Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Cape Town’s new masculinity

Wednesday, January 16th, 2019


“Masculinity to me means to be comfortable within yourself in your own skin and to respect others,” said Tumi September, 25. PHOTO/Kyle Weeks/The New York Times

In the queer capital of South Africa, young men are defining themselves through dress.

To cut themselves free of the gender norms fed to them since birth, young South Africans aren’t using sharp edges but rather soft fabrics and turns of phrase. Their fashion and styling choices, as well as the words they use to describe their own bodies, challenge essentialism and the notion that any of our outward characteristics are fixed.

These young South Africans, most visible in urban centers like Cape Town, are playful in the ways they present themselves to the world. They eschew European designer labels manufactured for consumerism in favor of local designers, many of whom have caught the spirit of the moment.

That Cape Town, known as the “Mother City,” has become a front in the war on Western gender roles is somewhat fitting. It’s where the Dutch and, later, the British began their colonization of South Africa in earnest.

Indigenous populations and enslaved people, brought to the city in chains by the Dutch East India Company from as far away as modern-day Indonesia, were stripped not only of their lands, but also their cultural identities. They were robbed — as part of Europe’s so-called civilizing mission — of their history, of how their ancestors distinguished and expressed themselves through style.

Dressing has long been a critical lens for identifying differences across and within cultures. European colonialists in southern Africa used clothing as a boundary marker and an indicator of hierarchy. Today they no longer sport full-bottomed periwigs, replete with curls, but echoes of their black and white Dutch colonial garments, handmade lace collars and tight buckle boots appear in everyday men’s wear.

Colonialism still hangs thick in the Cape Town air. Not even the Cape Doctor, a powerful summer wind thought to relieve the city of pollution, has been able to clear it.

It’s no coincidence that this rebellion against gender and Eurocentrism has been led by queer, trans and gender-nonconforming young people. Their protest is a means of self-preservation.

Citizens of South Africa may be protected by what some have called the most progressive constitution in the world, but, in the streets, this grand piece of paper is too easily blown away by the realities of a country where 67 percent of the population, according to a Human Sciences Research Council report, agrees with this statement: “I think it is disgusting when men dress like women and women dress like men.”

Today in many of the country’s metropolitan areas, men still walk around in European-style suits and ties, as well as closed leather shoes, in the sweltering heat of summer — hardly the picture of utility. Their uniform is a colonial relic, an antiquated symbol of wealth and masculine power that many still buy into.

The rejection of gender norms has been raging for some time all over the world, but there is something distinctly pro-African in the character of Cape Town’s sartorial resistance.

The New York Times for more

Why no outrage over Ecuador’s illegal constituent assembly?

Wednesday, January 16th, 2019


Critics contend that Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno (L) is seeking to reverse the progressive achievements of his leftist predecessor.

Critics contend that Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno (L) is seeking to reverse the progressive achievements of his leftist predecessor. | Photo: Reuters

Critics say Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno is seeking to reverse the progressive achievements of his leftist predecessor and move the country to the right.

“CONAIE and CREO direct the new National Electoral Council,” announces a recent headline in the right-wing Ecuadorean newspaper El Universo.

CONAIE is a self-declared “left” federation representing Indigenous peoples in Ecuador. CREO is the party of the “defeated” right-wing presidential candidate in 2017.

I put “defeated” in quotes because CREO’s electoral defeat – which they stupidly claimed was due to fraud – quickly morphed into a resounding victory as Moreno ruthlessly pushed through CREO’s electoral platform and trashed his own.

Rafael Correa’s left-wing government (2007-2017) delivered major social gains to Ecuador. Like Bolivia under Evo Morales, Ecuador under Correa avoided the macroeconomic blunders made by left governments in Venezuela and Brazil. However, Correa’s party was too naive and relaxed about imposters and opportunists within its ranks (most importantly Lenin Moreno) and for that reason has become another kind of cautionary tale.

Illegally Fired

Ecuador’s National Electoral Council (CNE) was illegally fired this year by Moreno’s handpicked Transitory Council of Citizen Participation (CPCCS-T) – an illegally appointed body that has (illegally, of course, like everything about it) assumed the powers of a constituent assembly.

Correa’s recent op-ed about all of this is very good. Moreno’s CPCCS-T has been used to criminalize Correa’s movement. It is easy to see why creating the CPCCS-T was crucial to doing this. Correa explained:

“Can you imagine a ‘democracy’ in which the president handpicks a council that proceeds to dismiss the Constitutional Court, the Judicial Council which oversees the judiciary, the National Electoral Council, the Attorney General, the ombudsman, and all six major regulators (superintendents)?”

It sparked international scandal when President Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela called for the election of a constituent assembly in 2017. The Venezuelan opposition (backed by the usual suspects: big NGOs, Western media, various governments such as Canada’s that ape the U.S. line on Venezuela) boycotted the vote and refused to run candidates.

Extravagant Praise

Moreno, in contrast, has actually been praised by the likes of Jose Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch for creating the CPCCS-T. No such thing exists in Ecuador’s constitution, and Moreno simply picked its members. Vivanco has singled out the CPCCS-T in particular for extravagant praise.

Telesur for more

Great reads for the New Year

Wednesday, January 16th, 2019


Thousands of books are seen on an 18-meter four-story-high wall at a shopping mall in Xian in northwest China’s Shaanxi province. With so many to pick from, Asia Times has come up for with some recommendations that readers might like to try. PHOTO/AFP

Our editors reveal their best books of the year, from Korea to Hong Kong intrigue, the financial dealings of Southeast Asian militaries, China’s war with India, India’s rich Northeast, the onset of war in Syria, Israel’s PM, and the Siege of Mecca

With 2019 only hours old, Asia Times editors have assembled their picks for the best books to ease you into a successful New Year. The list includes our top reads from 2018 and older publications which have become newly relevant due to unfolding events in our regions.

Northeast Asia

The New Koreans: The Business, History and People of South Korea

By Michael Breen

It may be Asia’s most baffling nation. Korea – rather, the Koreas – exploded on to the world’s mind map only in 1950, but have rarely been off it since, for a range of strategic, political, economic and, more latterly, cultural reasons. Despite ruling the same people, Pyongyang and Seoul have walked radically different paths, resulting in one of the world’s worst post-communist failures and one of its greatest capitalist successes. Yet even within South Korea, in areas as distant as politics, commerce and social culture, matters extend to extremes in ways that defy expectations.

The New Koreans

How to make sense of it all? Michael Breen’s The New Koreans (a follow-up to his earlier The Koreans) provides many answers. It breaks the mold of current Korea-related publishing – dominated by Northern escape narratives or geopolitical analyses – as it concentrates largely, but not exclusively, on the South. 

Blending historical and other data with personal experience and critique, the ex-journalist lays bare multiple national contradictions. He notes that despite the successes of Korean capitalism, the planning for the “economic miracle” was socialistic, and this thinking still permeates. The touchy issue of Japanese colonialism is covered even-handedly: Breen notes that elderly Koreans who lived through the period are less anti-Japanese than those who learned about it subsequently.  His discussion of Seoul pre-, mid- and post-war atrocities will give pause for thought to anyone who views the conflict through the prism of “good democrats” vs “bad commies.”

Even long-term Korea watchers will nod at many of Breen’s observations, which extend from the highs of religious belief and business culture to the lows of national defecatory habits. His is a thought-provoking, intelligent work, but one that is laced throughout with humor. Professorial types have sniffed at Breen’s approach, but his marriage of fascinating content with page-turning style make his book a joy to read, elevating it far above academic drudgery. An essential primer for anyone seeking insight into a peninsula that never strays far from global headlines.

Macmillan | 2017 

— Reviewed by Andrew Salmon, Northeast Asia Editor 

South Asia

China’s India War: Collision Course on the
Roof of the World

By Bertil Lintner

China’s india war

In 1962 India suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of China in a border war that lasted nearly two months. Since then, generations of Indians have grown up haunted by the defeat that has not only left its imprint on foreign policy, but also domestic politics. Even now, the ruling far-right Hindutva party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to remind voters that the defeat took place due to the strategic failures of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. 

But the truth of that war has been mired in claims and counterclaims, mostly dominated by a narrative authored by an Anglo-Australian journalist, Neville Maxwell, whose account is supposed to be based on a secret assessment carried out by the Indian Army after the war. Maxwell’s narrative is very sympathetic to China and was acknowledged by the Chinese leadership for decades.

But was the narrative accurate?

Bertil Lintner is an old Asia hand, a senior journalist and a regular contributor to Asia Times. He has now produced China’s India War, a response of sorts to Maxwell, but also a book that uncovers new ground based on extensive research and meticulous sourcing.

Asia Times for more

Bangladesh’s air pollution problem grows, brick by brick

Tuesday, January 15th, 2019


Four-year-old Nayem often plays atop large piles of coal used to fire kilns at a brick factory at the edge of Dhaka, Bangladesh. The chimneys from such factories contribute to some of the worst air pollution in the world.

Though only a small part of the nation’s GDP, brickmaking plays an outsized role in the spread of air pollution — and disease — in Dhaka and beyond.

Making bricks is serious business in Bangladesh. While exact numbers are hard to come by, estimates suggest the industry here employs more than one million people who churn out 23 billion bricks each year at some 7,000 kilns. Demand for bricks, too, is on the rise, following the growth of the construction industry amid an infrastructure boom.

But whatever the dividends those kilns deliver to this rapidly developing country, the thousands of slender, cylindrical chimneys attached to them exact a heavy and offsetting toll. They punctuate the horizon in cities and towns across Bangladesh — including some 1,000 in the suburbs of the nation’s capital, Dhaka — and they contribute mightily to what is considered some of the worst air pollution in the world.

“The air that touches my skin feels extremely dirty,” said university student Scionara Shehry, “so I use a scarf all the time to shield my hair and face from it when I’m on the roads.”

She is far from alone. During the dry season, when brickmaking is going full tilt, dust and smoke from wood- and coal-fired kilns mingle with clouds of pollution rising from trash fires and vehicle engines, hanging over the city like fog. The kiln operations alone — while representing just 1 percent of the country’s GDP — generate nearly 60 percent of the particulate pollution in Dhaka, according to Bangladesh’s Department of Environment (DOE). Many of those kiln operations — including some 530 sites producing more than 2 billion bricks annually in northern Dhaka — are so-called fixed-chimney kilns, which use inefficient technology with little to no pollution controls.

And these represent only the brickmaking businesses that regulators have managed to count. An untold number of other, haphazardly regulated brickmakers churn heavy clouds of smoke and dust skyward each year.

Worldwide, ambient particulate matter ranks as the sixth leading risk factor for premature death, according to the 2018 “State of Global Air” report, produced by the research nonprofit Health Effects Institute in Boston and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle. Those risks are particularly acute in Dhaka, where fine particle pollution like PM2.5 — microscopically small at 2.5 micrometers in diameter or less and a byproduct of combustion — is relentlessly inhaled by residents.

UNDARK for more

Trump vs Mattis: Watch out when men of war come to the rescue

Tuesday, January 15th, 2019

by Robert Fisk

US President Donald Trump (left) and his just fired Secretary of Defense James Matt PHOTO/New York Post

The exiting defence secretary has been presented as the restraining hand tugging at the sleeve of  Trump – the one man who could stop Nero burning Rome

When a general popularly known as James “Mad Dog” Mattis abandons a really mad American president, you know something has fallen off the edge in Washington. Since the Roman empire, formerly loyal military commanders have fled crackpot leaders, and Mattis’s retreat from the White House might have the smell of de Gaulle and Petain about it. 

De Gaulle was confronted by an immensely powerful hero of the people – the Lion of Verdun – who was, in his dotage, about to shrug off the sacred alliance with Britain for Nazi collaboration (for which, I suppose, read Putin’s Russia). The decision was made to have nothing to do with Petain, or what Mattis now refers to as “malign actors”. De Gaulle would lead Free France instead.

Mattis has no such ambitions – not yet, at any rate – although there are plenty of Lavals and Weygands waiting to see if Trump chooses one of them for his next secretary of defence. Besides, history should not grant Trump and Mattis such an epic panorama. 

After all, no Trump tweet could compare with Petain’s 1916 “We’ll get them!” (“on les aura”) slogan, and the dignified, cold and fastidious de Gaulle would never have lent himself to the rant Mattis embarked upon in San Diego in 2005: “You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them. Actually, it’s a lot of fun to fight. You know, it’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right upfront with you, I like brawling.”

And Mattis was happy to “brawl” with the Iranians politically, though equally content to let the Saudis do the fighting for him – in Yemen, at least. In 2017, he chose Saudi Arabia to announce that “everywhere you look if there is trouble in the region, you find Iran.” He even thought that “Iran is not an enemy of Isis”, a statement that demonstrated either ignorance or falsehood. No wonder he later became enamoured of Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman.

But now he has entered a new pantheon. Suddenly the man of war, the US marine general who found it “a hell of a lot of fun” to shoot Afghan misogynists and liked “brawling”, has become a peacemaker. He was the restraining hand tugging at the sleeve of the insane Trump, the one man who could stop Nero burning Rome. He was “the sanest of Trump’s national security team”, according to Paul Waldman in The Washington Post. He was “an island of security”, announced Amos Harel in Israeli newspaper Haaretz

Independent for more

Medicare will be good for everyone — except CEOs

Tuesday, January 15th, 2019
Supporters hold signs as U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks during a health care rally at the 2017 Convention of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee on September 22, 2017 in San Francisco, California. PHOTO/Justin Sullivan/Getty Images


Doug Henwood interviews Robert Pollin

The only people who won’t benefit from Medicare for All are the insurance industry CEOs profiting off people’s pain.

How much will universal health coverage cost? The Mercatus Institute, a Koch-funded free-market think tank at George Mason University, recently put it at $32 trillion over the next decade. That sounds like a lot, but is it?

Well, the study also estimated that the cost was $2 trillion less than it would cost to do just the same thing as we are now — which is surprising considering the source, but much less interesting to mainstream reporters.

But the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts has its own estimates. Its long and rigorous study shows we could cover everyone in the United States with no copays and cut overall health spending by almost a fifth. Lead author Robert Pollin, professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts and co-director of PERI, recently spoke with Doug Henwood for his Jacobin podcast Behind the News. You can subscribe to Behind the News and our other podcasts here.

DH We hear all of these cost estimates on the TV, in the mainstream media that put an enormous price tag on Medicare for All and say we just can’t afford this. This is very misleading, isn’t it?

RP Completely misleading. The fact of the matter is Medicare for All will cost less than what the United States is now paying for health care.

That’s not very hard to accomplish because what we’re paying is exorbitant already. We’re paying about 18 percent of GDP, $3.3 trillion. Other countries at similar development levels such as Germany, France, UK, are paying between 9 percent and 11 percent of GDP for health care.

The difference between us paying 18 percent and them paying 11 percent, in the United States economy, that’s $1.1 trillion. So there’s got to be some number between 18 percent GDP and 11 percent that we can easily hit through establishing Medicare for All.

DH These estimates always double count the actual cost of Medicare for All, because they forget that we would no longer be paying private insurance premiums.

RP Right. So one of the things we did in our study to try to make that point blindingly clear was setting up a financing framework in which the main source of financing will still be business premiums. They are taxes, but they’re still health care premiums. We said, whatever the businesses who cover their workers are paying under the existing system, the day after Medicare for All starts, they just pay 8 percent less. That establishes the point that this system is cheaper than the existing health care system.

Jacobin for more

Beyond GDP

Monday, January 14th, 2019


What we measure affects what we do. If we focus only on material wellbeing – on, say, the production of goods, rather than on health, education, and the environment – we become distorted in the same way that these measures are distorted; we become more materialistic.

Just under ten years ago, the International Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress issued its report, Mismeasuring Our Lives: Why GDP Doesn’t Add Up.The title summed it up: GDP is not a good measure of wellbeing. What we measure affects what we do, and if we measure the wrong thing, we will do the wrong thing. If we focus only on material wellbeing – on, say, the production of goods, rather than on health, education, and the environment – we become distorted in the same way that these measures are distorted; we become more materialistic.

We were more than pleased with the reception of our report, which spurred an international movement of academics, civil society, and governments to construct and employ metrics that reflected a broader conception of wellbeing. The OECD has constructed a Better Life Index, containing a range of metrics that better reflect what constitutes and leads to wellbeing. It also supported a successor to the Commission, the High Level Expert Group on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress. Last week, at the OECD’s sixth World Forum on Statistics, Knowledge, and Policy in Incheon, South Korea, the Group issued its report, Beyond GDP: Measuring What Counts for Economic and Social Performance.

The new report highlights several topics, like trust and insecurity, which had been only briefly addressed by Mismeasuring Our Lives, and explores several others, like inequality and sustainability, more deeply. And it explains how inadequate metrics have led to deficient policies in many areas. Better indicators would have revealed the highly negative and possibly long-lasting effects of the deep post-2008 downturn on productivity and wellbeing, in which case policymakers might not have been so enamored of austerity, which lowered fiscal deficits, but reduced national wealth, properly measured, even more.

Political outcomes in the United States and many other countries in recent years have reflected the state of insecurity in which many ordinary citizens live, and to which GDP pays scant attention. A range of policies focused narrowly on GDP and fiscal prudence has fueled this insecurity. Consider the effects of pension “reforms” that force individuals to bear more risk, or of labor-market “reforms” that, in the name of boosting “flexibility,” weaken workers’ bargaining position by giving employers more freedom to fire them, leading in turn to lower wages and more insecurity. Better metrics would, at the minimum, weigh these costs against the benefits, possibly compelling policymakers to accompany such changes with others that enhance security and equality.

Project Syndicate for more

What Europeans talk about when they talk about Brexit

Monday, January 14th, 2019


IMAGE/Duck Duck Go

Some years ago, a UK tabloid ran a contemptuous article claiming that the majority of Belgians weren’t proud to be Belgian, and that surveys revealed Belgians to be the world’s least patriotic people. Statistics like these make me proud to be Belgian, but they also miss the point, because Belgium is something of an abstraction even to Belgians, whose sense of cultural and linguistic belonging starts at the regional level rather than the national, and where political power lies not with the nation-state but with the regions and provinces.

When people talk of Belgium and Belgians, they need to specify which Belgians. Words like ‘patriotism’, ‘control’ and ‘sovereignty’ mean very different things in a country less than two hundred years old, which was created as a post-national state. Those words, which are batted about ad nauseam in Brexit debates, come pre-packed inside inverted commas in Belgium. Our families and communities, not to mention many of our trees and houses, have longer histories than our country. My family home in Bouillon, on the French border, is decked with photographs of relatives who were born before Belgium was created. There are wooden clogs under the stairs that are older than Belgium. My family is working-class and post-industrial: Walloon first, European second and Belgian third. Their Belgitude, which they celebrate when the ‘diables rouges’ are playing in the World Cup and disdain for royal weddings or the king’s Christmas message, is part of a modular identity, and like so many of the things that define us, they don’t notice it and find it boring to talk about.

When Belgians – whether from the Flemish, the Walloon or the often overlooked German community – watch the Götterdämmerung of ineptocracy that is Brexit, they are baffled but entertained. There may be some well-deserved Schadenfreude as they watch what happens to a country that becomes addicted to fetishising its own nationhood and imbibes too many of the clichés it once produced for export: commonsensical, mild, tolerant people led by pragmatic, cultivated politicians upholding the dignity of their office in the Mother of Parliaments. My cousin points out that the English (and he does say les anglais, not les gallois or les écossais) are the last people to believe those myths. In Scarface, Elvira Hancock (Michelle Pfeiffer) tells Tony Montana (Al Pacino) not to get high on his own supply. Cataclysms like Brexit, and politicians like Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson, are what happens when an entire country gets high on its own supply, but everyone else stopped buying long ago.

I was in Brussels recently, taking my son to watch Anderlecht play, when I heard some English people in a café asking the waiter why no one liked the English. They were nice people asking a genuine question, but often it’s the wrong people who ask the right questions. The waiter replied, politely and in perfect English: ‘We can read your newspapers and watch your television; we hear what your politicians and your journalists say about us.’ That summed it up: all this time we Brits thought we were talking to ourselves, and we were, but everyone else was listening in. Belgians are not surprised by Brexit: it’s just the coagulation as policy of what’s been flowing as attitude for decades.

In the UK things seem to be happening both very fast and very slowly, as if Brexit had created its own durée: every hour there are new crises, new declarations, new denunciations, and yet things are no further advanced than the day after the referendum. I found more preparation for Brexit on Zeebrugge port’s website than I’ve seen, read or heard from British politicians or (most of) the media. Zeebrugge will be ‘entirely Brexit-proof’, the port authority says. The view from Belgium is that the only place that isn’t Brexit-proof is Britain itself.

London Review of Books for more

In ‘Capernaum,’ the chaos of Lebanon from a homeless child’s perspective

Monday, January 14th, 2019


Zain (Zain Al Rafeea) pulls companion Yonas (Boluwatife Treasure Bankole) on a makeshift wagon in the movie Capernaum. PHOTO / Christopher Aoun/Sony Pictures Classics

In one of the first scenes in Capernaum, the camera flies above the slums of Beirut.

There is no sight of the Mediterranean Sea or the glamour of the so-called Paris of the Middle East. This is another side of the Lebanese capital.

“You’re seeing dilapidated buildings, children running around playing with pieces of metals and just whatever they could find on the street, not actual toys,” film critic Nana Asfour said.

The Jury Prize winner at this year’s Cannes Film Festival tells the story of Zain, a streetwise 12-year-old, who flees his abusive parents and later sues them for the “crime” of giving him life. It opens in the U.S. this week, days after earning a Golden Globe nomination and a place on many critics’ best-of lists (including NPR’s).

Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki said the dystopian images in her film are a reflection of Beirut as it is today. It’s also captured in the film’s title.

“Capernaum in French is used usually in French literature to signify chaos, to signify hell, disorder,” she said.

In recent years, Lebanon has taken in more than a million refugees fleeing the war in neighboring Syria. Labaki said the sight of hundreds of children begging on the streets has become the new normal. She still remembers the night that she decided she had to do something.

“I was one day coming back from a party at 1 o’clock in the morning, and I see a mother with her child begging,” she said. “He was almost, like, 2, and he was dozing off and he couldn’t sleep,” she said. “And we were not giving him the right to sleep. And it struck me: Everything that this kid is going to know for the next two, three years is this half-a-meter sidewalk. It’s his only playground.”

Labaki was pregnant at the time.

“How come we got to that point?” she said. “How do we allow for such injustice to happen to the most fragile human beings in our society?”

In an attempt to find answers, Labaki began working on the film as a reporting project with her husband and collaborator, the film composer and musician Khaled Mouzanar. After it became evident that nobody would initially finance the story, the couple mortgaged their home and set out to bring the story to screen.

“We spent four years with all these people in the poorest and darkest places of Beirut, where all these people end up after going on the streets of rich neighborhoods where they are beggars,” Mouzanar said. “They go back to these places where they live, and it is close to hell.”

Labaki said she always knew she wanted to tell the story from a child’s point of view. So she interviewed hundreds of kids living on the streets.

“I used to make it a point at the end of the conversation to ask them: Are you happy to be alive?” she said. “And most of the times the answer was no. They just see themselves as insects, as parasites — some of them used those words. ‘I’m just an insect. I’m just a parasite. I don’t exist. I’m invisible.’ So I wanted to translate this anger.”

Capernaum shows the hunger, suffering and abuse that drove Zain into a courtroom.

“And by suing his parents he’s also suing a system, a whole society that is not allowing him to have his basic rights,” Labaki said.

National Public Radio for more

(Thanks to reader)

Weekend Edition

Friday, January 11th, 2019