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, and Oman); and minor protests have occurred in five countries (Lebanon, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Western Sahara). Freedom House indicates that the most significant gains were concentrated largely in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, while the largest declines in freedom included Bahrain, Iran, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

Egypt: On the upside, the protestors did learn the lessons from the past, as mentioned in past newsletters, and kept up the pressure until Mubarak was gone and elections were held. The downside from an idealized Western script standpoint was that: (a) the resulting playing field was not level – some parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood have for years had an extensive, well-running structure and were able to use it to capture a disproportionate vote; and (b) the West tended to project onto most Egyptians the aspirations of the protesters. While that was not unfounded in terms of the basic desire to remove the past’s oppressive factors, it did not extend that far (specifically to the rural areas) in terms of a more Western-style, secularist style government. In the end, one can only hope that despite the ever-present geo-political meddling and the uneven nature of current power dynamics, basic human rights will gain an ever stronger presence.

Syria: Syria forms the other end of the spectrum, where Syria’s president has ruthlessly suppressed all dissent, resulting in 9000 dead.  See the article below – complicated.

Mali:  Mali had been a stable democratic nation for 21 years.  It had nothing directly to do with the Arab Spring. But indirectly, Mali’s recent coup that ended its stability can be traced to the Arab Spring, one of the unintended consequences of toppling Libya (to see the connection read the Al Jazeera article). The point is simply that not all repercussions can be even remotely imagined nor are good.

Turkey: Turkey was also not part of the Arab Spring.  But Turkey is a key indicator of the fluid nature of the democratic space that might be attained, specifically it democratic-economic-Islamic balance.  As a bridge between East and West, Turkey has a strong secular legacy.  But it has become harder to read recently, for instance, due to trouble with the military which led to a tighter fist and fear of further oppression of its own people (at least 70 journalists detained recently).  See Is Turkey the Best Model for the Arab World?.

Brief Background: Sample of the clichéd views and more solid footing:
   Far from the Tahrir Dream [Oxford professor; Globe&Mail]
   The Egypt Backlash [FP]
   Inside Syria – complicated [IRIN]

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TELL HILARY CLINTON TO CONDEMN ABUSES IN BAHRAIN

Human Rights First has created an action to pressure Bahrain to stop the crackdown on its people. While most actions originally created for the Arab Spring anniversary have passed, this one remains active. It should be noted that Bahrain is home the U.S. Fifth Fleet.

Take Action:
   http://actions.humanrightsfirst.org/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=5488

[Update: On March 16 Clinton criticized Bahrain (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-12762500). However as long as the petition remains open it should be signed, since nothing has changed].

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THE #KONY2012 DYNAMIC

Starting in March 6 2012, the social media started buzzing about Joseph Kony, the repugnant leader of the ruthless Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The buzz was sparked by a US-based charity called Invisible Children (IC). For years they have been trying to get Kony captured. IC decided to make 2012 the year to achieve their goal and used social media to try creating an aware and motivated [primarily US] constituency that would then force politicians to act more deliberately to capture Kony The centerpiece was a very slick 30 minute video, integrated with social media and celebrities. It has been the most stunningly successful marketing campaign I have ever seen, and I would be surprised if anyone reading this newsletter has not heard about it! Since then it has gathered both praise and criticism.

Due to its widespread awareness at this point, I will simply refer readers to my reaction to it contained in the following blog, based on this newsletter’s fundamental concepts of openness and dialogue:

KONY2012: Let’s Dialogue Our Way to a Solution

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US: EXPAND NUCLEAR EVACUATION ZONES

The current evacuation zone around a nuclear plant is 10 miles. But Fukushima demonstrated that it needs to be at least 25 miles. The following petition calls on the U.S. government to extend the zone, as well as create secondary zone:

Take Action:
   http://www.greenamerica.org/takeaction/nuclearevacuation/

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AMAZON.COM – SELLING WHALE MEAT !!

I always associate the Amazon.com web site with books, even though I know it has long since sold other items. But until last week I never knew it had been selling whale and dolphin meat (in Japan). It stopped doing so last week (within certain constraints), but only after an online petition. I am adding the following action both for its own sake and as I reminder to myself – and perhaps yourself – that even seemingly innocuous-sounding companies can, unseen, grow into areas over cross over lines.

Tell Amazon.com to permanently ban whale, dolphin, and porpoise meat.

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=== FOLLOW-UP TO PREVIOUS ISSUES ===
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ICC: Historic First Conviction: Congo’s Thomas Lubanga

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has handed down its first verdict, convicting the little known militia leader, Thomas Lubanga, of war crimes (using child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo). The ICC was created ten years ago as a permanent replacement for the ad hoc tribunals created for such atrocities as Rwanda. The ideal is that the court: (a) brings a sense of justice for the victims of those convicted; and (b) acts as a deterrent to those who have felt free to terrorize a people. The hope is that with the first conviction, over a period of time it will build up such a legacy. The fear is that until other international dynamics fall in line with such ideals, that the ICC will have limited success. There are also other criticisms of the ICC, which must await a future newsletter.
   http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/03/14/us-court-lubanga-idUSBRE82D0J620120314

One year After Fukushima Nuclear Reactor Disaster

Radiation levels inside Fukushima’s reactor 2 have reached fatally high levels, and levels of water are far lower than previously thought. The current radiation levels are so high that even robots cannot enter. This is forcing consideration of new robots and equipment to deal with the lethal levels of radiation, all of which is part of the necessary steps to successfully decommission the reactor. So stay tuned – this saga is not over.
   http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/nn20120328x1.html

Former LRA Rebel Graduates from University

[This was written for the February newsletter, and is thus pre-#Kony2012] The notorious Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has a repugnant record of brutality against civilians, led by Joseph Kony. The call to end these atrocities has been part of the actions of this newsletter. And while Kony has not yet been captured and the LRA still has not disbanded (though its current strength has been greatly diminished) it is heartening to see that sometimes a person caught into its repulsive vortex can be rehabilitated:
   Former LRA Rebel Graduates University

Supply Chain Abuses of Apple and Other Electronic Companies

Much of our globally interconnected world involves the connections from raw material to finished product. While a couple of decades ago exposés brought into our vocabulary pejorative words like “child sweatshops” in relation to the garment and related industries, today the revelations pertain more to the technology industry. Foxconn in China has become a lightning rod for abusive issues, especially since Apple’s iPads are made there (Foxconn also has the same issues for other firms such as Dell and HP). The New York Times recently ran a series called iEconomy, outlining some of the issues. The following article includes reference to the NYT piece, but adds another layer, since it comes from FAIR, which dissects how the media adds an additional layer of bias to the hidden or distorted issues. While the entire issue is quite complex, the article helps reinforce how “responsibility” (and thus opportunity to make substantive change for the better) easily dissipates among the fuzzy dynamics of the consumer, the company, the supply chain (and even possible regulators), and the people desperate for work.
   Letting Apple off the Hook for Labor Abuses [FAIR]

Here is a second link that quickly (but not deeply) shows some of the computer components that are most at fault:
   The Mother Jones iPhone

ZDNet: Apple worker compliance improves and so do Foxconn’s margins:
   http://www.zdnet.com/blog/btl/apple-worker-compliance-improves-and-so-do-foxconns-margins/72114?tag=nl.e550

R2P and Humanitarian Challenge

The “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine (R2P) evolved in the 1990s in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide. The genocide made clear that at times states might not protect their civilians but rather target them. In such situations, under R2P, the onus was placed on the international community to prevent gross human rights abuses. R2P has been a topic in this newsletter a few times, a belief that internationally has since been cited as a reason to intervene in places like Libya and Syria (even though the stringent criteria of the actual document seldom seem to be raised).

The following report talks of the great “disconnect” that still exists between such concepts and those who try to implement it in some form, and the reality and effects on the ground. As a young concept, that is not unexpected but the article provides interesting and very specific probes around the issue of implementation and, for example, what ability the local people have in the decision-making.
   http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportid=94827

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=== ARTICLES OF INTEREST ===
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World Food Crisis Expands

In February, the UN’s food price index rose for the eighth consecutive month, to the highest level since at least 1990. As a result, since 2010 began, roughly another 44 million people have quietly crossed the threshold into malnutrition, joining 925 million already suffering from lack of food.
   http://www.projectcensored.org/top-stories/articles/4-global-food-crisis-expands/

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