Sunday, June 29, 2008

Zimbabwe fights for democracy

The recent news from Zimbabwe’s elections propelled me to think about the ongoing problems around the world in terms of democracy. Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe has been in power since the country’s independence in 1980. It seems that only now 2008 there is political pressure against Mugabe. The recent elections plagued with corruption, intimation, and voter fraud have galvanized the African Union nations and the international community to take a stance against Mugabe. In reading different articles about the recent elections, several matters came to mind. First, the use of violence against one’s own people in order to prevent citizens to partake in the democratic process. Secondly, the many African nations that are still dealing with dictator like leaders who put their needs before their respective nation. Lastly, how can the international community ameliorate the situation in Africa.

Zimbabwe, formally known as Rhodesia, was colonized by the English in 1880s. The English were very successful in colonizing Africa, pitting the many different tribes against each other. We still see traces of these elements in African societies today. For instance, Zimbabwe has always had tension between the ZAPU (Zimbabwe African People’s Union) and the ZANU (Zimbabwe African National Union) which make up the two major political parties in Zimbabwe. These groups are militant organizations that have resorted to crimes against humanity many times over. What is interesting is the fact that President Mugabe has been in power and maintained that power since 1980.

The international community now wants to take a stronger stance against Mugabe and his ZANU-PE regime, I am a little bit pessimistic that things will change in Zimbabwe because the story hasn’t changed in many years. The UN wants to pursue sanctions against the nation, but how can sanctions deter a leader who does not even care about his country or fellow citizens? There are already massive shortages on goods, famine has started in many areas of the country, and an economy that well lets say is “in the dumps”. The latest news reports state that leaders such as Mugabe live for recognition and perhaps the only way to pressure fair elections is to simply not recognize him as president. I tend to think the situation is too complex for such a simplistic approach; however, I do not have any words of advice. It seems that political change cannot occur from the top down but only from the bottom up. Democracy whether in Africa or the Middle East comes from the people. Zimbabweans will have to step up and unite against the horrors, injustices, and fear. Unfortunately, it will not be easy perhaps bloody.

PS: I have provided some links to articles related to what is currently going on in Zimbabwe, please feel free to take a look and leave your thoughts on the situation.

'Zimbabwe Has Become a Litmus Test for African Democracy'

Zimbabwe: African Union Urged to Take Stern Measures Against Mugabe

Mugabe Is Sworn In After Discredited Vote

Another blogger's post "What to do about Zimbabwe? Nothing"

Inside A Failed State
(documentary on Zimbabwe)

Monday, December 31, 2007

Implications of Benazir Bhutto's death

On December 27, 2007, we learned about the death of Benazir Bhutto. Perhaps many of us are just now learning about Benazir Bhutto (like myself). This has been a world event that has dominated the news, and I have gathered/synthesized some information for you all. I have also provided the links to articles that I have read and the footage of the actual assassination. In my synopsis, I am not advocating one particular side because both sides come with their own suspicion. However, I have presented some things to think about in terms of the main question of this post "what is the implication of Benazir's death?".

Basic Information about Pakistan

Pakistan’s current President: Pervez Musharraf. Prime Minister (interim period): Muhammad Mian Soomro

Geographic features of Pakistan:
Confines the Arabian Sea, the Indus river runs in the center of the country, Kashmir region in the North, capital city Islamabad, other major cities Lahore, Karachi, and Hyderabad.
(search for Pakistan under country profile)

Basic facts about Benazir Bhutto:

• Came from a politically active family, her father served as Prime Minister in the 1970s but later killed along with two of Benzair's brothers
• Benazir was educated at Oxford and Harvard becoming the first educated elected female leader in an Islam country
• Served as Prime Minister from 1988-90 and again from 1993-96, both terms ending prematurely due to corruption scandals that involved her husband Asif Zardari (he spent several years in jail but was freed in 2004 due to weak evidence)
• She had remained the leader of the PPP (Pakistan People’s Party)

The story is quite interesting because there are many loose ends. 1st) Starting with Bhutto's return from exile to run in the upcoming elections.

• As the story continues to develop, the only explanation that I have come across to why she re-entered Pakistan was to run in the upcoming elections, to continue a path of democracy in Pakistan, and perhaps also to clear her name in the corruption charges that have never been fully proven. However, reporters have not divulged into her political record yet, and it would be interesting to know her political accomplishments that she made for Pakistan if any.

• 2nd) The relationship between her and President Musharraf is unclear. At first, Musharraf welcomes Bhutto re-entry into Pakistani politics maybe because without her opposition party, his candidacy and rule comes into question. As the stories begin to unfold, reporters are finding that the government did not provide Bhutto with adequate security, especially by being a previous Prime Minister and possible political rival in the upcoming election.

• 3rd) Who did it and why? Reports, primarily coming from an email message that Bhutto wrote, points to Al-Qaida, Taliban, and other Islamic terrorists groups ABC news refers to this topic: Who killed Benazir Bhutto?>

• 4th) What are the implications of her death? I am still trying to figure this out myself, but it is obvious that politically Pakistan is an unstable country. If the Taliban did assassinate Bhutto, at the very least, it demonstrates that the Taliban is growing and the group is active (But we don't know this yet). Perhaps, world leaders need to take a look at what is going on in Afghanistan because lately it seems that the situation there has been left behind focusing on Iraq (at least this seems to be the U.S policy).

Some things that we do know is the fact the current President Pervez Musharraf came into power through a military coup (toppled Nawaz Sharif), and also Musharraf had been the Chief of Army staff of the Pakistani army before the coup. After the coup, he declared himself President and Chief of Executive of Pakistan, meaning he combined both roles into one, the presidency and the role of the Prime Minister from 1999-2002, to become sole leader of Pakistan. The following years the PM position came directly from Musharraf party’s, the Pakistan Muslim League. Perhaps understanding a little bit of Pakistan's history, it becomes a little clearer the relevance of Bhutto’s death in terms of democracy. Furthermore, the relationship between the Presidency and National Assembly (who nominates the Prime Minister) has had a record of clashing where the President has dissolved the National Assembly, and Prime Minister on many occasions has called for new elections, this includes the two times that Bhutto was the Prime Minister (remember this is before Musharraf came into power). The instability of the government and the power grip that the Pakistan Mulism League has in the country, put the corruption charges into question. Maybe it explains the short-lived governments that Bhutto led. It also puts the current government into question to whether or not they had any involvement in her death. Also, if her death was caused by Islamic terrorists could her death symbolize another hit towards the western world giving her relationship to the western world? The facts are unknown for now, but there is definitely a cloud of suspicion involving the government and Benazir Bhutto.
As of December 31, news reports have stated the government and Benazir’s camp have conflicting stories about her death. Her son and husband have assumed leadership roles of the PPP. Finally, it is in debate whether or not the January 8 elections should proceed as planned.

Message boards:> gives current opinions about Benazir’s death.

BBC Bhutto Obituary:

New York Times main story on Bhutto’s assassination>

Footage of the death:>

Bhutto’s murder: Key questions:>> (Pervez Musharraf)> (Pakistan coup)> (Prime Ministers of Pakistan)> features stories about the President and Prime Minister

Richard Sale has a good blog with some interesting information about Bhutto's death

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Quick Picks: globalization, EU expansion

Hello to all,

I had found some interesting articles that I wanted to share with you all. The first concerns the EU expansion which is something always interesting because the EU has created a supranational government but continues to expand. By now, I am a little bit out of the loop with European integration, but I came across a particular blog where the comments were very interesting. I encourage you to take a look at this blog by Daniel Hannan who is a lead writer of the telegraph newspaper and writer of many publications on the EU. Q&A: Schengen Agreement for more information

The second and third article relates to globalization. The first article is actual an old article dating from September about a pasta boycott in Italy. Although, I don't agree with some of the things that the author says (about Italy), I've included this story because it is so relevant to what we are experiencing now in the States with increased prices of goods. What is interesting is how this globalization phenomena has and is affecting some of the very core aspects of societies as in Italy "pasta". The second article that I have included suggests a finality of globalization where politicians are now trying to come to terms with free trade its advantages and disadvantages.

Europe's border-free zone expands

Resisting the Globalization of Food: The Return of the Bread Riot

The End of Globalization

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Alcohol makes us stupid

Just in December, I had an unfortunate experience when I went to a wine tasting session at the Biltmore House in North Carolina. Actually, it wasn’t anybody’s fault but my own because I was aware that one could not possess alcohol having an expired license. After the server had refused to give me any samples of the wine, I did not become mad but quite annoyed. It made me think about how stupid and pointless some of our laws can be. I wanted to share with you a couple of sites that expose these “pointless laws”. I guess that the most annoying aspect of the situation was that my license, whether expired or not, proved that I was in fact 25 (legal age!). The main scope of the law is to prevent individuals under 21 from drinking or possessing alcohol. Although, I do think the server took the law to the extreme because she said that she could not serve anybody with an expired license. What does that mean exactly? Just because I had an expired license, could they not accept a valid passport or some other form of id? At least, I had the impression that she would have not, but I did not force the issue. However, this law seems very unfair, and I felt that I was denied a freedom granted to me by the law of this land, that is to say, anybody 21 and over can have alcohol. I am not a whining drunk, but if I cannot be served wine because I have an expired license, what about those individuals that appear over 30 that you do not card? I wonder how many of them had an expired license? The point that I am trying to make is that this particular law seems to miss the point. Are we carding individuals to see if they are the proper age to drink or are we carding them to see if they have unexpired id cards? If the later is true then it was my fault for having an unexpired license. However, if the first is true then I feel that this law is unjust because I was denied a service that was within my full right. Actually, one can say that I was disenfranchised or discriminated against because the other individuals were not held to same criterion. In my opinion, if I cannot be served alcohol, not because I am under 21 but because of my expired license, then everybody’s license or id should be checked no matter how young or old they seem. Indeed, I will find out what the “true” law is in North Carolina with respect to this situation, and I definitely will voice my opinion about this to my representatives!

Perhaps, I have not wasted 30 minutes in writing this just to complain about alcohol laws but to urge people to take a stand against laws that are unfair, senseless, or just stupid. To be honest, I wish that I would have spoken up for my rights at the Biltmore House, especially being that I come from a race where laws had been used in such a way to prevent us from having equal opportunities. However, I walked away in silence which is probably the thing that vexes me the most.

However, North Carolina isn’t the only with absurd laws with regards to drinking alcohol. Check out this link!

PS: If anybody has any suggestions or comments about this situation, I would love to hear them.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

More Weapons to Neighbors Against Iran

Well, it seems that the new political strategy with regards to
the Middle East is: if you can't beat them give their neighbors
weapons. I am referring to the recent news that the Bush
Administration is working on a 20 billion dollar arms deal with
Iran's neighbors (Saudi Arabia) and others Egypt and Israel.
The Administration has stated that this policy is to curtail Iran's growing influence in the region. I found this policy very interesting for reasons I will discuss.
However, the main questions to consider are will selling arms
to these countries will in fact decrease Iran's influence (for those of you
who feel that Iran's influence is something bad); secondly
will this increase in arms further destabilize the region?

The United States has had a long, tumultuous history with Iran.
This dates back to 1950s when the United States help put Reza Shah
back into power in the fight to prevent the spread of communism.
Then of course, we had the hostage fiasco under the Carter Administration.
So, does past history tell us anything? History suggests that the U.S does not have a good track record in dealing with Iran. Secondly, the U.S does not have a good track record setting up puppet governments (e.g. Iran, Iraq,Chile, etc). Neither
does this country fair well in Middle Eastern affairs. Lastly, the Middle East
doesn't have a good record in maintaining peace.

Despite maybe the gloomy picture, there is legitimacy in the theory
that more weapons can be safer. This will raise the stakes a little
bit, and it will make countries think before taking a precipitate action.
However, Iran is supposedly building nuclear weapons, there has been no
reports (at least not yet that I have read) claiming that the arms sell
will include nuclear weapons. Therefore, selling arms (I am surmising non-nuclear weapons) to these countries might not do too much to decrease the Iran's influence unless the United States is willing to sell nuclear weapons. This arms deal could very well be a smoke screen to make a nice chuck of money for the U.S military industry.

Giving the fact that the United States has failed to deter Iran into
stopping their nuclear ambitions (unlike North Korea) and having created a policy that is now not focusing directly with Iran but instead its neighbors, seems to suggest that the United States has already isolated Iran as the
most influential country in the region instead of the given phrase "rising influence". Then I think, how does one define "being influential" in terms of military strength or oil production which equals economic strength. This will be a
wild observation, but what if the Bush Administration is going to
become heavily involved in Saudi Arabia internal affairs? I say this because Saudi
Arabia was the #1 oil producing country in 2006(1) (and U.S's top importer of oil), and it could be possible that we may follow another path like we did with respect to Iraq and Saddam Hussein, making Saudi Arabia a stabilizing force in the Middle East. Well, whatever relationship that the U.S forges with Saudi Arabia, one should remember that most of the 9/11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia. This is kind of interesting because it leaves to door open to how much Saudi Arabia plays into this war against terrorist thing. Would it be easier for radical groups to get more weapons in Saudi Arabia? The arms deal could also actually have an opposite affect in the region. Looking at Iran's current influence and power, selling weapons to its neighbors might only feed into the need of having nuclear weapons, accelerating weapon production in Iran maybe to the point of an arms buildup.

Well, everything is to be seen. Our past history with
the Middle East in general does not give us much hope. Perhaps, the U.S should do
something out of the ordinary and really try to have open discussions with Iran to better understand each other. Perhaps Iran is building nuclear facilities for electricity and to improve its infrastructure, surely this seems reasonable and in its right. Weapons sells will not curtail Iran's influence or make the country more tractable from an American foreign policy point of view because these countries in the Middle East supply an important commodity, oil. Middle Eastern affairs will take a different course than Western Europe, Eastern Europe, North America because there will be more than one influential country maybe several in the Middle East. This will call for a delicate foreign policy that is inclusive of the countries. Let's see how the Bush Administration plays this out, it will be very interesting to see what's next.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

I Pronounce You Chuck and Larry

I had the opportunity to see I Pronounce You Chuck and Larry during my vacation in Canada. I am quite sure you are familiar with the plot of the movie. Two good friends are firefighters with two separate lives. Kevin James plays a single father (Larry) still coping with the death of his wife and rising two kids. Adam Sandler plays Chuck, a playboy type that hooks up with every girl he sees assuming no responsibilities in his life. Both guys’ lives are turned upside down when Larry suggest the two to get marry in order to change the beneficiary on his insurance policy.
First of all, when you have Adam Sandler and Kevin James (from Kings of Queens), you know you are in for a treat. The surprising element of the movie, giving the thin plot, the movie was still able to do a lot with respect to the characters themselves changing and maturing. Of course, there is the underlying moral or morals of the movie (that are really obvious). If, I had to give a criticism about the movie, it would be the exaggeration of gay stereotypes. Again, the movie did better than expected in my view. The primary characters as well as the secondary characters are not static. The movie presents the social issue of the reality of actually being gay in society. The movie addresses the meaning of friendship. Finally, you have the moral or morals of the movie (and I will let you decide what they are).
One more thing, having seen this movie in Canada where gay marriage is legal really gives a new dimension to the movie. There are parts in the movie where the Canadians responded, well let's say, in ways Americans would not.

*** movie go see it