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Syria: the regime's war of attrition

The Syrian regime's response to five months of popular uprising was described by a recent report of the International Crisis Group as "slow motion suicide", resulting from a "mix of uninhibited brutality, sectarian manipulation, crude propaganda and grudging concessions".

The regime opted for a survival strategy: responding by violence and threatening the population with chaos and civil war in the event of its demise. The objective was to launch a war of attrition by playing on time to wear out any internal revolt. It chose, however, the wrong combination of brutal repression and gradual concessions. The result was a crisis of confidence which was too deep to be overcome by mere calls for national dialogue and reform.

The death toll is estimated at 2,000 civilian casualties (including more than 100 children), and 400 members of the security services. The situation has now reached a stalemate. Neither side appears to be able to defeat the other. Protests are rallying at major urban and rural centres, including Damascus and Aleppo in the last weeks. Rallies continue in Hama, Homs, Lattakia, the Idlib province, and continue to be met with massive military assaults and house to house arrests. The cities of Homs, Hama and Deir ez-Zor were brutally besieged by the regime's armed forces; hundreds of civilian casualties have fallen since the start of the holy month of Ramadan. In Deir ez-Zor, the regime was met with strong resistance by local tribesmen, including the leading Baqqara tribe who joined the opposition movements.

On July 17, the National Salvation conference held in Istanbul gathered 450 opposition figures who called for civil disobedience throughout the country. Tenets of regime survival quite naively assumed that they would effectively counter the historical meeting held in Damascus on June 27 by prominent opposition figures in the Semiramis Hotel of Damascus. The regime's so-called "national dialogue" conference held on July 10 included a few organic intellectuals and public figures which were carefully selected and summoned to contribute to the process of constitutional amendment and political reform. The strategy was to divide the opposition and maintain the status quo. Dialogue under repression was, however, firmly rejected by the opposition. MORE
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The End of Capitalism and the Wellsprings of Radical Hope

But the iniquity of capitalism goes deeper than its injustice as a political economy, its amoral ingenuity in technical prowess or its rapacious relationship to the natural world. However lissome its face or benign its manner, capitalism compels us to be greedy, callous and petty. It takes what the Greeks called pleonexia—an endless hunger for more and more—and transforms it from a tawdry and dangerous vice into the central virtue of the system. The sanctity of “growth” in capitalist culture stems from this moral alchemy, as does the elevation of market competition into a model of human affairs.

The truth is that people matter more than money. While most everyone would agree with that statement, few of us direct our lives guided by the principle.

Conscripting us into an economic war, capitalism turns us into soldiers of fortune, steeled against casualties and collateral damage, ransacking the earth to fill the shelves and banks with plunder. Capitalism stands condemned most profoundly not by its maldistribution of wealth or its ecological despoliation but by its systematic cultivation of people inclined toward injustice and predation. And I think we on the left need to start dismissing as utterly irrelevant the standard apologetic riposte: the material prosperity and technological achievement generated by capitalist enterprise. No amount of goods can compensate for the damage wrought on human nature by the deliberate nurturance of our vilest qualities. The desecration of the values we claim to hold most dear is the primary reason we should want to abolish, not reinvent, capitalism.MOR

Personally, I'm beginning to agree.
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Our Most Urgent Climate Struggles—And How We Might Win Them

There’s a pickaxe in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming, one of the world’s richest deposits of coal. If we’re going to have any hope ofslowing climate change, that coal—and so all that future carbon dioxide—needs to stay in the ground. In precisely the way we hope Brazil guards the Amazon rainforest, that massive sponge for carbon dioxide absorption, we need to stand sentinel over all that coal.

Geography to the rescue. You still have to get that coal to market, and at the moment, there’s no port capable of handling the huge increase in traffic it would represent.

Doing so, however, would cost someone some money. At current prices the value of that coal may be in the trillions, and that kind of money creates immense pressure. Earlier this year, President Obama signed off on the project, opening a huge chunk of federal land to coal mining. It holds an estimated 750 million tons worth of burnable coal. That’s the equivalent of opening 300 new coal-fired power plants. In other words, we’re talking about staggering amounts of new CO2 heading into the atmosphere to further heat the planet.

Dirty Coal, photo by Rainforest Action Network

Rainforest Action Network activists protest bank financing of dirty coal at Duke Energy's Cliffside coal plant in Cliffside, North Carolina. Much like these demonstrators, citizens all over the U.S. are calling for progressive action toward addressing climate change.

As Eric de Place of the Sightline Institute put it, “That’s more carbon pollution than all the energy—from planes, factories, cars, power plants, etc.—used in an entire year by all 44 nations in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean combined.” Not what you’d expect from a president who came to office promising that his policies would cause the oceans to slow their rise.

But if Obama has admittedly opened the mine gate, it's geography to the rescue. You still have to get that coal to market, and “market” in this case means Asia, where the demand for coal is growing fastest. The easiest and cheapest way to do that—maybe the only way at current prices—is to take it west to the Pacific where, at the moment, there’s no port capable of handling the huge increase in traffic it would represent.

And so a mighty struggle is beginning, with regional groups rising to the occasion. Climate Solutions and other environmentalists of the northwest are moving to block port-expansion plans in Longview and Bellingham, Washington, as well as in Vancouver, British Columbia. Since there are only so many possible harbors that could accommodate the giant freighters needed to move the coal, this might prove a winnable battle, thoughthe power of money that moves the White House is now being brought to bear on county commissions and state houses. Count on this: It will be a titanic fight.



Oct. 21st, 2009 11:22 pm
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Whose truth? Internet vs Trad. Journalism

Against a backdrop of declining media businesses and emerging online media outlets, the internet has altered the balance of power as to who exactly controls the news. Increasingly, it's starting to look like citizens do. It's not just blogs that are providing alternative sources of news, but anyone with a mobile phone and a social media network account.
A recent example in Malaysia was when the 30 Sept 2009 earthquake in Padang, Sumatra, caused tremors and buildings to sway in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya. Instant updates were immediately posted on Twitter and Facebook from people who felt the tremors and had to evacuate their buildings.

The AYM summit showed that these social networking tools have also been used in other parts of the world to mobilise millions to demonstrate and overthrow governments. For example, the Facebook group "One Million voices against the FARC" succeeded in just one month to rally over 12 million people on the streets on 4 Feb 2008 against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The coordinated mass protest took place in 200 cities across 40 countries, making it the largest protest ever against a terrorist organisation. Group founder Oscar Morales told The Nut Graph, "The result today is that FARC has released some kidnapped hostages and members are leaving the group when they realise that they have no more public support."

In Moldova in April 2009, a young reporter named Natalia Morar organised her friends on Twitter to protest against election results which returned the communist government to power. Twitter's reach resulted in thousands more protestors than expected turning up on the streets. The protests forced fresh elections in which the opposition formed the new government.
There were dozens of other inspiring stories from AYM, examples which show that people can define what is news for themselves, even becoming the news in the process. Perhaps the closest Malaysian example is the Bersih rally for electoral reform in November 2007 which was also organised through text messaging and blogs.

Citizen journalists

The violent aftermath of Iran's elections in June 2009 and the monks' protest in Burma in 2007 are but some of the more popular examples of citizen journalists posting video reports on YouTube. When governments crack down on traditional media, or even shut down the internet, what's evident from the Iran and Burma cases is that such efforts are futile.

Iran — protestor holding up pictures of very injured protestors
Protester holds up a photo of a bloodied
protester in Tehran, June 2009
(© Milad Avazbeigi / Flickr)

In a similar vein that illustrates the emergence of competing news sources, newsmakers themselves can break their own versions of an event, and real-time at that. This is what happened during the 7 May 2009 Perak assembly sitting. Assemblypersons inside the chaotic House tweeted their take on the political fracas which culminated in the physical removal of Speaker V Sivakumar, of Pakatan Rakyat, from his chair.

In other instances, Members of Parliament do occasionally tweet on the goings-on inside the Dewan Rakyat. Politicians on the stump in many of the recent nine by-elections also kept followers updated about their movements and opinions as they went about the campaign trail.MORE


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