Author Archives: manueldg82

Document Number Nine

The People’s Republic of China had its seventieth birthday on 1 October. ‘Sheng ri kuai le’ to the world’s biggest and most populous example of … of … well, actually, that sentence is hard to finish. There’s no off-the-shelf description for China’s political and economic system. ‘Socialism with Chinese characteristics’ is the Chinese Communist Party’s preferred term, but the s-word makes an odd fit with a country that is the world’s most important market for luxury goods, has the second largest number of billionaires, stages the world’s biggest one-day shopping event, ‘Singles’ Day’, and is home to the world’s biggest, fastest-expanding, spendiest, most materially aspirational middle class. Look at the UN’s Human Development Index: after seventy years of communist rule, China’s inequality figures are dramatically worse than those of the UK and even the US. Can we call that ‘socialism’?

It’s equally hard to claim China as a triumph of capitalism, given the completeness of state control over most areas of life and the extent of its open interventions in the national economy – capital controls, for instance, are a huge no-no in free-market economics, but are central to the way the CCP runs the biggest economy in the world. This system-with-no-name has been extraordinarily successful, with more than 800 million people raised out of absolute poverty since the 1980s. Growth hasn’t slowed down since the global financial crisis – or, as those cheeky scamps at the CCP tend to call it, the Western financial crisis. While the developed world has been struggling with low to no growth, China has grown by more than six per cent a year and a further eighty million mainly rural citizens have been raised out of absolute poverty since 2012. There is a strong claim that this scale of growth, sustained for such an unprecedented number of people over such a number of years, is the greatest economic achievement in human history.

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Posted by on December 9, 2019 in Asia, Reportages



The real David Attenborough

In the late 1980s, a meeting was convened
at the BBC studios on Whiteladies Road in Bristol. Its participants –
mainly amiable former public schoolboys named Mike – discussed the
imminent retirement of a grey-haired freelancer, who had been working
with the BBC for almost four decades. “We need to think about who is
going to take over from David when this series is finished,” a junior
producer, Mike Gunton, remembered his boss saying. David Attenborough
was nearing 65 and putting the finishing touches to The Trials of Life,
the third of his epic series about the natural world. These programmes
had been broadcast around the globe. They had established a new genre,
perhaps even a new language, of wildlife films. It was a fine legacy.
Now it was time to go.

When Alastair Fothergill became head of the BBC Natural History Unit a
few years later, executives were still worrying over the same question.
director-general asked him to find a new David Attenborough. “I
remember thinking, that’s not very sensible,” said Fothergill. “He has
always been this great oak tree under which it’s been hard for a sapling
to grow.” Today, Mike Gunton has ascended the ranks to become creative
director of the Natural History Unit. He still attends meetings on
Whiteladies Road. But, three decades after the subject was first
broached, finding the next David Attenborough is no longer on the
agenda. “We still haven’t got an answer and I don’t want one,” Gunton
told me.

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Posted by on December 1, 2019 in Reportages



Why We Strike Again

After more than a year of grim scientific projections and growing activism, world leaders and the public alike are increasingly recognizing the severity and urgency of the climate crisis. And yet nothing has been done.

MADRID – For more than a year, children and young people from around the world have been striking for the climate. We launched a movement that defied all expectations, with millions of people lending their voices – and their bodies – to the cause. We did this not because it was our dream, but because we didn’t see anyone else taking action to secure our future. And despite the vocal support we have received from many adults – including some of the world’s most powerful leaders – we still don’t.

Striking is not a choice we relish; we do it because we see no other options. We have watched a string of United Nations climate conferences unfold. Countless negotiations have produced much-hyped but ultimately empty commitments from the world’s governments – the same governments that allow fossil-fuel companies to drill for ever-more oil and gas, and burn away our futures for their profit.

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Posted by on November 29, 2019 in Uncategorized



‘It’s personal here’: southern Iraq ablaze as protests rage

In the southern Iraqi town of al-Shatrah, after canal-side cafes have shed the last of their customers and demonstrators occupying the central market square have dispersed to their homes, an eerie howl from a brass trumpet breaks the uneasy silence.

This is the signal for a group of young men to re-congregate for a night of personal and targeted action: burning the homes of local officials, politicians and militia leaders.

On a bridge over the Gharraf Canal, between outbreaks of chanting, the protesters debate about whose house to target. With the internet cut off, and heavily armed riot police roaming the streets, the young demonstrators here have turned to trumpet calls, an old and trusted way to communicate and organise battle campaigns.

Positioned at different corners in the town’s market, the trumpets – some old brass ones used in weddings and religious festivals, others brightly coloured plastic vuvuzelas – have their own code. A long sound means gather, a staccato burst means disperse.

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Posted by on November 29, 2019 in Middle East



Morales proved in Bolivia that democratic socialism can work – but the people cannot be ignored

Although I am for over a decade a staunch supporter of Evo Morales, I must admit that, after reading about the confusion after Morales’ disputed electoral victory, I was beset by doubts: did he also succumb to the authoritarian temptation, as it happened to so many radical Leftists in power? However, after a day or two, things became clear.

Brandishing a giant leather-bound bible and declaring herself Bolivia’s interim president, Jeanine Añez, the second-vice president of the country’s Senate, declared: “The Bible has returned to the government palace.” She added: “We want to be a democratic tool of inclusion and unity” – and the transitional cabinet sworn into office did not include a single indigenous person.

This tells it all: although the majority of the population of Bolivia are indigenous or mixed, they were till the rise of Morales de facto excluded from political life, reduced to the silent majority. What happened with Morales was the political awakening of this silent majority which did not fit in the network of capitalist relations.

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Posted by on November 29, 2019 in South America



Anti-Iran sentiment at boiling point as Iraqi demonstrators torch consulate and death toll soars

Iran has condemned the burning of its consulate in the Shia holy city of Najaf as Iraqi security forces escalate violence against protesters who increasingly see the Iranian authorities as responsible for the repression.

Anti-government protests that started on 1 October now in large part resemble a general uprising by the Shia majority in southern and central Iraq. The government crackdown has seen at least 350 people killed and 15,000 injured. A further 28 protesters were shot dead, 24 of them in the city of Nasiriya, and 165 were injured overnight.

In Baghdad, four protesters were killed and 22 were wounded, officials said on Thursday.

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Posted by on November 29, 2019 in Middle East



Iran’s ‘only crime is we decided not to fold’

Just in time to shine a light on what’s behind the latest sanctions from Washington, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in a speech at the annual Astana Clubmeeting in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan delivered a searing account of Iran-US relations to a select audience of high-ranking diplomats, former Presidents and analysts.

Zarif was the main speaker in a panel titled “The New Concept of Nuclear Disarmament.” Keeping to a frantic schedule, he rushed in and out of the round table to squeeze in a private conversation with Kazakh First President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

During the panel, moderator Jonathan Granoff, President of the Global Security Institute, managed to keep a Pentagon analyst’s questioning of Zafir from turning into a shouting match.

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Posted by on November 29, 2019 in Middle East



Haiti Is in the Streets

In Haiti, the unrest continues unabated. Only this morning, Haitian street protesters planned to meet up in a vast group, and march on Toussaint L’ouverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince. The social media call to protest (“Operation Airport Lockdown”) included a suggestion that marchers bring “ti chez” or “little chairs” along with them so that once they have taken over the runways, of which there are not many, they can hold a comfortable sit-in for the day. The digital image for the march shows an airplane in flight over a runway, with the motto: “The Only Plane That Will Land is the One That Will Take Away Jovenel,” a reference to Jovenel Moïse, the country’s president, who has become the focus for popular anger and dissatisfaction.

As you watch what’s happening in Haiti today, and read the front-page coverage, it’s important to remember that the massive unrest in the streets is not powered by emotion only. The people you see out there are not thoughtless and they’re not simply angry. There is a logic to what’s happening; there’s a history and so many reasons why. There’s a plan, a hope. There are ideas. There is need and desperation, definitely. But implicit in what’s happening is a rejection of a long-standing system—and a dream of what another Haiti could look like.

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Posted by on November 26, 2019 in South America



The Growing Threat of Water Wars

In 2015, United Nations member states adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, which include an imperative to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.” Yet, in the last four years, matters have deteriorated significantly.

NEW DELHI – The dangers of environmental pollution receive a lot of attention nowadays, particularly in the developing world, and with good reason. Air quality indices are dismal and worsening in many places, with India, in particular, facing an acute public-health emergency. But as serious as the pollution problem is, it must not be allowed to obscure another incipient environmental catastrophe, and potential source of future conflict: lack of access to clean water.

We may live on a “blue planet,” but less than 3% of all of our water is fresh, and much of it is inaccessible (for example, because it is locked in glaciers). Since 1960, the amount of available fresh water per capita has declined by more than half, leaving over 40% of the world’s population facing water stress. By 2030, demand for fresh water will exceed supply by an estimated 40%.

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Posted by on November 26, 2019 in Economy


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Will feminism be a crime in Mohammed bin Salman’s Saudi Arabia?

This week, feminism in Saudi Arabia was declared to be a crime punishable by imprisonment and lashing.

The Saudi state security agency’s video announcement defined feminism as an extremist position, imported from the West to assert that men and women have equal rights in economic, social and political matters.

According to this definition, feminists allegedly aim to eradicate differences between the sexes, abolish marriage and family, and encourage same-sex unions. The Saudi definition lumped feminism in with other forms of “extremism”, including atheism, homosexuality and promiscuity.

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Posted by on November 26, 2019 in Middle East, Uncategorized


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