Tag Archives: india

What good does it do?

Rhetorically, there were a number of moments in last night’s debate that seem to have captured parts of the liberal imagination. Hillary Clinton appealed to a basic right to bodily autonomy and to make that right accessible with support for Planned Parenthood and related medical providers. Bernie Sanders unequivocally declared that Black Lives Matter. Martin O’Malley almost captured something similar by stating that bigotry had no room in the Democratic Party, but Jim Webb’s own comments throughout the night called that belief in such a categorical progressiveness into question. Even in that case, Webb’s presence highlighted his out-of-place status in the broader Democratic Party. As Jamelle Bouie put it:

In short, Webb being there only underscored the stated commitments to addressing racial, gendered, and other inequalities. There aren’t really any Dixiecrats anymore. This is what the Democratic Party has become.

So with a tight field of candidates largely competing to be a presidential nominee who could advance that sort of US self image at the highest level in the country, what’s not to love? The Democratic Party has won the popular vote five out of six times in the most recent elections (which translated into four uncontested wins). The Reagan Revolution seems to have been more of a momentary happenstance of White Flight from the Democratic Party that could make the White House an insurmountable Republican fortress.

While White people continue to be a majority of residents of the US, and disproportionately represented in electoral registration and participation, enough didn’t flee the Democratic Party that they and a growing number of voters of color can be a surprisingly effective electoral coalition. It’s tempered by all of the problems inherent in national coalitions – it’s slow-moving, continually renegotiated, and subject to limited radical action – yet it can at least promise to get a lot done and seemingly mean it.

Part of the implied problem there is that there are limits to what any political party can do. Almost by definition, they operate within a standard political process. The closest thing to an alternative are parties like Sinn Féin or historically India’s Congress Party, which are political branches of counter-state forces. The Democratic Party’s origins are rather different from that sort of an organization, and the type of imperial conditions that encourage those types of political parties haven’t existed in the US for several centuries. In the absence of that, a mainstream, gradualist policy-tinkering has become the order of the day.

Even that however is difficult for Democrats to enact on a national scale as the brief window in 2009-2011 showed. As a Party, they held the presidency and majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Healthcare reform debates choked out almost every other reform issue, leaving us with the current situation in which many hallmarks of the Bush era linger – most obviously widespread warfare, indefinite detention centers, and mass surveillance. Deportation actions increased, Guantánamo remains open, and we’re using drones more than ever. Weren’t the Democrats interested in ending all of that? Weren’t there great flowery statements in debates and elsewhere on the campaign trail against those exact things?

There’s a number of other, less intractable factors that could be blamed for that, from fickle Blue Dogs to Filibuster-enabling Joe Lieberman. As much as the Democrats can’t deliver on everything because of the political and electoral system they must work within, there’s also a question of what they can do with a presidency dependent on how well they do in Congress and the states. Tomorrow and later this week I’ll take a look at the prospects of the Democratic Party in down ticket races and what they could potentially make of 2016.

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The year that queer politics imploded

TW: heterosexism, sexism, racism, nativism, deportation, sodomy laws, colonialism

As far as I know, no one else has said this yet, but we need to entirely rethink the way we talk and think about struggling against the social, political, and even economic power that straight people have (or more concisely, heterosexism). The past year has been a startling series of signs of that. Yes, there’s been the longstanding bigotries and attitudes that are unfortunately familiar. The lack of same-gender marriages being recognized in parts of the US making queer/LGBT families uniquely vulnerable to forced separations as a result of either immigration policy and civil suits. Likewise, a person’s sexuality is apparently still proof of their inferiority, and hence the invalidity of their writings and views. More globally, there’s been a dramatic rolling back of queer political rights in first Russia, and now India. There’s some political conversations where heterosexism is talked about as being “over” in some sense, when the reality is that anti-heterosexism politics are still all too necessary.

Just not the kind that we have right now.

Over the past year, the supposedly queer response to the reality that queer couples lack legal protections was often to trivialize what marital recognition means while as previously mentioned the direct link between penalizing cohabitation or actually separating such families with deportation continued to exist. A certain willingness to question whether that or other policies are the best ways of protecting ourselves is of course, important. But that line of thinking about and hopefully for queer people has become a common tool of straight and cisgender commentators – and not just those that seem to be intending to be genuinely mindful, but also those that are more dubious, or those that are outright trying to define what our politics can and should be. This sort of thinking that were originally designed by and for queer people to use to keep our politics healthy have, in short, been hijacked. They’ve been turned into mechanisms that straight and cisgender people now regularly use to police our politics.

The problem is much larger than the increasingly controlling role that straight and cisgender people have sought to have in queer politics over 2013. In short, there’s also the problems that accompany the Dan Savages of the queer communities. Or rather, a very specific queer community that’s near exclusively White and male (among other demographic specifics). The legal reality that marriage for queer White men very seldom means being liberated from the threat of civil suits by controlling former husbands or sperm donors seems to be the reason why that perspective on marriage is rarely offered. The rare references to how marriage eases immigration and can mean the difference between being allowed to stay with your family or deportation and separation are rare because of how unusual it is for that to affect that specific subset of queer people. The “frivolous” focus on marriage is a product of it being talked about as purely a sign of social inclusion and acceptability, which is frankly what it is for the group of queer people who are most visible within the US.

Looking back at 2013, queer politics were on a national (if not international) scale dominated by the concerns of that specific group. There were far more conversations this year about Dan Savage’s misguided (and honestly bizarre) boycott of a vodka company with a Russian name than Masha Alexanderovna Gessen’s experiences at the hands of Russian police. The limited look at what heterosexism is to queer White men (and generally speaking ones that live in the US or Western Europe and so on) is part of what’s given it the appearance of being a hazy mix of nonsensical consumer choices and other issues that seem fundamentally reducible to a specter of heterosexism that could be applied to them (while it is actually being applied to other queer people).

(Taking a momentarily broader look at the recent history of queer politics – it was largely White cis men like Dan Savage that made queer politics something straight and cisgender “allies” could feel comfortable engaging it, while at the same time it seems, they created the impression of it as superficial and “frivolous” which said “allies” can now use to control discussions about more “pertinent” politics. 2013 is merely a hopeful breaking point in this feedback loop that has a longer history.)

Ideally, queer politics don’t have to be that way. We can have conversations about marriage that notice that it’s not merely been a straights-only matter of whose relationships have been recognized, but such a club that was imposed as a part of European colonialism. In some cases, changing those laws can be a part of dismantling the still lingering sexual and gendered aspects of colonial domination. With the recent news of India’s effective reinstitution of sodomy laws, it seems important to note how reporting packaged for Western audiences failed to recall that the law was originally undemocratically instituted by British colonial rulers, while more globally-minded media has put that history front and center.

377 ipc 2
(Meanwhile, protesters in India simply referenced the penal code in question (377) and the decolonization Quit India movement to make their point, from here.)

But that very same dynamic of decolonization played out much earlier in 2013 in New Zealand, where again allies talking about the insubstantial or irrelevant nature of the marriage reforms also reared its head. While a White, cis, straight, male member of their parliament explained his support for the new law in terms of how little he saw it as impacting “the fabric of society”, Louisa Wall, the Maori and lesbian MP who had introduced the law, was honored with flowers from her colleagues and serenaded with a Maori love song by the parliament’s gallery. There’s many ways of understanding what happened in those moments, but it’s hard to deny something important happened there, with an indigenous and queer woman being celebrated in her ancestral language at the heart of the government that colonized her people and previously insisted that it would not recognize any relationship that she had wanted to be in. In short, it was a reclamation of space, and perhaps even power.

It seems like that sort of issue, as New Mexico and Hawaii – both states with large indigenous populations which like the Maori have differently conceptualized relationships and sexuality from their White colonizers – joined the portions of the US that recognize same-gender marriages. That, like many of the other more complicated aspects of marriage and other issues at the forefront of queer political thought at this moment, wasn’t acknowledged much over the course of this year.

A part of breaking the consensus between more enfranchised queer populations and the broader world of straight and cisgender politics that those sorts of reforms are largely window-dressing lies in recognizing those lived experiences and how important those supposedly small changes can be in terms of their personal meaning but also in many cases the political protections they afford people and their families. Many of the little political details that surround queer people in the US began rapidly changing over the course of 2013, but a significant amount of that has been invisible to people who are certain that queer issues are in and of themselves frivolous. We need politics that can, and can respond to those realities.

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Brokering a third way

The elections in India are coming up, and it’s promising to be an interesting one. Polls from this summer suggested that a hung parliament is likely. That’s significant but not a majority of support to either the hyperconservative National Democratic Alliance (NDA, which is dominated by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which is rooted in Partition-era politics) or the centrist United Progressive Alliance (UPA, which is dominated by the Indian National Congress (INC), which grew out of the self rule movement of the early twentieth century). There’s a variety of ways of looking at this, but one that seems worth noting is that perhaps India is moving beyond coalitions built around parties that grew out of what were originally service organizations that were powerfully shaped by political and social forces of a very specific time period that’s passed.

There’s of course the clear possibility that either of those groups can reinvent themselves in what seems to be a new political era that’s emerging. After all, they’ve done that before. The INC had its leader, Indira Gandhi, essentially declare herself something of a dictator in the mid-1970s and now has branded itself as the true progressive force in India politics (while its current President is Indira Gandhi’s daughter-in-law). The BJP has its origins in the murky underworld of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) which planned to assassinate moderate Hindus during Partition (and did assassinate Mohandas Gandhi, yes, that Gandhi) but reinvented itself during Indira Gandhi’s Emergency as a core part of the comparatively pacifist and widely inclusive protest movement that created the modern BJP. If any two parties can effectively weather declining national interest, it’s these two that have already rebuilt themselves several times over.

But with a “mini-general election” for the country’s lower parliamentary house (Lok Sabha) being held in several important states over the course of the next month and a half beginning a week from today, it’s unclear that they can remake themselves in time to maintain governmental control. At first glance the map of district holding regular votes for the Lok Sabha might seem too geographically concentrated to give a very good idea of the political fortunes of the BJP and INC (and hence NDA and UPA coalitions), but that’s precisely the point, actually.

(The elections scheduled before the end of this year are in five states marked in blue.)

The unrepresented South and Center-East overwhelmingly vote for for local parties outside of the BJP-INC rivalry, and are expected to do so in their elections (which will be held in the early spring). Delhi has for the past decade been solidly in INC control, while Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have been the base of the BJP in the north if not the country as a whole for much of that time as well. If any of those three slip out of their current party governments’ control, it’s a powerful sign of how fragile that party (or both) have become.

The remaining two districts aren’t bastions of either party, but are interesting indicators in their own ways. Rajasthan (marked with the red one) is something of a swing state, with lengthy periods of effective rule by the INC and other periods of highly popular BJP dominance. If the INC maintains power there, that’s a significant bargaining chip for them among other parties, but it’s an even more attractive prize for the BJP. A third party victory is unlikely, but it will likely impact third party attitudes.

Mizoram (marked with the red two), on the other hand, is much like many parts of the East and South of India in that there’s a sizable contingent of local parties that oppose both the INC and BJP. It should be interesting to see if Mizo Popular Front, for instance, surges ahead of the INC and gains control. Something similar happened in the neighboring state of Tripura in 1993, and local, unaligned parties have since remained in power. There’s also a small, local election in Tamil Nadu (in the far south), which might be revealing about similar developments there as well, but since it’s an unusual special election as well as local, it’s not necessarily very representative.

In any case, the outcomes in these upcoming elections are expected to be unfavorable to either the UPA or NDA forming a government in 2014. With outside parties already making their limits or requirements for forming a coalition with the UPA clear, we may in fact see the UPA reborn with more socialist and progressive parties joining it, and driving it to the left on economic issues. Not to get too far ahead here, but we might see a huge political change taking place in India soon.

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Myanmar is an unpopulated country

TW: colonialism, neo-colonialism

I’ve been on something of a kick going through past and present reporting by The Economist as of late. More than finding woefully (and probably willfully) myopic looks at rebels in Syria, it’s been a rather varied treasure trove of distilled nonsense. For instance, their coverage of the 2012 US presidential election was woefully naïve, and had eleven states held up as “toss-ups” on November 2, before uploading an updated report on November 7 where they awkwardly admit that Obama won ten of those “toss-ups” (they complain that the popular vote was much closer, but inaccurately report the results as 51 percent Obama when it was closer to 53 percent). Of course, there were all those voices that pointed out that such results shouldn’t have been terribly surprising.

(The gas and oil pipelines being constructed from Kauk Phyu in Myanmar into China, from here.)

Naturally, none of that can compare to discussing Myanmar as a location and not a, well, populated area. Yes, Myanmar has the potential to be an important location for ports where goods would be shipped to and from urban centers in eastern China, Bangkok in Thailand, and even the rather poor territories in northeastern India. At least there’s assertions that the people living in those areas will see increased economic security or opportunities as a result of this, even if there’s no substance to those claims. The various Burmese peoples aren’t mentioned but implied to be in the way between Chinese and Thai consumers and oil imports. How that might jeopardize the trade surrounding Singapore, Malaysia and even Indonesia goes unmentioned and the precise economic impact (other than “trade”) on one of the poorest parts of India isn’t elaborated on.

Given this pattern of discussion where entire populations are erased from consideration, which was a key part of their coverage (if it can even be called that) of Syria, it seems as though The Economist‘s staff needs to be reminded just that certain groups even exist. I thought we could expect more from an internationally-read paper.

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Not just choice, but legitimacy

TW: coercion and restrictions on bodily autonomy, mention of sexual assault

Earlier today, I posted over at Velociriot! about the return of personhood bills in the House and how they threaten the security of nearly any one who could become pregnant in terms of having a right to control biological processes occurring within their own body. I felt like it was particularly important to mention this, however: “In a nutshell, it’s a massive restriction on fertility that both prevents some people (for instance, Mitt Romney’s children) from having children just as much as it forces others (for instance, the approximately 16,000 people in the US each year who are raped and become pregnant) to have children that they do not want.”

The issue of how many people tolerate the existence of such measures is deeper than coerced pregnancy. The ability to independently choose what occurs within one’s body should be a fundamental right, irrespective of sex, gender, race, or sexuality. But almost as readily as powerful institutions restrict people’s ability to avoid pregnancy, others deny them the right alter their own biology towards the goal of creating life. The fear of what will happen if these restrictions are not applied seems more profound than simply mandating certain births, and involve fundamentally distrusting people’s (especially women’s) autonomous decisions about bringing life into this world or not.

(According to the Personhood Bills, these are three different people. So making them with the intent to get pregnant is irresponsible, and if one forms in your body against your wishes, well, get used to it. Image from here.)

Perhaps this is inopportune to say, but much of the popular animus against these provisions clearly comes from a fear that some people are refusing to acknowledge pregnancies than many people would like to terminate. But I think we likely will need a response that’s broader than that, that acknowledges how many women judged as being ethnically inferior have been restricted from bearing children. From India, to Latin America, to Europe, to the US, there’s a consistent pattern of women not only being coercively forced into pregnancy, but also forced away from it.

And while in vitro fertilization is by no means the only way that same-sex couples have children, the fact remains that these measures impact not only the security of some that they will not become pregnant but also complicate others’ desires to become pregnant. Were these bills to actually become law, which seems to be the end game the Republicans are hoping to push us towards as a country, we would face wholesale restrictions on biology that would harm and restrict people who want to control their own bodies, with the harm magnified in the lives of those who are simultaneously lower class, people of color, LGBT*, or women. And that harm comes in broader forms than only forced pregnancy. As pregnancy typically affects women, we seem to be stuck in the same old fears about women’s legitimacy as reporters of their experiences.

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Power rather than merits

TW: brief mention of sexual assault

It’s not great shock that power rather than merits determines what messages are widely disseminated, as several recent articles show. To live in a country with a less democratic government is to have your speech coerced if not outright monitored and controlled. Egypt’s President Morsi is pursuing a policy of rather intently shutting down parodies and satires that appear to reflect poorly on him, namely one extremely popular video satirist who has mocked his overuse of the word love in recent speeches and other mannerisms.

(He hasn’t seemed to consider not giving himself extensive political powers if he doesn’t want to be mocked as power hungry. Photo from here.)

Meanwhile, Chinese officials similarly shot themselves in the foot, as they initially allowed broad coverage of the sexual assault and subsequent death of a 23 year old Indian woman, as that fit into their narrative of India’s form of development as inferior to China’s. As protests erupted across India (TW: sexual assault as “defilement”, some less reasonable than others), however, internet users speaking anonymously asked questions including, “If such things happen in China, will we have a large scale protest?” Searching for articles or coverage on Chinese networks now turns up no results, as the state has now censored discussion of the incident or ensuing protests.

In contrast to those two other examples that have to swim upstream against their own governments, Howard Schultz’s interest in some sort of a deal on the “Fiscal Cliff” didn’t face state-based censorship within the US. But furthermore, it didn’t have to compete on an open market of ideas. As the CEO of Starbucks, he could simply demand that his employees propagate his message, no matter how nonsensical its content or unclear its meaning. So even in many comparatively open and uncensored media markets, what views are represented speak more to the power of those stating them than their own merits or popular appeal.

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The year gendered violence got on everyone’s radar

TW: sexual assault, rape culture, condoning of sexual assault

2012 was the year in which sexual assault, and particularly its gendered dimensions, became something everyone had to acknowledge. And I mean everyone.

There’s a lot of different issues that could be said to have defined the Republican Party during the US’s elections this year. From the racism to the classism, a constant refrain was that those with little deserved even less. Beyond those steps taken by the party, women, particularly if affected by sexual assault or other violence related to their gender, were subject to similarly stupid proposed policies. Jezebel’s Erin Gloria Ryan wrote excellently in August about the fatigue of beginning to lose track of how many horrifying statements about rape and sexual violence had floated around the Republican Party, at times translating into actually disgusting political proposals. The dangers were quite clear: electoral victories by the GOP would legitimize legal decisions that reflected these admitted beliefs. Women voters (especially when young or of color) by and large got that message and sent their own response back.

Blowback against these sort of attitudes was hardly an exclusively American or even first world phenomenon, this year. As allegations surfaced that the new government in Egypt had maintained the prior regime’s use of sexual violence against female protesters to discourage public dissent, there was a clear public outcry. Protesters have since embarked on a campaign to actively shame participants in sexual violence (Egyptian Arabic only, sorry) and to establish procedures to help anyone attacked by the police or others in the public places. Reports of sexual assault in Tahrir have declined since then, but whether a long term solution has been reached remains to be seen.

Indian protester women holding up placard: "Not as a Mother / Not as a Sister / I want my rights as a Human-being"
(One of the countless protests continuing throughout India since mid-December. From here.)

Most recently, however, an especially violent sexual assault in India has mobilized much of the country there. Protests and vigils have held everyone responsible – from parents to the police. New Years celebrations have been dampened or canceled out of some mixture of automatic respect and demanded contemplation of the issue at hand.

Across the world, 2012 seems to have been the year that women made themselves heard when they said that they weren’t going to take it anymore.

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A series of terrible decisions

The fascistic Shiv Sena Party has responded to the request by the local government of Mumbai to disband their impromptu shrine to their recently deceased founder, Bal Thackeray, which was built on public land. Unfortunately, while they’re disbanding the current structure, they appear interested in constructing another, more permanent one simply in another part of the same park. That’s a pretty clear case of not getting the message.

(The current memorial, originally published here.)

Meanwhile, Keralan Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has made it quite clear how he sees the recent Indian decision to allow a greater degree of foreign direct investment in the retail sector, namely from WalMart – as a dramatic fissure between the Indian people and their livelihood on the one hand and the Indian government on the other. As he’s now essentially alleging that WalMart bribed other high level officials, if that’s true, he has a good point about where officials’ interests lie.

In Egypt, President Mohamed Morsi’s effort to consolidate various presidential powers, including freedom from judicial review, appears to have not only backfired politically, but also economically. Reestablishing dictatorial politics appears to be hurting the image of the country, and driving trade away from the Suez Canal and tourism away from its various national sites. Perhaps economic deterioration can succeed where popular protest hasn’t yet been able to? Or can Morsi jump start an Egypt-centered economy and quiet these concerns?

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In Egypt, there’s indications that the liberal coalition forged during the Tahrir Square protests that brought down the military regime almost two years ago is being tested against a new force: the more than eighty year old Muslim Brotherhood. The question being asked now is if democratic activists have the same sort of upper hand against the increasingly authoritarian Morsi presidency that they did against Mubarak.

(Pro-Morsi and anti-Morsi protesters have clashed with each other and police in recent days throughout Egypt. Originally from here.)

In Ghana, a similar test is unfolding. Today’s election is a choice between competing (and somewhat regionally distinct) ideas about how to best invest the growing national wealth from the oil industry – whether in physical infrastructure improvements or mass funding of public education. With the region having recently suffered from numerous recent civil wars, political conflicts, and even a coup, this is a clear test if Ghana’s democracy is more substantive than that of its neighbors.

Finally, India is testing its markets with significant changes to its laws on foreign investment and economic control. Historically cautious of international economic “cooperation” which was a significant component to British colonial dominance in the country, the Indian government has spent the past few decades gradually easing protectionist policies. With this change, a bit of a test is underway to see if protectionism was the reason why many Indians’ standard of living didn’t increase dramatically after independence. As the past years have been fairly inconclusive, with the majority of the benefits of the more “free market” economy going to specific groups, it remains to be seen if more foreign investment solves the problem.

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Billions of people aren’t enough leverage?

The Hindu recently published a rather interesting opinion piece on Chinese foreign policy, that looked over the history of how China has annoyed almost every neighboring country in the past couple of decades, and consequently is feeling a little lonesome. While India is one of those countries, as the two have previously come to blows over a border dispute, a number of different international factors is driving the two to look past those squabbles and focus on the need for joint international action on various issues. Chief among those reasons to unite forces would be climate change.

But the fact that China and India must tactically coordinate in order to influence international policy actually leads to only further questions. Both nations are by far the largest single-state portions of the global population, and the coming decade China is predicted to outpace the United States as the world’s largest economy. While both superstates have per capita wealth that’s dwarfed by the US, Canada, Australia, and much of Western Europe, there’s clearly indications that their economies are actually more stable and in a sense more robust than those of “more developed” countries.

In spite of this, India or China acting independently on the issue of climate change would apparently get nowhere. There’s two potential explanations for that. For one, as individual countries they’re in such completely unique positions that their political views, while influential, fails to connect with the interests of others. Alternatively, their needs are at least somewhat similar to not only each other but many other countries. In spite of that, even when working collectively, their capacity to influence world affairs is disproportionately small. It seems as though both are highly plausible arguments.

For one, a frequently used socio-economic category for countries used since the fall of the Soviet Union and disintegration of the idea of a capitalist first world, socialist second world, and unaligned third world, has been that of BRICS. The steadily more democratic Brazil, ostensibly more open Russia, developing India, increasingly Western-friendly China, and post-apartheid South Africa represented to many analysts a confusing and new national category in the changed global landscape. They were unified by recent indications of growing prosperity and bright political futures in spite of past histories of violent repression and extensive concentration of wealth in a small elite. Likewise, they were all populous regional powers that contained diverse religious and ethnic groups. Occasionally, Mexico and Indonesia would be included within the category as similarly emergent powers.

(The BRICS countries, from here. They contain for approximately 2.9 billion people. If Indonesia and Mexico are included in the same category, they account for 3.3 billion people.)

As negotiations over the original Kyoto Treaty began to become more urgent in the late 1990s and early 2000s, they successfully pushed for the exemption of “less developed countries” (which included all of their categorical members except Russia) from stipulated cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. The economic development of the poorest countries in the world, which to some extent still included the BRICS countries, was understood as an acceptable alternative to stricter environmental protections (especially since most of the historical emissions had been produced in wealthy developed countries).

That said, the classification of Russia as a developed country has led to it pushing for policies more in line with those proposed by Japan, the US, and Canada, rather than India or China. As Al Jazeera’s coverage of the discussions shows, the EU is essentially the lone voice within the “developed world” in even entertaining the idea of a second or additional periods of proposed cuts. India and China have disagreements between each other, and with the coalition of the poorest and most flood-prone countries, but have the beginnings of a consensus among “less developed” countries. The positions of South Africa and Brazil are unmentioned, but it’s unclear why they would disagree with those other nations.

Even assuming that the positions of India and China are unacceptable to their fellow BRICS-type countries, inadequately strict for the most vulnerable nations, and anathema for the developed world aside from the EU, those three collectively are 3 billion people of the planet’s 7 billion. Surely, a few additional millions can be found in places too poor to be considered “developed” and too secure from rising tides to be considered among the most at-risk. Reaching a plurality if not a majority of the world’s population in terms of signatory states to a new treaty is not some unthinkable prospect. But it’s still treated as a long-shot.

The only explanation is that not all countries’ votes count for as much. The treaties are non-binding and there’s not really any clear context for punitive measures for refusing to sign on. So the majority of the population of the “developed” world can burn what we want without a care, even if we number a noticeably minor portion of the world’s people. The oil-rich gulf states (another tiny minority) seem to gladly agree to our right to do that, since they can turn a tidy profit from it.

Not only does climate change spell out a future where your race and class within wealthier countries may determine your security, but the same factors play out across the entire globe. And China and India might be better situated than other nations, but their voices are still devalued in the current debate, even if their nations represent a third of the world.

Edit: I apologize for erroneously calling China the world’s current largest economy in the original published version of this article. I was confused by misleading representations of this argument, that China may have a much larger GDP than largely believed.

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Sometimes it’s really, really bad

TW: censorship, cholera pandemic, sexual assault

The Russian government seems to have implemented a new policy where they destabilize the democratizing opposition movement without publicly shaming trials of resistance figures, which internationally backfired in the case of the Pussy Riot! trial. Instead, they arrest and temporarily detain opposition leaders, then more quietly fine or penalize them with a smaller sentence. The effect is less rhetorical and bombastic but it has made the opposition disjointed and incapable of very effectively criticizing the government.

(Some activists, including Roman Dobrokhotov have been arrested for “swearing in public” when they had taped their mouths shut and held up blank placards to protest state censorship.)

A cholera outbreak in Haïti has nearly reached its third year  after being spurred on by unusually heavy rains. Allegations are surfacing that poor oversight by the UN lead to the accidental reintroduction of the disease to Haïti after more than a century of safety from it. This adds to an already extensive list of grievances for the Haïtian people which can be traced back to the UN’s poor management – which also includes both sexual and physical attacks on local civilians. If the UN is providing basic security and services that the government of Haïti cannot, then they’re doing an astoundingly bad job of it.

In India, public criticism of Bal Thackeray and the Shiv Sena was met with arrests in the first few days after his death. 21 year old Shaheen Dhanda, for instance, only complained that criticism should be socially permissible along with praise for Thackeray, but she and a friend who liked her status were both detained. There’s some public backlash against the arrests brewing, but the situation remains uncertain. Local governments have begun arresting people for criticizing Hindutva, and it’s not clear that that will stop or even just remain at that.

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India is officially a “democracy” now

TW: islamophobic violence, ethnic and caste inequality, class warfare

If you live in one of the countries often referred to as the “West” you might have heard a quick moment on the news or seen a brief article online about the death of Bal Thackeray, an Indian political celebrity and founder of the Shiv Sena party. It’s understandable that few sources based outside of India have reported in much depth on the huge political implications of not only his death but how his life is now being celebrated by many Indians, but a quick look through several Indian sources can help clarify what we’ve all just witnessed: a huge threat to substantive democracy in India.

(Police began extensively patrolling Mumbai after Thackeray’s death on Saturday, which is understandable given his historic threat of mass violence should he be killed or die mysteriously. Thankfully, given that he was 86, no one seems to have viewed this as an assassination. Originally from here.)

Open acknowledgement of that effect is more or less non-existent from the larger papers of India (which have either joined in the whitewashed mourning or decided to criticize only by implication), but scattered reports that have noticed it do exist, including this well-written one which plainly states:

“The Indian media prides itself on its independence, its critical eye, its ability to speak truth to power. Indian celebrities fancy themselves socially responsible intellectuals. Indian politicians routinely remind the world of the glorious vibrancy and dynamism of the ‘world’s largest democracy.’ But neither the conventions of in-house obituary boilerplate nor the pithy wisdom of the tweets emanating from the finest minds in Indian media, celebrityhood, and politics have spoken today in any honest way about Thackeray’s role in one of most disgraceful episodes in the history of independent India–the pogrom against Bombay’s Muslim communities in 1992 and 1993.”

Yes, Thackeray is dead, but before he passed, he managed to gravely threaten that India in all but name. His political history reads like an unending stream of systemic violence: he rallied ethnic Marathis against new-comers to Mumbai, he rallied the vulnerable Mumbaiker middle class against unions, he rallied majoritarian Hindu mobs against Muslim civilians, and most recently he rallied the poor and the lower caste against the too “Western” presumed elites. Thackeray was the kind of man who supposedly was insulted by a fictionalized representation of him that was too moderated and too compassionate towards those he had massacred. Seriously. To be frank, he was a fascist. And his death was publicly mourned en masse yesterday.

I won’t be apocalyptic and claim that this is the decisive victory for India’s soul. In openly and largely uncritically commemorating Thackeray’s death, the Indians involved did not declare definitively that India was not a pluralistic democracy but rather an anti-Pakistan where Hinduism is not only the prevalent religion but the violently state-supported one. They did not effectively declare that India would be a place where allegations of belonging to the wrong ethnicity could threaten someone’s career. They did not establish that politics could only be tolerated provided they accepted brutal class inequality.

But if Indians let these next few days pass without serious conversations about that future which seems to be developing for their nation, then it will only grow more likely, and eventually inevitable. India can still choose a future of equality for its peoples – regardless of religion, cultural practices, ethnicity, class, caste, and every other major social line drawn through the country. It has to be a conscious rejection of the direction their country’s politics have unfortunately begun to drift in, however.

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It’ll get better, but only if you force it

TW: voter suppression

It would be cliché to say that for each eligible voter in the US the past months have led up to a single moment today. Perhaps more accurately, years of experiences have contributed to it. But for a single instant today, whether you cast it in person or they looked over the ballot you sent in weeks ago, what you decided to support counted and mattered (although, it must be said, not necessarily equally). At some point tonight, it will be your moment.

Unless, of course, that didn’t happen. There’s of course the many people, who although eligible voters in this country are for one reason or another unable to vote. For far too many, that choice is theirs alone, but it’s actually hard to say how many fall into that category. The vast majority of countries hold public elections on typically work-free Sundays, with several others also favoring the also often unscheduled Saturday. Among the few nations that favor weekday voting like the United States,  there often are many unusual efforts put into making voting easier in spite of it butting heads with work, school, and other weekly conflicts. In India, people can vote on either Wednesday or Thursday over the course of a four week period, allowing them to plan out when they will vote. In South Korea, although the Election Day is only a single day during the work week, it’s a national holiday.

South Korea ballot countingVoting lines in Mumbai, India, in 2009
(Ballot counting in South Korea and voting in India. Respectively from here and here.)

Having attempted to institute something akin to the system in India with early voting, the US has seen that backfire in many places as the number of hours a given precinct was open would be inadequate for demand.  For whatever reason, our infrastructure is inadequate to allow everyone to vote unless an entire day (and preferably several) of open polls which doesn’t conflict with work or school exists. In short, we need a South Korean-style national holiday to allow voters whose moment doesn’t have the chance to happen to vote in the future. With that in mind I suggest signing this petition for exactly such a solution to be put in place.

Unfortunately, there are many additional complications that can also serve to prevent some one from reaching the polls.  For our society to identify the reason some one couldn’t vote is key, as it will allow us to address the issue and allow more people to vote in the future. So, if you or anyone you know experienced a problem of any sort with voting this year, report it, report it, report it. If you don’t talk about it, no one can help you fix the problem. If the issue goes unresolved, your moment and the voice of potentially many others can’t ever come.

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Learning from history

TW: class warfare, forced relocation

After decades of horrendous environmental policies, Chinese protests based in the city of Ningbo against reckless industrial expansion seem to have reached critical mass and have become capable of shutting down questionable projects. While China didn’t have to go through its own Bhopal Disaster to reach this point, it’s obvious that an environmental price in quality and length of life has been paid by some of the country’s citizens.

57.54% of Ningbo Area waters are severely pollutedMarshes surrounding Ningbo, China
(Although a majority of the surrounding marine environments have been determined to be “severely polluted”, they are not significantly increasing in size, and the area appears relatively healthy. Right image from here, left from here.)

The most recent aid flotilla to the Gaza Strip went on the PR offensive before being seized by Israeli officials. One of the founders of the group that had organized the current effort provided an interview before reaching Gazan waters which specified their goals, their cargo, and responded to multiple likely accusations to justify the seizure of the flotilla. With the famous Turkish flotilla having been subjected to provably false allegations by Israeli officials, this was probably a good way of heading off another such round of “he said, she said” discussion on the aid group.

In Mumbai, there’s the beginning of political organization within the majority of the city’s population which dwells in places labeled as “slums”. Facing forced relocation by the government to make way for urban development, some of the communities in the city are protesting for investment in existing communities, rather than displacement of the poor. Although some areas’ populations have already been forcibly removed and replaced with upper scale housing developments, the political movement is largely anticipatory at this stage. As a result they’re more on their toes than comparable movements in South Africa, which have largely responded to existing mass evictions in working to prevent further displacement or ease transitions.

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Climate change and the class war are nearly engaged at this point

TW: the class war, colonialism, international inequality, pandemic diseases, food insecurity

You’ve probably heard about how Hurricane Sandy has now damaged much of the Mid-Atlantic US coast on a scale unprecedented since modern innovations in meteorology. A small but consistent number of reports have talked about whether, like Katrina, global warming can be seen as a contributing factor in the increased danger to Americans posed by hurricanes. Less frequently, has it been noted that the capacity of the storm to disrupt people’s daily lives including their ability to participate in the upcoming election is uneven. Not only was the damage geographically concentrated, but the impact disproportionately falls on less powerful socio-economic classes. As one opinion piece before the storm hit warned, “If the storm were to make it harder for lower income Americans to participate in the election than middle and upper income Americans (eg, by knocking out public transportation), then we would expect this to hurt the vote for Obama.”

Even scarcer still has been any sort of analysis of how global-warming-enhanced severe weather might unequally impact people on a global scale, where living standards are even more divergent.

(One of the “tent cities” that sprang up after the 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince experiencing flooding as a result of Hurricane Sandy. Originally from here.)

Just as global warming has been connected with more dangerous hurricanes for a while now, the connections between class and vulnerability to climate change have a lengthy history of theorization. At what point though, do we declare a seeming connection? When a hurricane threatens Haïti with starvation and cholera? When dengue fever seasons in India are longer and more severe? It seems impossible to pinpoint the exact turning point where poverty and colonialism give way to climate change and neo-colonialism. It’s often been said that a widespread political response to global warming won’t be produced until after a critical mass of climatological instability is reached. But what if the reality’s more insidious than that? What if we don’t even recognize climatological instability because our attentions are held elsewhere? Or we gloss over climatological processes as a contributing factor to crises?

Are international inequality and global warming tag teaming us already?

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