Focal Points Blog

Poverty Is the Petri Dish That Grows Ebola

As African healthcare systems collapsed, their health infra-structure decimated by the cuts combined with poor nutritional diet to erode resistance to disease among affected populations. (Photo: EC/ECHO / Jean-Louis Mosser/ Flickr Commons)

As African healthcare systems collapsed, their health infra-structure decimated by the cuts combined with poor nutritional diet to erode resistance to disease among affected populations. (Photo: EC/ECHO / Jean-Louis Mosser/ Flickr Commons)

Cross-posted from View from the Left Bank.

1. It ain’t over by a long shot. Far from it.

Now that the election season in the United States is over, and conservative Republicans and their right-wing talk show hosts on FOX news and the like can no longer stoke up fear on the issue, the West Africa ebola epidemic, which is getting worse, has essentially all but disappeared from the news here in the United States.

It ain’t over by a long shot. Far from it. The most recent news remains troubling. As an NPR news story noted, “New cases continue to rise exponentially.”

According to the latest reports, the ebola virus death toll in West Africa is now approaching 6,600 with an estimated 18,000 people reported cases. After claiming that the virus had been brought under control at least in Liberia and Guinea, now it appears to be gaining strength again in Sierra Leone where the government is reporting more than 100 new cases a day. The latest known outbreak has taken place in the rural areas of Kono, the country’s most eastern province just on the border with Guinea. In the past few days (December 13, 2014) “at least 87 people had died and been hastily buried, often without the precautions needed to stop the corpses from infecting the living”.
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A Lesson from Hong Kong in Pragmatism vs. Liberalism

The goals of the Umbrella Movement did not resonate with much of Hong Kong’s public. (Photo: Pasu Au Yeung / Flickr Commons)

The goals of the Umbrella Movement did not resonate with much of Hong Kong’s public. (Photo: Pasu Au Yeung / Flickr Commons)

While thousands of young elites risked their career future to launch an Occupy Central campaign for democracy (focus on free nomination for government’s chief executive candidateship), more than half of the Hong Kong citizenry disagreed with either their ideals or strategies, and asked them to go home. Such a cleavage has provided an insight for understanding the dynamics of international tensions in the 21st century.

After two university polls showed that 55% and 83% of the respondents said respectively the protests should cease, and a group “collected 1.8 million signatures from citizens (total population 7 million) who want the protest to end” [Note 1], many Western analysts and journalists observed that “the protests have cracked the city in two” and accurately described the polarization as a “generational divide” [Note 2]. 
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A Tale of Two Girls Victimized by the West: Malala and Nabeela

Malala Yousafzai said she was ''heartbroken'' by the Taliban attack at Peshawar that killed 132 children. (Photo: Mark Garten / UN / Flickr Commons)

Malala Yousafzai said she was ”heartbroken” by the Taliban attack at Peshawar that killed 132 children. (Photo: Mark Garten / UN / Flickr Commons)

So Malala Yousafzai recently won the Nobel Peace Prize, and everyone all around the world is singing her praises. Rightfully so.

In fact, Malala’s case is probably the only one wherein all media verticals seem to be in absolute agreement, be it Al Jazeera, or Press TV or even Fox News. That girl deserves praise for her efforts.

However, whilst Ms. Yousafzai was receiving her Nobel Prize, my attention was drawn towards the case of another young girl from Pakistan: Nabeela Rahman. Much like Malala, Nabeela too recently travelled to the Western part of the world, albeit the latter went to USA with an altogether different purpose. 
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China Has a Vested Interest in the Defeat of the Islamic State

The East Turkestan Islamic Movement is an extremist movement founded by Uighurs. (Image: DPA.com)

The East Turkestan Islamic Movement is an extremist movement founded by Uighurs. (Image: DPA.com)

“China’s official policy is of non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs,” reports the Financial Times (behind a paywall). However

Growing economic and strategic interests have tested that policy. China’s navy began escorting ship convoys around the Horn of Africa after Somali piracy threatened oil and ore cargoes. Last year for the first time it contributed troops to a UN peacekeeping operation in Mali. A battalion of 700 Chinese troops is now joining UN Peacekeepers in South Sudan, with a mandate to guard Chinese-invested oilfields there.

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Nuclear Victims, Past and Prospective, Fight Back at Third Conference on Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons

Hiroshima survivor Setsuko Thurlow’s testimony was both a highlight and lowlight of the third Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. (Photo: Dragan Tatic / Flickr Commons)

Hiroshima survivor Setsuko Thurlow’s testimony was a highlight of the third Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. (Photo: Dragan Tatic / Flickr Commons)

Winding up on Dec. 9 in Vienna, the third Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons included representatives from 155 countries, as well as the United Nations and the Red Cross. In the second of her three articles for Open Democracy, Rebecca Johnson wrote: “the conference heard a range of panellists who addressed nuclear doctrine, operations, failures of deterrence in theory and practice, risks, accidents and other human and technological mistakes and nuclear dangers.”
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Rationalizing the Nuclear Weapons Have and Have-Nots Regime

A nuclear warhead. (Photo: Steve Jurveston / Wikimedia Commons)

A nuclear warhead. (Photo: Steve Jurveston / Wikimedia Commons)

Occasionally, I like to surf JStor, the resource for scholaars, for articles about nuclear weapons and disarmament. I found a piece in the May 2007 issue of International Affairs by William Walker titled “Nuclear enlightenment and counter-enlightenment.” Since it’s not germane to the post, we’ll skip explaining what that means. Instead we’ll go straight to this quote: “A highly dangerous absence of political and instrumental mastery accompanied the rapid development and accumulation of nuclear weapons and delivery systems in the early Cold War.” In other words, our technological achievements outstrip our ability to make moral choices about them. Or, perhaps, we just suffer from a blind faith that if we’re able to develop advanced technologies — from nuclear weapons to artificial intelligence — we should certainly be able to develop the ability to manage them. On the face of it, that would seem light years less difficult.
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Watch Out What You Wish For: China Now No. 1 Economy

Just as with the U.S., at times, there’s a house made of cards quality to the Chinese economy.  (Photo of an abandoned construction site: Nico2302 / Flickr Commons)

Just as with the U.S., at times, there’s a house made of cards quality to the Chinese economy. (Photo of an abandoned construction site: Nico2302 / Flickr Commons)

In the January 2014 Vanity Fair, Joseph Stiglitz, the esteemed progressive economist, writes about China’s ascension to the world’s number one economy.

The latest assessment, released last spring, was more contentious and, in some ways, more momentous than those in previous years.

… The source of contention would surprise many Americans, and it says a lot about the differences between China and the U.S.—and about the dangers of projecting onto the Chinese some of our own attitudes. Americans want very much to be No. 1—we enjoy having that status. In contrast, China is not so eager.

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Pity Poor Michael Hayden

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden feels like he’s being treated unfairly in the Senate Intelligence Agency report on torture. (Photo: Kevin Wolf / AP)

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden feels like he’s being treated unfairly in the Senate Intelligence Agency report on torture. (Photo: Kevin Wolf / AP)

In the wake of the release of the “executive summary” of the Senate Intelligence Agency reports on the CIA’s torture program, Michael Hirsh of Politico magazine scored an interview with Michael Hayden, President George W. Bush’s third CIA director. The report alleges that Bush, Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld, and Secretary of State Colin Powell were out of the loop when it came to key details of the “enhanced” — heck, why not just call them value-added? — interrogation programs. Hayden took, um, umbrage at that.

The president personally approved the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah [in 2002]. It’s in his book! … What I can say is that the president never knew where the [black] sites were. That’s the only fact I’m aware that he didn’t know.

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Britain’s “Minimum Credible Nuclear Deterrent” Begs the Question of Who’s Being Deterred

Britain’s Trident submarine fleet has outlived whatever usefulness it might have had as a deterrent. (Photo: Bodger Brooks / Wikimedia)

Britain’s Trident submarine fleet has outlived whatever usefulness it might have had as a deterrent. (Photo: Bodger Brooks / Wikimedia)

One hundred and fifty seven nations got together in the Austrian capital Vienna from December 8-9 for a conference on ‘the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons’. Among the more notable absentees were more than half of the world’s nuclear weapons states (Russia, France, China, Israel, North Korea).

Kudos then to the U.S. and Britain, as well as nuclear outlaws India and Pakistan, for at least turning up. That said, the statement to the conference of the U.K.’s representative, the improbably named Susan le Jeune d’Allegeershecque, was far from positive, at least if you believe in nuclear disarmament. 
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French Assembly Calls on President Hollande to Recognize Palestine Statehood

The French Assemblé Nationale. (Photo: Jean Marc / Flickr Commons)

The French Assemblé Nationale. (Photo: Jean Marc / Flickr Commons)

On 2 December the French Assemblé nationale, the equivalent of the U.S. House of Representatives, adopted a resolution calling on the government of wildly unpopular President François Hollande to recognize Palestine as a state. The vote was presaged by a lengthy speech on the issue by socialist foreign minister and multi-millionaire Laurent Fabius, who declared that France would extend official recognition to Palestine two years hence if talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiations continue to go nowhere (at present they’re not even talking).

The vote in France came on the heels of similar moves by the U.K., Irish, and Spanish legislatures. Most significantly of all, the government of Sweden at the end of October courageously broke ranks with the rest of western Europe and officially recognized Palestine, although the country’s foreign minister observed that the decision might have come ‘too late’ to do much good.
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