Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mumbai: The Hunt

The bloodshed in Mumbai is over, with 124 people killed and 284 wounded. The responsibility was claimed by a group called Decan Mujahideen.
The police is looking also after a possible mastermind of the attack, Abdul Subhan Qureshi, suspected of other terrorist attacks on India's soil.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Belarus: looking West for a "Chinese solution"? Democracy tests (1)

The latest evaluation report on Belarus was published by the Jameston Foundation. Shortly: the chances to topple Lukashenko soon are quite slim - he's still enjoying the support of the population - question 1: how accurate could be such evaluation, in a country where being against the regime is endangering the individual freedom ? - and of an emergent third class. The West opened again - question 2: does it sounds like: "I punished you because you haven't been polite, but now I decided to finish the punishment, because you haven't become more polite by that"? - even cautiously, while Lukashenko is hoping in a Chinese solution to his problems - centralized government, but in a focus for profit economic environment.
The opposition in Belarus is extremely diverse and weak, in a country at the mercy of Russia's changing mood. Only during the shorts laps of time when they are tensions between Minsk and Moscow, the Belarusian leaders try to look more friendly to the generically West.
In fact, the minimum sources required for having at least an approximate realistic idea of how the country is really looking are quite scattered and often contradictory. The academic researches are quite a few (David Marples' A Denationalized Nation is a good reference for the process of identity building, as Elena Korosteleva's Postcommunist Belarus, are valuable for the analysis of the authoritarian model and the wavering relations between Russia and the West). The scarcity of academic resources could be interpreted as well as a certain lack of immediate interest of European and American universities and think-thanks in covering this part of the world.
For a trustworthy action you have to know what are you talking about and with whom. The opposition is still in Belarus a generically term lacking high profile leaders so, it is problematic if, in the case that a change of leadership will occurs, who will be able to fully assume the main positions in a possible government - foreign affairs, justice, economy, army.
The post-orange revolutions' ambiguities in Ukraine and Georgia could be a reason for a cautious approach of both EU and US in relationship with Belarus. But the neighbouring Russia is another element that most be taken into consideration when thinking about a not too soon foreseeable "new Belarus", limiting considerably the possibility of an open action of state and non-state actors.
EU's Czech presidency, starting January 1 is promising to focus on Belarus too. In the same time, it's impossible to think about wonders in only six months time, and the current economic and financial crisis would continue to top the agenda. And, in fact, what could you offer to Belarus?
The international community is facing a situation typical to the Cold War, which should be addressed differently, but not yet clearly how. The enthusiastic revolutions of the 1989s, the liberation from communism of the "Eastern block" and the reunification of Germany, were followed shortly but difficult stick-and-carrot games and the EU and NATO memberships incentives were the salvation at the end of complicate transitions, schizophrenic positioning to human rights issues and a confusing, far from democratic behavior of a colourful political class. Almost 20 years after, they are not fully functional societies or are facing a serious shortage in terms of political leadership. Plus, in all of the former communist countries was common at a certain degree (including in Eastern Germany, the "Good Bye, Lenin" movie reflecting, in an ironic way this mentality split) the "nostalgia" after a period of a period idyllically considered as secure, at least in economic terms, translated into support for nationalistic, far-right politicians. But still, they are on the good track and their lessons learned are already taught in the Western Balkans, the new team preparing to get the European brand.
But, the choices are limited, as long the EU and NATO themselves are still in the need for a new organisational settlement and the geographical, political and economic resources are quite limited. You could talk about more need for democracy and the basic requirement to offer to your citizens their full enjoyment of human rights, to offer loans and training for democratic leaders and settlement of institutions or fight against corruption. Even to start a war against dictatorships, but the next day after the end of the battle, what you can really do?
We could identify quite easily the bad leaders and the bad political leaders. We cannot have one and only democracy, available anytime and universal; they are universal rights and freedom each democratic system have to enshrine and respect. It's up to the respective leadership of each country to find its own democratic path.

Terror hits India again

At least 101 people were killed and 290 injured in a terrorist attack on two luxury hotels in Mumbai. The coordinated attacks targeted also popular restaurants, a rail terminus and a Jewish Centre. This is the most serious, of a long series of terrorist activities hitting Mumbai and India in the last months.

CNN: Testimonies of witnesses

Key-developments, Hindu Times

BBC: Map of the locations

CSM: Home-grown terrorism in India

Council on Foreign Relations, on India's terrorism

TIME reporting

Twitter discussions

Mumbai profile

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Lessons from the Armenian-Turkish dialogue

Today's editorial from the Lebanese Daily Star is quite interesting, drawing a parallel between the possible settlement of the conflict between Turkey and Armenia and the situation from Middle East. In foreign affairs, comparisons could be quite risky. You have to take into account the historical, international, geographical, cultural, internal contexts, tremendously different from a case to another.
But, a similarity, at least from the technical point of view, it is not completely out of sight. The complicate framework of dialogue between Turkey and Armenia was made possible, among others, by constant and stubborn efforts of Track II diplomacy. If Track I is referring to the usual work of the diplomats from the embassies, Track II have to deal with the informal side of the diplomacy, in which non-officials engage in dialogue for confidence building and conflict resolution. It could involve, for example, meetings between journalists, joint contests of children, concerts etc. The main idea is to make possible knowing the other - a conflictual one - through what it is human, natural and easy to understand. From this slowly and timely built, trust- oriented basis you arrive little by little to the institutional and political levels. This quiet basis in itself could exert a noticeable pressure for change on the institutions and political leaders.
As for the Middle East, such an approach is welcomed. But it have to be filled creatively with the proper content, tailored on the measure and scale of the conflict. And maybe wait for another generation.
See more:
Nagorno-Karabakh, history of the conflict
Middle East Institute, Washington DC, links on Lebanon and current evolutions in the Middle East

Cash moves in financial crisis

Sovereign wealth funds from the Gulf states are focusing their strategies on the regional markets, in order to protect themselves of bigger losses of shares invested in Western companies. UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband, in a speech delivered November 24 in Abu Dhabi, invited UAE to invest in British wealth funds, after the prime-minister Gordon Brown itself made a similar call two weeks ago. Abu Dhabi is home to one of the world's largest sovereign wealth fund.
Barclays Plc. Britain's second-biggest bank would raise 7.3 billion pounds ($11.8 billion) by selling securities to investors including funds in Abu Dhabi and Qatar. Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a member of Abu Dhabi's royal family, will become its biggest shareholder.

Need of an EU common policy on China

China postponed the EU-China summit scheduled for December 1, one of the main reasons being the coming meeting between French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and the Tibetan spiritual leader, Dalai Lama. This meeting will take place in Poland, December 6, France being the president of the six-months EU rotating presidency.
According to Francois Godement, Director of the European Council for Foreign Relations -Asia Centre at SciencesPo in Paris:
"China's decision to cancel its scheduled summit meeting with the EU is a spectacular gesture and an unprecedented step in the bilateral relationship. In blaming Nicolas Sarkozy's upcoming meeting with the Dalai Lama, China takes its policy of routinely cancelling human rights dialogues with European officials to the highest political level. This aggressive move from China's diplomacy has been facilitated by the scurrilous divisions between EU countries themselves. Throughout the year, senior European leaders have scandalously failed to coordinate on the issue of Tibet and the Dalai Lama. The sorry spectacle of European disunity over the financial and economic crisis has confirmed to China's leaders that Europe is not a unitary actor and can be publicly provoked at no significant political cost. It is urgent for Europeans to realise the steep political price for their failure to agree on common principles and practice for their China policy."

Political turmoil in Thailand

The head of Thailand's army urged today the governemnt to dissolve parliament and call new elections, after yesterday anti-governement demonstrators seized Bangkok's international airport. The protesters are campaignig for six months against the government. In answer to the request, they refused to withdraw, and the chaos continue to affects thousands of passengers. The deepening crisis with dramatic effects on the economy is the manifested consequence of a divided society rotten by corruption and conjunctural applications of the law.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Multi polar competition is now open

At the end of the last week, National Intelligence Council released its 2025 Forecast of the Global Trends.
The reports, drafted with the participation of non-American specialists, are documenting the emergence, in the next 20 years, of a multi polar system, with an increased dispersion of power. US will remain the sole superpower, but in decrease, with an emergence of a clearer influence of India and China, as well as of non-state actors. Another “relatively certain” trend is a possible increase of the attraction for the Chinese model. As an “uncertain” evaluation, China could have more impact on the world the next 20 country than any other country (the world’s second’s economy, a leading military power, the largest importer of natural resources, the biggest polluter). China and Russia progresses towards democracy are equally included in the same “uncertain” categories.

February this year, NIC published Global Scenarios for 2025.

“Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free”

One of the most charismatic US presidents, John F. Kennedy was assassinated 45 years ago, in circumstances still matter of public controversy. June 23, 1963, in Berlin, JFK delivered one of the most quoted speeches during the Cold War, in the front of almost one million people.
Historically, his speech was a very important expression of support of the US for the free world, but a promise impossible to be kept for those on the other side of the Curtain. Only 24 years after, another American president, Ronald Reagan, asked on Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the wall.

See more:

17 November TIME 2003 issue is offering an extended texts and photographic coverage of his presidency.

Public diplomacy, on Twitter

Almost one year ago, US diplomats started to present their views on current foreign affairs activities on the blogs hosted by US State Department. It is not about revealing secrets, but presenting and discussing for and with the readers daily issues facing the diplomacy in the making. Recently, the 2.0. activities received on-line dimensions, after Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Colleen Graffy get in touch with his followers on Twitter, about recent meeting in Romania and the Republic of Moldova.
One of the most active diplomatic presences on 2.0. space is the UK Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, who’s frequently posting on youtube personal accounts of the places he’s visiting as well as of the public statements and conferences, available in this way to quite a wider audience.These kind of openings of diplomacy aren't diminishing at all overall substance of the diplomatic exercise and, for sure, is not available for all the domains covered- as the treaty negotiations, for example. It is not necessarily about democratization of foreign affairs, but about a focus on a more explanatory dimension. Plus, it could offer a source of instant information for journalists, as well as an alternative source of information, as a possible countering to what it was called in the latest years "CNN diplomacy".

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Minute 22

The last issue of the bi-monthly journalistic and documentary photography magazine Sowar is building a photographic memory of the Mideast: Friday, 22 August, 2008, 2:22 Lebanon time, 22 photographers in 22 places from the Gulf, Lebanon and Middle East countries took a picture about what everyone else was doing in this very specific minute 22. Each image was further made part of a visual narrative, with few information on the location and author.
Sowar (the phonetic pronunciation of the word pictures in Arabic) was launched in 2007, being published in Beirut, Lebanon. Its tag line: "A picture with a few words is worth a million".
Another issue was dedicated to the Lebanon civil war (1975-1990).

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Cholera threat in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s health system is in collapse, the local doctors fearing a wave of deaths, with a cholera epidemic sweeping through the capital city of Harare. Cholera might outbreak rapidly, 72 cases being already identified in South Africa. According to the non-governmental group Doctors without Borders (MSF), the epidemic is threatening up to 1.4 million people in Zimbabwe. The country is under the rule of president Robert Mugabe, accused of massive violations of human rights. The country is facing a perpetual economic crisis with serious shortages of basic products. In august 2008, the inflation hit 11,200,000 percent, with an expected annual rate of inflation of more than 230 million percent. Beginning of this November, the international non-governmental organization the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria accused the government of misusing a 7.3 million USD grant.

Congo - 1,250 people dying daily

The natural resources of a country could represent a valuable source of wealth. The primordial condition is to set up proper, functional institutions and to have the minimal basis of a state. If not, everything could be at the mercy of small or larger entropic groups with terrific effects on the population and the resources are spoiled in the advantages of military/armed groups. In Congo, for example, since 1998, 5, 400,000 people have died because of a deadly conflict, the equivalent of the population of Denmark.
The total population is of 65.75 million, distributed on 905,063 square miles, being the third largest country by area in Africa. It is reach in natural resources, as diamonds, copper, zinc and coltan.
The victims are dying mostly because of hunger and diseases.
The Democratic Republic of Congo, former Belgian colony, acquired its independence in 1960. After the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the power was seized and kept for 30 years by Mobutu Sese Seko, whose reign was rotten by corruption and dictatorship. In 1994, he was lashed following a civil war, nurtured by the Rwandan refugees, after the Hutu’s massacre of the Tutsi tribe, who occupied the Eastern part of the country. Laurent D. Kabila, a former rebel himself, became president in 1997. He was later assassinated in 2001 and followed by his son Joseph. Despite some efforts to create certain normality, by organising elections – the first free elections ever, in 2006, confirming Joseph Kabila as president – or signing peace accords, in 2003, the conflict between various warrior groups are continuing. According to International Rescue Committee, almost 1.250 people are dying daily, while the UN is hesitating to take a final decision to send more troops in the area.

Selection on the run for Obama's team

The new entry in Obama’s team is former Dem. Sen. Tom Daschle, for the position of secretary of Health and Human Services.
Daniel Tarullo, Susan Rice and James Steinberg, former aides during Clinton’s administration,
will advice in policy matters during the transition period. Rice and Steinberg, together with retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones, a former NATO commander are also possible national security advisers.
Eric H. Holder jr., another former Clinton administration official could be the next Attorney General with at least one difficult task ahead: what to do with Guantanamo? Holder jr. was involved, as former deputy attorney in the case of fugitive Marc Rich pardon.
Peter R. Orszag is considered for the position of Director of Office of Management and Budget.
The main question is whether senator Hillary Rodham Clinton will accept to be the next Secretary of State and, if yes, what kind of relationship would she have/negotiate with the president, for guaranteeing a reliable and persuasive US diplomacy.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Focus on energy

World Energy Outlook released November 12 in London by International Energy Agency (IEA) is recommending that, to compensate the decline of existing oil fields by 2030, the world would need to find new production equivalent to 45 million barrels per day to maintain present levels of supply. IEA, based in Paris, is the energy advisor to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). OPEC, through the voice of its secretary-general, Abdullah al-Badri, dismissed the study, saying shortly that IEA is not "equipped" to revise the current oilfields.
The European Commission proposed November 13 an energy package aiming to give a boost to energy security in Europe, while respecting the policies regarding the climate change. The package is expected to be agreed to the December European Council, at the end of the French-EU presidency.

Modern piracy-Maritime terrorism

Piracy is not only a subject of successful movies or children stories, but a daily matter of concern, despite the sporadic presence in the headlines of the international media.
According to Live Piracy Map, the pirates are operating in a quite extended area. Through the Piracy Reporting Center, based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the International Maritime Bureau is providing 24 hour emergency assistance on piracy cases.
UN Security Council adopted June 2008 a resolution allowing for six months "all necessary means" to repress piracy. The 23 of October 2008, the European Parliament in Strasbourg adopted a resolution on piracy on maritime piracy.
The perpetrators of such acts, whose effects on economy and maritime security are considerably threatening, but curiously not too much considered as such, are taking fully advantage of the failed states in Africa or of the high level of corruption in South-Asia. They would operate freely as long as the states alongside the shores would not be able to create common mechanism of control and surveillance. But, first, you need to build up those states.

Chavez’s nightmare

Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez found a way to use openly the enormous amount of information gathered secretly against his political opponents (practically all those who are not with him , according to very pre-modern conceptions of state and society). September 2008 Human Rights Watch released a detailed report on the permanent deterioration of the Venezuelan democracy and subsequently of the bad human rights record, ten years after Chavez seized power. The various left movements in US or Europe could see in Chavez a “hero”, mainly because his flamboyant “anti-gringos” speeches. He could consider himself the new Bolivar; he’s quite far away and is not perceived too much as a treat at the level of South America, where he even found “political friends”. The “patriotic” rhetoric has always been helpful, everywhere in the world, mainly in countries facing serious socio-economic problems and with a precarious – if any – democratic record. Ideologies and political dreams are useful for a hand of people, deeply in love with power, their power. The rest are simply victims.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Moammar Gaddafi is talking to the West

Libya succeeded to have a very successful image lifting in the last years. Moammar Gaddhafi and his sons are having these days intensive dialog with both US and EU despite the fact that from the democratic point of view the country is very far from an incipient democracy – no political parties, no freedom of speech, no democratic institutions. But, as the Chinese example is showing quite well, a certain formula of capitalism, with a strong state involvement could survive, with the condition of having adequate resources.

In March 2008, the Middle East Institute from Washington DC, held an international conference „Libya, Africa & The West” outlining and explaining the overall interest to this country from the last period.

Mideast, everything the same

Mideast is boiling again (is already a truism). The military option of an Israeli attack against Iran is still on table, rhetorically or effectively, mainly in an electoral context, three months before of the legislative elections in Israel. The Road Map for peace didn’t get too much beyond its basic starting point, despite the intensive diplomatic efforts of the White House, including in the very last days before the US presidential elections. Everything is continuing to be hard to predict, not because the data are lacking, but because at any moment an unexpected reversal of the situation could occur. Another cliché.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Mentality changes in 60s-70s US

Changes don't take place from a place to another. The pro-Obama vote could be explained by a whole generational change taking place in US, having the origins in the 60s, more than one generation ago. This 1974 study published in TIME is offering some hints.

Monday, Jun. 03, 1974

What They Think Now

"In one of the most rapid turnabouts in our history, college youth—the chief source of social dissidence in the '60s—has moved swiftly toward reconciliation with the larger society, while the noncollege majority has taken over many of the campus-bred values." So says Social Psychologist Daniel Yankelovich, whose research firm has just completed an extensive survey of American youth for five private foundations.* Among the survey's major findings and conclusions about college youth:

> In 1971, 45% of college students felt that "this is a sick society." Now that figure has fallen to 35%.

-In 1971, 56% felt it was morally wrong to use violence even in a good cause. Now that figure has risen to 66%.

> In 1971, 57% identified with the Republican or Democratic Party. Today 73% of college students identify with one of the two major parties.

While tempering their general attack on society, college students have even more strongly swung toward an acceptance of new social values.

> In 1969, 42% felt that homosexuality was morally wrong. Now the figure is 25%.

> In 1969, 35% considered patriotism to be a very important value. Now that figure has dropped to 19%.

> In 1971, 56% believed that the U.S. was democratic in name only. Today 63% share that view.

> In 1971, 38% said that big business needed fundamental reform. Now 54% feel this is an important concern.

The poll also shows that the views of noncollege youth have shifted approximately to those held by the college population five years ago.

> In 1969, 57% of noncollege youngsters believed that casual premarital sex was wrong. Now 34% hold that view.

> In 1969, 60% stressed patriotism as an important personal value. Today that figure is 40%.

> In 1969, 54% said they would welcome less emphasis on money. Now that figure has increased to 74%.

> In 1969, 79% believed that hard work always pays off. Today only 56% share that view.

The study's most predictable findings were about members of minority groups (mostly blacks) and Viet Nam veterans. Only 38% of minority youth say that they are able to make ends meet financially, compared with 71% of the whites who were interviewed. Although they are personally more concerned with education, work and money than other young people, they are markedly more pessimistic (57% v. 79% for whites) about future opportunities.

Among the veterans, alcohol, drug use and unemployment were found to be twice as high as among nonveterans, and only 50% of the veterans (v. 74% of the others) say that "things are going well" in their personal lives.

*The Edna McConnell Clark, Hazen and Mellon foundations, the JDR Third Fund and the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Iraq, permanently under attack

The violence and deadly attacks are back in Iraq. The age of the fedayins is decreasing and the victims are randomly among kids, various religious groups, normal Iraqi unfortunate to be on the streets. According to AP, on November 10 at least 4,193 members of the U.S. military have died in the Iraq war since it began in March 2003. By the end of the year, the Iraqi parliament have to take the final decision allowing US troops to stay for three more years in the country. On the other side, everything is depending upon the strategical moves to be made at the White House. During the electoral campaign, Barack Obama announced it will withdraw the US troops from Iraq in 16 months after taking office, move apparently backed by Iraqi officials as well. As the violences on the ground are entering a new phase it is problematic how prepared are the local forces to face such a situation, and also how threatening for the regional stability is an Iraq still lacking normal institutions for the basic life of a state.

End of WWI, 90 years after

World leaders marked today the 90th anniversary of the end of WWI. Verdun was the site of the longest lasting and of the costiest battle between France and Germany in 1916. France and Germany confronted again during WWII. After the end of the war, beginning of 1950, Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman launched the process of the Franco-German reconciliation which continued in the coming decades, even sometimes by small and unsure steps. In 2007, the first volume of a common Franco-German history textbook was published, being followed in April 2008 by a second one. At the end of almost 100 years, history was successfully, because found an alternative present and future.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Elections after elections in Israel

The Israeli prime-minister Ehud Olmert concedes today that Israel should go back to 1967 borders. In Jerusalem will take place tomorrow mayoral elections, the results being very important for the next negotiations regarding the status of the town. Likely at the end of next January, they will be held parliamentary elections in Israel. With a new administration at the White House, it would take probably half a year to reach a certain normality in the dialogue regarding the possibility of peace agreements.

Who rules Iran?

As usual in the Mideast, they are at least two answers at this basic question:

EU and Russia are preparing for Nice Summit

EU and Russia are expected to relaunch the discussions on a partnership pact at the bilateral summit to be held at Nice, this Friday.
The move will be possible after, it seems, a successful work of conviction of Lithuania and Poland, who threatened a couple of days ago to block any kind of dialogue, mainly because the still tense situation from Georgia, where nothing is yet under control. Georgian authorities themselves asked EU to do not resume talks with Russia – suspended since August. As usual, Russians announced officially they will not accept any concessions on Georgia, stating that Moscow is respecting fully the cease-fire agreement. The agenda of the coming summit will be quite full - both on official and unofficial.
The question should be: how efficient and fair is, in fact, a relationship with Russia? EU and NATO in the post-Cold War institutional configuration built bilateral structures, whose great advantage was to discuss matters of common concern. But the last war in Georgia started without a previous consultation of Russia with its euro-atlantic partners. It is not any more the Cold War, NATO and EU included both of them former communist countries, also Soviet countries, among their members. In Moscow, the presidents changed and they are organized elections periodically, but, with the exceptions of the elections results, everything is still not possible to predict at a big extent.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Remembering Kristallnacht – “The first nail in the coffin of European Jewry”

Abraham H. Foxman
Via ynet

For those of us engaged in the fight against anti-Semitism, the commemoration of Kristallnacht which took place 70 years ago on November 9-10, has special meaning. Of course, Kristallnacht is important to remember because it was the moment when it became clear that Nazi hatred of Jews was beyond anything seen before. It is important to remember because there are yet those among us who lived through, witnessed it, and survived it. And it is important to remember because after Kristallnacht, the world no longer had any excuses for not acting against the barbarism of Nazi anti-Semitism.
Most of all, however, Kristallnacht teaches us the most basic lesson about how to view anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred. One could ask the question: if we observe Yom HaShoah every spring, why do we need to have a second commemoration every year on the anniversary of Kristallnacht? The answer, I believe, lies in the different focus. Yom HaShoah speaks to the horror of the murder of six million. It remembers and calls attention to the ultimate brutality that humans are capable of and that the history of anti-Semitism eventually produced. It is about remembering the millions of people whose lives were snuffed out because of hatred. And it reminds us that “Never Again” must be a guiding principle of our lives as Jews
Kristallnacht, on the other hand, is not about the end product of hate but the process. It represents the reality that a Holocaust does not just happen; it has to be prepared, cultivated, acted upon first in small steps, then bigger ones, and finally the biggest. In this sense, Kristallnacht commemoration is not only about remembering the over 90 Jews who were killed, the 30,000 male Jews who were arrested and sent to concentration camps, the over 1,000 synagogues which were torched along with their Torah scrolls and prayer books, and the 7,000 Jewish shops and business that were looted and destroyed.
It is also about how the Holocaust came to pass. It reminds us that the Holocaust couldn’t have happened had there not been 2,000 years of demonization of Jews throughout Europe, as reflected in the Deicide charge and in the scapegoating of Jews as an evil and powerful force. It couldn’t have happened had there not been cynical anti-Semites who produced the infamous forgery The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zionism which gave credibility to the notion of worldwide Jewish satanic power.

Harsh words, no action

Hatred in its most extreme form, like the Holocaust, evolves over time. The challenge is not to wait to stand up until the final stage when it is too late. The time to stand up is during its evolution, indeed as early as possible. Kristallnacht was the moment when the world had to stand up. It didn’t.
There was no doubt from that point on that the Nazis were no longer content to simply strip Jews of their legal rights. Many newspapers and government officials around the world decried the violence and barbarity of Kristallnacht, but few governments were prepared to act.
Franklin Roosevelt condemned the outrages and recalled the US Ambassador from Germany for “consultations,” but any liberalization of America’s tight immigration quotas was, he said, “not in contemplation.” The British cabinet allowed 10,000 Jewish children into Britain from December 1938 to September 1939 in the course of the famous Kindertransport, but refused to allow 21,000 more into Palestine.
Kristallnacht proved the point. The world responded with harsh words and no action. Soon enough, the words themselves echoed empty and hollow. Silence followed. Kristallnacht was the first nail in the coffin of European Jewry.
Kristallnacht commemorations are important for many reasons, including the need to show the world that we must stop hate in its tracks before it leads to the ultimate - a final solution.

Abraham H. Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League and a Holocaust survivor, is the author of "The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control" and "Never Again? The Threat of the New Anti-Semitism"

Plato, Obama and intellectual dreams

Will an intellectual president change a country? In fact, he was elected, so we could think that at least those who choosed him wanted a difference, a "change". So, let's say the "wise" part of the country won this time.
Plato, in the Republic, states :[473d] in our states or those whom we now call our kings and rulers take to the pursuit of philosophy seriously and adequately, and there is a conjunction of these two things, political power and philosophic intelligence, while the motley horde of the natures who at present pursue either apart from the other are compulsorily excluded, there can be no cessation of troubles, dear Glaucon, for our states, nor, I fancy, for the human race either.
(Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vols. 5 & 6 translated by Paul Shorey. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1969)
Would a Cabinet where the ministers are talking each other in Latin or ancient Greek tremendously change the track of American politics? We aren't any more in the time of princes, benefiting of a long-life education focused on preparing them to rule their people. And "princes" are choosed for maximum eight years in office, aknowledging the limits and dangers of (too much or unlimited) human power.
What an "intellectual" president would know is regarding the limits of his power, knowledge and the need to address issues from a critical point of view. Plato held that the perfect society will occur only when kings become philosophers or philosophers are made kings, but in fact the most intelligent kings understood they have to be joined by philosophers, just to offer them arguments and counter-arguments for helping to take - on their own - the most appropriate decision.
Obama and the War on Brains
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF, NY Times, November 9
Barack Obama’s election is a milestone in more than his pigmentation. The second most remarkable thing about his election is that American voters have just picked a president who is an open, out-of-the-closet, practicing intellectual.
Maybe, just maybe, the result will be a step away from the anti-intellectualism that has long been a strain in American life. Smart and educated leadership is no panacea, but we’ve seen recently that the converse — a White House that scorns expertise and shrugs at nuance — doesn’t get very far either.
We can’t solve our educational challenges when, according to polls, Americans are approximately as likely to believe in flying saucers as in evolution, and when one-fifth of Americans believe that the sun orbits the Earth.
Almost half of young Americans said in a 2006 poll that it was not necessary to know the locations of countries where important news was made. That must be a relief to Sarah Palin, who, according to Fox News, didn’t realize that Africa was a continent rather than a country.
Perhaps John Kennedy was the last president who was unapologetic about his intellect and about luring the best minds to his cabinet. More recently, we’ve had some smart and well-educated presidents who scrambled to hide it. Richard Nixon was a self-loathing intellectual, and Bill Clinton camouflaged a fulgent brain behind folksy Arkansas aphorisms about hogs.
As for President Bush, he adopted anti-intellectualism as administration policy, repeatedly rejecting expertise (from Middle East experts, climate scientists and reproductive health specialists). Mr. Bush is smart in the sense of remembering facts and faces, yet I can’t think of anybody I’ve ever interviewed who appeared so uninterested in ideas.
At least since Adlai Stevenson’s campaigns for the presidency in the 1950s, it’s been a disadvantage in American politics to seem too learned. Thoughtfulness is portrayed as wimpishness, and careful deliberation is for sissies. The social critic William Burroughs once bluntly declared that “intellectuals are deviants in the U.S.”
(It doesn’t help that intellectuals are often as full of themselves as of ideas. After one of Stevenson’s high-brow speeches, an admirer yelled out something like, You’ll have the vote of every thinking American! Stevenson is said to have shouted back: That’s not enough. I need a majority!)
Yet times may be changing. How else do we explain the election in 2008 of an Ivy League-educated law professor who has favorite philosophers and poets?
Granted, Mr. Obama may have been protected from accusations of excessive intelligence by his race. That distracted everyone, and as a black man he didn’t fit the stereotype of a pointy-head ivory tower elitist. But it may also be that President Bush has discredited superficiality.
An intellectual is a person interested in ideas and comfortable with complexity. Intellectuals read the classics, even when no one is looking, because they appreciate the lessons of Sophocles and Shakespeare that the world abounds in uncertainties and contradictions, and — President Bush, lend me your ears — that leaders self-destruct when they become too rigid and too intoxicated with the fumes of moral clarity.
(Intellectuals are for real. In contrast, a pedant is a supercilious show-off who drops references to Sophocles and masks his shallowness by using words like “fulgent” and “supercilious.”)
Mr. Obama, unlike most politicians near a microphone, exults in complexity. He doesn’t condescend or oversimplify nearly as much as politicians often do, and he speaks in paragraphs rather than sound bites. Global Language Monitor, which follows linguistic issues, reports that in the final debate, Mr. Obama spoke at a ninth-grade reading level, while John McCain spoke at a seventh-grade level.
As Mr. Obama prepares to take office, I wish I could say that smart people have a great record in power. They don’t. Just think of Emperor Nero, who was one of the most intellectual of ancient rulers — and who also killed his brother, his mother and his pregnant wife; then castrated and married a slave boy who resembled his wife; probably set fire to Rome; and turned Christians into human torches to light his gardens.
James Garfield could simultaneously write Greek with one hand and Latin with the other, Thomas Jefferson was a dazzling scholar and inventor, and John Adams typically carried a book of poetry. Yet all were outclassed by George Washington, who was among the least intellectual of our early presidents.
Yet as Mr. Obama goes to Washington, I’m hopeful that his fertile mind will set a new tone for our country. Maybe someday soon our leaders no longer will have to shuffle in shame when they’re caught with brains in their heads.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Non-accepted behavior is non-accepted

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) are these days in the middle of a huge scandal, involving the well-known Golani Infantry brigade. The actions were hardly condemned and disciplinary measures are expected. Nobody is proud of them, and none of perpetrators would became national heroes.

New leadership in New Zealand

New Zealand is having a new prime-minister, a multimillionaire, former currency trader for Merrill Lynch. Top of the agenda, as everywhere in the world these days: the economic crisis.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The digital White House

The 2.0 style which significantly contributed to Obama's victory will reshape the daily way of doing business at the White House. Its tremendous success is already a matter of study for other countries and a lesson learned for the Republican Party.

Communications are very important in mapping any kind of political and institutional approach. The rapid development of 2.0 tools offers practically an infinite possibilities of combinations, in order to reach properly your audience.

But a right balance between on- and off-line politics still should kept. Just communicating without building long-term coherent policies - to do not be permanently according to the changing mood of a virtual community - could be damaging for democracy in itself. The core values of democracies remain the same, whatever the circumstances, and the new media opportunities offer nothing more, nothing less than better ways to achieve it.

News from the other world

They are still many places in the world where isolation and ignorance, fear and violence are the basic ingredients of the daily life. We are aware of their existence randomly, as the access of the foreign media is strictly prohibited, and the information is exclusively released by censorship and biased channels. Took for example North Korea, four weeks ago took off of a terrorist list by US. The Pyongyang authorities released these days exclusive coverage of the last activities of Kim Jong-il – who, among other things, “attended a concert where a state choir and opera groups performs numbers like “’Please Receive Our Salute’!” – being “healthy and in control”. ( )
In Cuba, Brazilian president Lula de Silva met Fidel Castro, who, we are assured is “very lucid and active”. (
Lybian leader Moammar Ghaddafi met in Belarus his counterpart Aleksandr Lukashenko ( Mid-October, EU ministers decided to lift, for six months only, the travel ban imposed to Lukashenko and another 41 associates, following 2006 presidential elections, judged not in compliance with the international norms. Their assets are still frozen.(

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The single European gas market versus "Gazprom diplomacy"

Only a single European gas market could counter the use and misuse by Russia of the "Gazprom diplomacy", according to the most recent report of the European Council on Foreign Relations. Russia, outlines Pierre Noel, the author of the analysis, is using gas to divide and weaken Europe politically. Former communist and soviet countries, now EU members, are pledging for a more political approach of the relationship with Russia, considering this relationship with Russia is increasing their insecurity. Germany and Italy are sharing more of the half of the all Russian gas consumed in the EU. France is on the third place, but less than half of the Italian total and only a quarter of the German.
In fact, Russia does not have a monopolistic stranglehold over Europe. Its share of EU gas imports has roughly been halved since 1980, from 80% to 42%. Russian gas represents only 6.5% of the EU's primary energy supply, essentially unchanged in twenty years. And dependence is unlikely to start growing soon as Gazprom is not in a position to increase its exports to Europe significantly. By the contrary, even it is controlling the world's largest reserves, it will be difficult to maintain its current supply levels and in the next 15-20 years would face serious problems of supply.
In order to became effective, an integrated European gas market need the full support from the part of Germany and France. It could as well create a broader basis for an united EU foreign policy towards Russia. Among other things, EU should get involved more seriously in assessing the gas security situation in Central and Eastern European countries and offer accordingly support in developing national actions plans for gas security.
The report is released few days before the release of the EU Strategy Energy Review and the start of the Czech Presidency of the EU, having as one of the main objectives the work on energy security and the next EU-Russia Summit.
Link to the full report:
Pierre Noel can be reached for comment at, or 0044 7506 568 705
See also:
The Energy Policy for Europe, adopted at the European Council of March 2007 -
Council Directive 2004/67/EC of 26 April 2004 concerning measures to safeguard security of natural gas supply -
The Energy Charter Treaty -

China, business as usual

For the first time in 60 years, a high ranking Chinese official, Chen Yunlin, in charge of Taiwan affairs, set the feet in Taiwan, meeting the president Ma Ying-jeou

The event it’s the last from a long list of intensified contacts, in the first half of this year, leading to the opening of the first regular, direct flight from mainland China to Taiwan, in July ( While the potential towards supporting this opening in the relations across the straits is increasing, Taiwan’s aims to get more international space of manoeuvre continue to be hard to estimate (

But, in fact, China don’t have what to negotiate and why. The economic opportunities offered, the cheep labour force, the geopolitical positioning – to name only a few of them - are offering to China a series of key-advantages in the relationships of any kind with the Western democracies.

And, apparently neither the high level of corruption, a serious warning regarding the healthy economic relationship any Western investors will have to develop with the Chinese authorities - , nor the disturbing level of human rights violations ( are a reason enough to continue “business as usual”. Shortly before the outburst of the most violent anti-China protests from Tibet in the last 20 years, the US removed it from the list of top ten human rights violators and the Olympic Games were held as scheduled this year in Beijing, despite a worldwide protest. Tibet continue to be a matter of international concern, but the access of the international media in the area is strictly limited and the information are completely biased and it is hard to believe the situation will change in a foreseeable future. (

See also:

Relations between China and Taiwan

Relations between China and Tibet

The fast transition

One day after, Obama’s aides continued their work, picking up the first nominees of his Cabinet. The democratic transition, lasting from November 4 to January 20 2009, is involving various aspects, from the details of resettlement of the presidential family to Washington D.C., to the enormous time pressure to be ready to assume full responsibilities as soon as possible.
The two big important questions are who would lead the foreign policy and the defence?

The international reactions following Obama’s victory varied from warm to polite and most part of the messages stressed the need for a change in the way of addressing America’s foreign presence in the world.
Bush successive administrations put in practice various programs of public diplomacy, none of them fully successful, because being permanently counter-weighted by an often contradictory political positioning in foreign affairs. The Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Karen Hughes, started her job in 2005 with, at least in words, a very promising mandate. But, public diplomacy is only part of the overall representation of the system of values of a country. Its aim is to find the most appropriate language in order to make your messages understood by the addressed audience. Cynthia Schneider, Distinguished Professor in the Practice of Diplomacy at Georgetown University, made recently a very interesting evaluation of the current image deficit of America across the world and of what have to be done by the future administration in this respect. In a lecture delivered at the Center for International and Regional Studies, Schneider stressed the need for a “re-examination” of the way in which US is representing its values in the world. Closing Guantanamo Bay – a decision considered necessary also by five former US Secretaries of State, from both Republican and Democratic administrations it's one step, quite important in the process of restoring the image of United States abroad, but which might be followed by a comprehensive approach of the mutual understanding and respect.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

US Elections - The need for a new beginning. But not any kind of beginning

The US elections are over now, and Barack Hussein Obama will be the next 44 president of the United States of America. According to last estimations, his administration - to sworn in at the end of January 2009 - could count too on a secure majority of Democrats in both Senate and the House .

The lessons of the last two years of campaigning are still to be learned, with many interesting conclusions regarding the new style of politics in the era of global communications, in a world of permanent and unexpected changes (as was the case of the recent economic crisis, predictable, but impossible to estimate the very moment of bursting out). Obama created a huge mobilization of voters, putting at work the unknown power by now of social networks, as Facebook or Twitter or whatever any mean useful to reach the most isolated voter. The effects, advantages and disadvantages of the new trends of personalized politics are not fully evaluated, but, for sure, the overwhelming success of Obama it's a matter of preoccupation and analysis for many countries over the world confronted with coming elections .

In the discourses held shortly after the announcement of the first results, both Obama and McCain stressed the need to get over partisan lines and tackle together the long, long list of issues on the domestic and external agenda.

Former secretary of state in Clinton administration, Madeleine Albright, published today a letter to the new elected president stressing the emergency to the Obama administration to offer a comprehensive approach to the challenges facing nowadays America. The final paragraph of her opinion is extremely inspiring and doesn't concern exclusively the successful Democrats, but the whole spectrum of politicians in Washington D.C., with lessons to be drawn by the Republicans as well:

"To justify our confidence in you, you must show confidence in us. End the politics of fear. Treat us like adults. Help us to understand people from distant lands and cultures. Challenge us to work together. Remind us that America’s finest hours have come not from dominating others but from inspiring people everywhere to seek the best in themselves".

In today's NY Times, Thomas L. Friedman is writing a very good opinion stressing the historical moment in US contemporary history and the hard tasks ahead.

Indeed, it is a new beginning and the pressure of the huge expectations impose very much details and focus in projecting the future, not only for America, but for the fate of democracy as well.

Finishing Our Work

And so it came to pass that on Nov. 4, 2008, shortly after 11 p.m. Eastern time, the American Civil War ended, as a black man — Barack Hussein Obama — won enough electoral votes to become president of the United States.
A civil war that, in many ways, began at Bull Run, Virginia, on July 21, 1861, ended 147 years later via a ballot box in the very same state. For nothing more symbolically illustrated the final chapter of America’s Civil War than the fact that the Commonwealth of Virginia — the state that once exalted slavery and whose secession from the Union in 1861 gave the Confederacy both strategic weight and its commanding general — voted Democratic, thus assuring that Barack Obama would become the 44th president of the United States.
This moment was necessary, for despite a century of civil rights legislation, judicial interventions and social activism — despite Brown v. Board of Education, Martin Luther King’s I-have-a-dream crusade and the 1964 Civil Rights Act — the Civil War could never truly be said to have ended until America’s white majority actually elected an African-American as president.
That is what happened Tuesday night and that is why we awake this morning to a different country. The struggle for equal rights is far from over, but we start afresh now from a whole new baseline. Let every child and every citizen and every new immigrant know that from this day forward everything really is possible in America.
How did Obama pull it off? To be sure, it probably took a once-in-a-century economic crisis to get enough white people to vote for a black man. And to be sure, Obama’s better organization, calm manner, mellifluous speaking style and unthreatening message of “change” all served him well.
But there also may have been something of a “Buffett effect” that countered the supposed “Bradley effect” — white voters telling pollsters they’d vote for Obama but then voting for the white guy. The Buffett effect was just the opposite. It was white conservatives telling the guys in the men’s grill at the country club that they were voting for John McCain, but then quietly going into the booth and voting for Obama, even though they knew it would mean higher taxes.
Why? Some did it because they sensed how inspired and hopeful their kids were about an Obama presidency, and they not only didn’t want to dash those hopes, they secretly wanted to share them. Others intuitively embraced Warren Buffett’s view that if you are rich and successful today, it is first and foremost because you were lucky enough to be born in America at this time — and never forget that. So, we need to get back to fixing our country — we need a president who can unify us for nation-building at home.
And somewhere they also knew that after the abysmal performance of the Bush team, there had to be consequences for the Republican Party. Electing McCain now would have, in some way, meant rewarding incompetence. It would have made a mockery of accountability in government and unleashed a wave of cynicism in America that would have been deeply corrosive.
Obama will always be our first black president. But can he be one of our few great presidents? He is going to have his chance because our greatest presidents are those who assumed the office at some of our darkest hours and at the bottom of some of our deepest holes.
“Taking office at a time of crisis doesn’t guarantee greatness, but it can be an occasion for it,” argued the Harvard University political philosopher Michael Sandel. “That was certainly the case with Lincoln, F.D.R. and Truman.” Part of F.D.R.’s greatness, though, “was that he gradually wove a new governing political philosophy — the New Deal — out of the rubble and political disarray of the economic depression he inherited.” Obama will need to do the same, but these things take time.
“F.D.R. did not run on the New Deal in 1932,” said Sandel. “He ran on balancing the budget. Like Obama, he did not take office with a clearly articulated governing philosophy. He arrived with a confident, activist spirit and experimented. Not until 1936 did we have a presidential campaign about the New Deal. What Obama’s equivalent will be, even he doesn’t know. It will emerge as he grapples with the economy, energy and America’s role in the world. These challenges are so great that he will only succeed if he is able to articulate a new politics of the common good.”
Bush & Co. did not believe that government could be an instrument of the common good. They neutered their cabinet secretaries and appointed hacks to big jobs. For them, pursuit of the common good was all about pursuit of individual self-interest. Voters rebelled against that. But there was also a rebellion against a traditional Democratic version of the common good — that it is simply the sum of all interest groups clamoring for their share.
“In this election, the American public rejected these narrow notions of the common good,” argued Sandel. “Most people now accept that unfettered markets don’t serve the public good. Markets generate abundance, but they can also breed excessive insecurity and risk. Even before the financial meltdown, we’ve seen a massive shift of risk from corporations to the individual. Obama will have to reinvent government as an instrument of the common good — to regulate markets, to protect citizens against the risks of unemployment and ill health, to invest in energy independence.”
But a new politics of the common good can’t be only about government and markets. “It must also be about a new patriotism — about what it means to be a citizen,” said Sandel. “This is the deepest chord Obama’s campaign evoked. The biggest applause line in his stump speech was the one that said every American will have a chance to go to college provided he or she performs a period of national service — in the military, in the Peace Corps or in the community. Obama’s campaign tapped a dormant civic idealism, a hunger among Americans to serve a cause greater than themselves, a yearning to be citizens again.”
None of this will be easy. But my gut tells me that of all the changes that will be ushered in by an Obama presidency, breaking with our racial past may turn out to be the least of them. There is just so much work to be done. The Civil War is over. Let reconstruction begin.