Representing International Politics

The second Scramble for Africa

During the past few decade, the people’s Republic of China has greatly increased it’s economic involvement in Africa. The continent is proves to hold an unimaginable amount of untaped natural ressources. The PRC is quickly becoming the major player in the scramble for these ressources, which include diamonds, gold, oil, wood and minerals. The question on everyone’s mind is “Is it ethical”? Many believe that Africa is being exploited in this long period of continental wide dis-unity and strife.

Link to the BBC article here

The matter is simply to confusing for me to even comprehend, therefore I looked for articles that first showed the small scale. This article written by Steve Herrman on the 3rd of November, 2011. The title of the article is “China mines in Zambia “unsafe” says Human Rights Watch”. It is a rundown of the activities of Chinese State-run company in a copper mine in Zambia, which is one of the landlocked countries’ main industries. This particular Chinese state-run company has come under fire by the Human Rights Watch for threatening to fire their employees if they ever gather under a union. I found this to be odd since China is a technically COMMUNIST country, which should encourage the unionization of workers. The new president of Zambia, Michael Sata, need to fulfill his election promises of protecting his people from this sort of blatant abuse. The company denies all the allegations from the HRW. It seems the country doesn’t have any other options because copper mining is responsible for 3/4th of the exports. Workers in the mines have been reported to work for 12 to 18 hours shifts while the national laws dictate a maximum of 8 hours shifts. The report, however, stated that the condition has improved in the past few years. The name of the Chinese company is CNM (China Non-Ferrous Metals Mining Corporation), which also mines zinc, aluminum and nickel. Daniel Bekele, the African director of the HRW admits that the investments in Zambia’s natural ressources  can be mutually beneficial, the way the workers are treated and the way the government ignores it must be reviewed. He also says that the conditions inside the mines are strikingly similar to the conditions in Chinese mines. This made me think for a second that perhaps the HRW (headquartered in New York) were perhaps ethnocentric in their approach, yet, the exhaustingly long workdays and the prohibition to form a union is simply inhumaine.

The spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing, Hong Lei, stated that the report did not reflect the conditions properly and were “inconsistent with the facts”. But the report has taken into account individual interviews of 170 miners, with more than 85 of them working for Chinese companies. The article quotes some of these workers who claim to have hazardous work conditions and their life and health is often disregarded and is seen as replaceable. Michael Sata has been a critic of the Chinese companies, yet has tuned down this approach after having been elected. The article finishes with the stats, $400 million in investment in Zambia, and the conclusion of the HRW which is calling for “effective regulation” of the mines. 


Canada’s gift to the World

     The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (La Charte Canadienne des droits et libertés) was signed on April 17th 1982 by Queen Elizabeth II. The 30th anniversary of the historic bill was celebrated across the country and has been evaluated in retrospect. The different sections of it have truly made the Charter one to jump out in comparison to others across the world. For example, Section 27 recognizes the importance and the value of multiculturalism in Canada, Section 16 states that English and French are the official languages of Canada and Section 15 which secure racial, gender and sexual orientation equality. The Charter is a national emblem.

Click here to the Globe and Mail article

The Globe and Mail is widely considered to be the Canadian English-language newspaper of records and is based in Toronto. The article article entitled “The Charter proves to be Canada’s gift to the World” was written on April the 15th, 2012 by John Ibbitson. In the opening paragraph, he states that “the Charter has replaced the American Bill of Rights as the constitutional document most emulated by other nations” which genuinely surprised me. The notion of Canada surpassing the United States as the greatest exporter of constitutional law is conceivable according to his two U.S law professors sources. He then point to Canada being the first Commonwealth nation to have adopted it’s own bil of rights , which, to me, shows a great deal of initiative compared to all the ex-UK colonies. Israel, Hong Kong and Eastern Europeans countries have apparently draw on our model to draw their own Charters. 

Both David S. Law, professor of law at Washington University and Mila Versteeg, professor of law at the University of Virginia, believe that some countries borrow on the Canadian Charter because their values system is closer to Canada then it is to the Old European colonial powers. Also the United States Bill of Rights (created in 1789) doesn’t protect basic rights because it discriminates on the basis od race or sex as well as having the amendment about the right to bear arms, which is much less appreciated in other countries. The American judicial system applies it to the letter, “as the founding fathers originally intended” which makes it an outdated way to deal with modern societal problems. Furthermore, the notwithstanding clauses in the Charter clearly draws a line between Federal and Provincial powers, something that the author argues the United States Supreme court has lost because of partisan conflict. Other countries look more to the “mild-mannered country to the north than its superpower neighbour to the south” which I believe to be a much less intimidating example setter. Pierre E. Trudeau was dead set on getting a bill of rights in ‘82 and brought together all the Premiers of each province to agree upon it. Jean Chrétien, who was Federal Justice Minister at the time was instrumental in it, which leads him to criticize the way that the Harper Conservative government is ignoring the anniversary. This may be due to the fact that it was perhaps too Liberal for their taste. Finally, the article ends with separating the Charter from belonging to one party or another, asserting that it belongs to every Canadian, and becomes more and more global in it’s reach. 


The troubles of Karachi

Pakistan tends to have very erratic media coverage. The country had abysmal media coverage and popular interest during the 2010 floods which killed over 1700 people and caused €35 Billion in damages. The country was the subject of media interest when Osama Bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, 50 kilometers Northeast of Islamabad. What I want to bring to light today is the megalopolis of Karachi, with it’s +20 million inhabitants, is a very dangerous place to live or visit.

 

Being the most populous city in Pakistan, as well as it being the most important sea-port, it is widely considered to be the financial capital of the country. The most important factor in a financial capital is stability. Economic growth is impossible without basic security, which Karachi clearly lacks. Take Detroit for compassion, with 418 murders in 2006, it has plummeted financially and in popular opinion as well as a mass exodus of the upper and upper middle class. Karachi on the other hand has been estimated to have had 1715 in 2011 by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Pervez Hoodbhoy wrote an article for the Express Tribune, a recent broadsheet newspaper in partnership with the International Herald Tribune and opened up the article “Why Karachi burns again and again” with this exorbitantly high number. It was written on April the 9th, 2012, at which point Karachi had already suffered 300 deaths since the New year. He points out that these murders are often politically motivated and are aggravated by the high availability of weapons around the city. Then everything calms downs and citizens return to normality until the next round.

 Population growth in Karachi since 1840 in Millions

Karachi is the hometown of the author. He advocates the beauty and safety of the city only decades earlier. He turns to behavioral analysis science to try to explain the bloody turn of events. “Scientists who study fish habits say cramped aquarium conditions hugely increase fish-on-fish violence”. This seems rational enough considering that the population of Karachi has increased exponentially since the 1940s. Ronald Oldfield, who is the biologist he cites, believes that this increase of violence comes when the fish become protective over their personal space and resources. The population density of the city is 5,800/km2 which is lower than that of Paris, at 20,980 /km2.

 

Nevertheless, he then goes on to try to apply this theory to rats to see how mammals react to an overcrowded environment. The University of Nottingham has found out that even if the rats are adequately fed, when encumbered, they show hatred to their own kind. Also, when rats are confined with their own sex, they are more aggressive. This directly relates to the Karachi he describes as “a city with few parks, little amusement, stifling summer heat, unrelenting traffic noise, loud apartment-block neighbours, segregation and sexual frustrations, polluted air, dirty water, no toilets for millions, and frequent electricity breakdowns”.

 

This actually made me think of how angry and unwelcoming the people of large cities such as New York, Paris and London are generally known to be. Right as I had thought of this, he points out that other such Megalopolis, including Asian ones, do not have such a high murder rate as Karachi’s. He explains this by claiming that while the city produces 60% of the federal budget, yet doesn’t see that money reinvested into it’s own infrastructure. That money instead goes first to corrupt officials in Islamabad, then to the more destitute rural areas. This system only advantageous to the governmental elites of the city who, for some reason, allow the strict religious elite to discourage contraception. Pervez Hoodbhoy then denounces the political parties who have created this hellhole, and give his last words “Those who breed like flies die like flies” to the party leaders.

Link: http://tribune.com.pk/story/361617/why-karachi-burns-again-and-again/


George Zimmerman: The most hated man in America

The murder of Treyvon Martin is the a very controversial topic which has caused unrest and demonstrations in the United States. The 17 years old teenager was gunned down by George Zimmerman, a 28 year old who lives in a gated community of Florida. It just so happens that Treyvon Martin was black and George Zimmerman is a white Hispanic. The story is now famous, Treyvon was talking to his girlfriend on his phone, with nothing in his pockets but a pack of skittles on Febuary the 26th, 2012. George Zimmerman was not kept in custody while awaiting his trail. Many people have blamed his crime on his alleged racism. 

Since I don’t have all the facts, I don’t want to jump to any conclusions concerning his culpability, yet, I know of how racist the Southern United States can prove to be. I shall first point out my biases. I am half black on my father’s side, I am only one year older than Trayvon, I have been the target of some passive aggressive racism (thankfully not to this extreme) and finally, I detest the second amendment with a passion since I am a pacifist. Nevertheless, I have really tried to keep my head from being clouded by the strong reactions of both sides. Two of my best friend have gotten into a heated Twitter argument over the matter. One of them, whom I will refer to as “S” is black, and the other, “D” is white. S tweeted “If you like George Zimmerman, you are racist.” and D countered with “a six foot 17 year old could definitely beat somebody to death. I know killing him was over the top but the fact this has been turned into a racial issue really bothers me, he had right to be suspicious of trayvon and to fear for his life while attacked” as well as “If it were the other way around, no one would have ever heard of it”. Neither S or D are racist and their squabble has introduced me to this topic. This little analogy has no other purpose than to point out how wide the opinion spectrum is.

The article from the Huffington Post entitled “Racism Without Racists: George Zimmerman and the conundrum of Modern Bigotry” is simply the finest piece of writing I have found on the subject. It starts out with the basic information and cites the main defense of Zimmerman, that “He’s not a racist”. The lawyers basically want to emphasize his Peruvian decent, which pegs him as a minority and therefore he cannot be racist, which is a evident fallacy. The author of the article, Edward Wyckoff Williams, says that Zimmerman must be judged by how he acted an not how he looks. From the 911 tapes, it is clear that George Zimmerman followed the young man and judged him to be a criminal not because of how he acted, but by how he looks. The article shows that while the President of the United States is (half) black, the people in heavily segregated gated communities still rationalize African-Americans to be criminal thugs. The author then introduces the idea of Racism without Racists, where a unconscious society itself would stigmatize the black man to be the perpetrator. This reminded me of the murder of Emmett Till, who was 14 years old when he was killed in 1955 in Mississippi. 

I am not showing you this picture to disgust you into an opinion, but to draw some coincidental parallels. Both were African-American teenagers who strayed into a a white neighborhood and got killed. Emmet Till dared to speak to a white married women who worked at a grocery store and was killed brutally by her husband, who was found non-guilty. Similarly to the murder of Emmet Till, the police officers chose to trust the murderer over the unarmed African-American kid. That was my 2-cent on the subject.

Now back to the article. The author choses, I believe rightly so, that being suspended from school for smoking marijuana is not out of the ordinary for a teenager. This instance in Martin’s life has been used by Conservative news sources to point out that he is a delinquent, while conveniently leaving out that Zimmerman has a criminal record. To that, the author writes that “This case matters because it speaks to the continuing struggle for equality and respect still being negotiated between America’s past and America’s future” and draws a link between the criticism of Martin and the criticism of Obama as “un-American” and “illegitimate”. What I like about this article is that it points out that the problem is not just a tragedy, but also a opportunity to discuss and hopefully eradicate the “poison” that has infected the citizens of the United States perspective on equality and trust in fellow human beings.   


Fucking Politicians

     Foul language is a part of everyday life. My mother has a particularly strong case of road rage, my sister cannot complete a sentence without injecting a few swear words and I myself should have washed my mouth out with soap years ago. Eavesdropping in the Parisian metro might indicate that “merde” and “putain” are the most popular words in the French language. In New York, “shit”, “fuck” and their variations seem to be quite common, while Londoners spew the words “arse” and “twat” every once in a while. The shock value of those words plummets as we grow older; they are not off-limits, nor are they ever taken very seriously. Now, when our beloved politicians cuss, it becomes a whole different matter. From Joe Biden to David Cameron it is clear that they do swear, but how does the media react to their swearing?

Link to MSNBC article

     Joseph Biden, the Vice-President of the United States of America has a ton of experience, a compelling energy and, so it seems, a lovely vocabulary.

"This is a big fucking deal" Joe Biden to Barack Obama

One of the most important political figure of the world’s only remaining superpower used the notorious f-word. The damage is done, the internet picked it up, the rest is history. What is interesting is how the more left-wing liberal news network MSNBC spun the story. In an article entitled “What’s the ‘big f-ing deal’ about swearing?”, they excused the VP by bringing in Goeff Nunberg, an expert on linguistic at Berkley, who basically says that it is acceptable to swear between friends and that it conveys a certain emotion that no “clean” words could. Furthermore, they lead the reader astray by quoting another expert, psychologist Timothy Jay, to say that people “feel better after using this kind of language” and “To condemn politicians for swearing in a private context […] is nothing but hypocritical”. Finally, a third expert, lexicographer Jesse Sheidlower, goes into the origins and morphed meaning of the word “fuck”. While this is all well and good, it doesn’t give us anymore insight into the swear word’s effects, or lack thereof, on voters, the party and Joe Biden himself. Intererestingly enough, MSNBC has chosen to place the story not under the politics, but the science section of the website.  

Link to the Guardian article

     David Cameron, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, doesn’t approve of Twitter.

"The trouble with Twitter, the instantness of it – too many twits might make a twat." David Cameron to Christian O’Connell

The PM was interviewed on a breakfast radio show and used the word “twat”. The Guardian, which is mainly read by the labour party voters, was surprisingly less vicious that usual. They pointed out the embarrassment it caused him in a humorous way by emphasizing the surprise of his press secretary. They also ridiculed him from not knowing that twat was a swear word. They ended the article with a little joke from a blogger “So far, I haven’t had any complaints about his language, other than from a gbrown1099@hotmail.com.”

     Overall, I was considerably more satisfied with this type of covering that the MSNBC article. It stays on the topic, gives the views and reactions of many people, and most importantly, it adds humor to an otherwise dry story. The way they report news across the Atlantic is drastically different. While both are left-leaning sources, one confuses the reader behind a guise of expertise while the other inform and amuses. This media/cultural difference further convinces me that I could never live in the United States.