Focal Points Blog

How Did the Candidates With the Highest Negative Ratings Advance in the Peru Presidential Elections?

Cross-posted from Peru Elections 2011, a Tumblr site of the WOLA Electoral Observation Delegation.

One day after Peru’s elections for president and congress, all indications are that Ollanta Humala and Keiko Fujimori will compete in the June 5 run-off. The question on many people’s minds is why these two candidates made it into the second round, given that they had the highest negative ratings of the leading candidates. Polls prior to Sunday’s election revealed that over 50% of the population said that they would never vote for either candidate. As we’ve noted in previous posts, in Humala’s case, one key factor is that he was the only candidate to offer an alternative to the existing economic model, in a country where a significant portion of the population has not benefited from years of steady economic growth.

More surprising is that the daughter of a former president who fled the country in disgrace after a ten-year regime marred by massive corruption, abuse of power and human rights violations could be this close to the presidency just 11 years later. Moreover, Keiko Fujimori ran on a platform invoking the legacy of her father’s government. Ironically, at her post-election rally Sunday night, supporters did not yell her name, but rather “Chino, Chino, Chino”—a popular nickname for her father. As we noted in our post from Villa El Salvador on election day, some voters supported her precisely because her father’s government “defeated terrorism” and dispensed concrete benefits, such as food, to the rural and urban poor and carried out public work projects in some of the poorest areas of the country. It is important to note, however, that she only increased her traditional base of support by a few percentage points. Her second-place victory is due more the fragmented political field.

Another key factor that has received scant attention is the role of President Alan Garcia. As one person told us, the newspaper headlines today should have been, “Gracias President Garcia.” He explained, “Garcia is responsible for this. He left us Fujimori in 1990 and he could leave us another Fujimori in 2011.” In his five years in government, Garcia has repeatedly allied himself with the Fujimori coalition, he said, “without asking them to account for what they did in the past.” Garcia abandoned efforts to root out official corruption and ensure accountability for those responsible for human rights violations. In short, he legitimized the Fujimoristas. At the same time, none of the other presidential candidates challenged Keiko Fujimori strongly or consistently about her father’s government and its extremely negative impact on Peruvian democracy.

The other major question is how the second round will shake out. It is not a question of simple math. Because voter allegiances are very weak, endorsements by other candidates may not have as much impact as expected. Much depends on the extent to which Humala can strike alliances, primarily with Toledismo, as well as the extent which Keiko Fujimori can convince those who did not vote for her that her government would represent their interests. Another key factor is the extent to which the right will be able mobilize the “fear factor,” invoking the threat that Humala allegedly represents for Peru’s economic stability and his relations with Hugo Chavez.

In the end, many voters will vote in opposition to one candidate or the other, rather than for a candidate they believe strongly in. Humala’s fear factor will weigh heavily with some. But as others told us, “We have doubts about Humala, but we know for certain what we get with Keiko Fujimori.”

Coletta A. Youngers is the Latin America Regional Associate with the International Drug Policy Consortium and a Senior Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). Jo-Marie Burt is an Associate Professor at George Mason University and also a WOLA Senior Fellow.

Confronting the Urge to Urge on the Libyan Intervention

An airstrike is one of the most horrendous phenomena on earth. But were I constitutionally capable of supporting them, I’d find it hard to resist those that the United States and NATO have called in on the Gaddafi regime.

Most progressives reflexively condemn foreign intervention by the United States; the use of armed forces is condoned only in self defense. In effect, though, they’re making common cause with a branch of conservatives — libertarians — not out of their principles of isolationism and respect for sovereign states (also known to libertarians as mind-your-own-business), but because of the United States’ poor track record.

However understandable, that response shuts the door on a room in our psyche. Perhaps I’m just projecting my own childhood trauma, but I think many of us have experienced the desperation of being picked on or bullied. We yearn for someone to intervene and come to your rescue. On a larger scale, no sadder story exists than the rescue that either doesn’t arrive on time or that isn’t even dispatched. In recent years, the classic case is Rwanda.

Because of the perception that she twisted the arm of President Obama to intervene and is considered a shill for humanitarian intervention thinly disguised as imperialism, Samantha Power is out of favor with progressives. But her 2007 book, A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, was an eloquent plea to identify genocide before it happens and prevent it.

Worse from the standpoint of almost the entire political spectrum, the concept of a world government that stands at the ready to dispense armed forces to trouble spots without concerns for state sovereignty doesn’t cause an allergic reaction in me. In a 2008 column for the Financial Times Gideon Rachman acknowledged that world government represents “the kind of ideas that get people reaching for their rifles in America’s talk-radio heartland.” But, he wrote of the European Union:

So could the European model go global? . . . a change in the political atmosphere suggests that “global governance” could come much sooner than that. The financial crisis and climate change are pushing national governments towards global solutions, even in countries such as China and the US that are traditionally fierce guardians of national sovereignty.

Add the imperative to abolish nuclear weapons to the financial crisis and climate change and you have a troika of causes making the case for global government. After all, under what authority do you think we on earth will be living 500 years from now? Sovereign states will be a distant memory. Let’s get on with it.

In fact, once states see the benefits that other states that have cast their lot together are receiving, suddenly state sovereignty loses its luster. Ian Williams explains in a 2009 World Policy Journal article.

Ironically, Albanians, Kosovars, and Serbs — along with all their neighbors in the Balkan cockpit of nationalities — unite in sharing the same overriding ambition. They all desperately want to join the European Union, which would entail them giving up much of the sovereignty that they have been so zealously squabbling over. . . . European Union citizens can live and work anywhere they want within the EU, claim education, healthcare, and welfare benefits — and even vote in many elections. For all those nations, whose working definition of sovereignty seems to include the right, indeed the duty, to harass foreigners at the borders and inside them, this is serious self-denial in the interest of a broader human or economic security.

At first, except for the small detail that I can’t stomach airstrikes, I let my imagination run away with me and fantasized the Libya intervention as a new model for coming to the aid of a people in peril. Predictably, though, a closer look cast some doubt on just how calumnious the villain is and virtuous the beleaguered are. Besides, did the latter truly represent a substantial segment of their country’s people?

At Foreign Policy, Stephen Walt spoke for those who question whether Gaddafi would actually massacre Libyans.

. . . the claim that the United States had to act to prevent Libyan tyrant Muammar al-Qaddafi from slaughtering tens of thousands of innocent civilians in Benghazi does not stand up to even casual scrutiny. Although everyone recognizes that Qaddafi is a brutal ruler, his forces did not conduct deliberate, large-scale massacres in any of the cities he has recaptured, and his violent threats to wreak vengeance on Benghazi were directed at those who continued to resist his rule, not at innocent bystanders. . . . the threat of a bloodbath that would “[stain] the conscience of the world” (as Obama put it) was slight.

But Jon Western‘s response at Duck of Minerva is convincing in its comprehensiveness.

None of us are privy to the specific U.S. intelligence reports on Libya in the run-up to the March 18 Security Council decision, but both the CIA and the State Department now have strong war crimes and mass atrocity analysis units and. . . . we can infer from a number of things that there was a broadly held view (beyond just the views of the “fiery” Samantha Power) that there were real and credible threats to civilians. . . . we have the Arab League warning of serious threats to civilians, the United Nations Security Council has rarely acted as quickly as it did with UNSC Res 1973, and several human rights organizations issued specific warnings. In addition, both the ICRC and Medecins Sans Frontieres . . . issued warnings about the perils to civilian populations.

Furthermore. . . . Retributive politicide are strategies designed during or in the immediate aftermath of political rebellion and are often implemented by regimes when political rebellions have been defeated. We have plenty of cases of this phenomenon such as Sri Lanka, Guatemala, East Timor, Angola, and Sudan.

The selectiveness that the West demonstrated in singling out Libya at the expense of, say, Bahrain was universally commented on. As if we were going to intervene in Bahrain when it hosts our Fifth Fleet. Still, insult was added to injury. At Asia Times Online Pepe Escobar explains.

You invade Bahrain. We take out Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. This, in short, is the essence of a deal struck between the Barack Obama administration and the House of Saud. Two diplomatic sources at the United Nations independently confirmed that Washington, via Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, gave the go-ahead for Saudi Arabia to invade Bahrain and crush the pro-democracy movement in their neighbor in exchange for a “yes” vote by the Arab League for a no-fly zone over Libya – the main rationale that led to United Nations Security Council resolution 1973.

But, many have asked, why should help be withheld from the Libyan people just because the United States turned its back on the protesters in Bahrain? It’s equally as heartless to use U.S. selectivity as a pretext to call for the United States and NATO to stand down on the Libya intervention simply out of principle.

As for whether the Libyan rebels represent the people, judging by the size of their forces, they may not. C.J. Chivers in the New York Times:

The rebel military, as it sometimes called, is not really a military at all. What is visible in battle here is less an organized force than the martial manifestation of a popular uprising. . . . And their numbers are small. Officials in the rebels’ transitional government have provided many different figures, sometimes saying 10,000 or men are under arms in their ranks. But a small fraction actually appear at the front each day — often only a few hundred.

Inevitably, Islamists have muddied the intentions of the rebels by horning in on the action. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Two former Afghan Mujahedeen and a six-year detainee at Guantanamo Bay have stepped to the fore of this city’s military campaign, training new recruits for the front and to protect the city from infiltrators loyal to Col. Moammar Gadhafi. . . . Abdel Hakim al-Hasady, an influential Islamic preacher and high-school teacher who spent five years at a training camp in eastern Afghanistan, oversees the recruitment, training and deployment of about 300 rebel fighters from Darna. . . . Sufyan Ben Qumu, a Libyan army veteran who worked for Osama bin Laden’s holding company in Sudan and later for an al Qaeda-linked charity in Afghanistan, is training many of the city’s rebel recruits.

Also, reports Gareth Porter:

Iraqi intelligence has indications that the original al Qaeda in Iraq network is in the process of leaving the country for Libya.

Perhaps most troubling of all to progressives was the administration’s failure to seek congressional approval and the dangerous precedent that sets. Still, as with withholding assistance because of Washington’s bias against helping the Bahraini protesters, it would have been dogmatic to spurn Libya out of concern that intervening without congressional approval would set a precedent.

In fact, an even more dangerous precedent may have been set. Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett at Race for Iran on those who promote humanitarian intervention for their own purposes:

Above all, they want to establish a robust, international mechanism for humanitarian intervention, and saw the Administration’s response to the Libyan case as critical to this end. . . . Make no mistake — Obama has supplemented the George W. Bush doctrine of “preventive” war with his own doctrine of “preventive” humanitarian intervention. And there are clearly forces in the American body politic — if not within the Obama Administration itself — who would ultimately like to use this as a precedent for eventual action against Iran.

If not familiar with its history, you could be forgiven for wondering how a practice with such a benevolent name as humanitarian intervention got such a bad rap? After all the United Nations mandated the Responsibility to Protect. But, as mentioned earlier, it’s tough to be certain whether those on whose behalf you’re intervening are worthy beneficiaries. In the course of providing its recent history in a nutshell at BBC, Adam Curtis writes that

. . . humanitarian interventionism offers us no political way to judge who it is we are helping in Libya — and thus what the real consequences of our actions might be.

Even if one’s instincts are to help those fighting Gadaffi, it is no longer enough just to see it as a struggle of goodies against baddies. For it is precisely that simplification that has led to unreal fantasies about who we are fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Despite Responsibility to Protect, as long as states are sovereign, intervention will always be difficult to justify. Also, it’s time we realized that airstrikes are not the answer. Though capable of stamping out small forces, such as al Qaeda in Afghanistan, from this commentator’s perspective, their moral horror dictate that they be shelved in favor of — oh, no — the dreaded “boots on the ground.”

A central reason that the use of armed personnel becomes a dead end is because the intervening force allies itself with the force that’s facing extinction. Meanwhile, the concept of fighting terrorism is denounced on the premise that a tactic is not an enemy. But, in these kinds of situations, that’s exactly what’s needed.

The goal is to end the violence, not support a particular force. Then, for their part, should the beneficiaries of your aid themselves become repressive, the interventionnaires must be able to pivot on a dime and turn on them. And once the violence on both sides is quelled, absquatulate*. Of course, easier said than done.

*ab·squat·u·late intr. v. To depart in a hurry; abscond.

Humala and Fujimori Likely to Compete in Second-Round Vote for Peruvian Presidency

Cross-posted from Peru Elections 2011, a Tumblr site of the WOLA Electoral Observation Delegation.

Lima (April 10, 2011)—Transparencia, the election monitoring group, has released its quick count, with 74% of the voting tables counted. The results, with a 1.5% margin of error, are not expected to change, and are similar to the quick count being reported by Ipsos APOYO. The Transparencia results are:

Ollanta Humala 31.3%

Keiko Fujimori 23.2%

Pedro Pablo Kuczynski 18.7%

Alejandro Toledo 15.9%

Luis Castañeda 10%

Humala and Fujimori will now face each other in a second-round vote on June 5. These results reflect the fragmentation of the right and center-right of the Peruvian political system. Interestingly, the combined results of Kuczynski, Toledo and Castañeda—all right or center-right candidates—are almost double the vote received by Fujimori.

While many observers remain stunned at Fujimori’s strong showing, she has consistently polled between 18 and 22 percent in national elections over the past three years. Today’s results are only marginally higher than what is perceived to be the “hard core” of Fujimori supporters.

At the same time, Keiko’s brother, Kenyi Fujimori, appears to have received the highest vote among all members of congress. Fujimori’s coalition Fuerza 2011 will have a large bloc in Congress, including many old faces from her father’s regime. Kenyi Fujimori has already announced that with these results, “the revindication of Fujimorismo has begun.” So too begins a period of extreme polarization in Peruvian politics.

Earlier . . .

Peru Election Update: A View from Villa El Salvador

This morning, members of the WOLA elections observation delegation visited polling sites in Villa El Salvador, a sprawling popular district in Lima’s Southern Cone. Peruvians stood in line across the district to cast their ballot for president and congressional representatives. Transparencia, a respected elections monitoring group, reports no major irregularities to date, though some candidates violated the prohibition on electoral propaganda in the few days just before the vote, particularly in the provinces. Polling companies are expected to emit exit polls shortly after voting stations close at 4:00 p.m. A more reliable quick count will be released by Transparencia some hours later, while the official elections agency, ONPE, is expected to make its first statement at 8:00 p.m.

In our conversations with voters, no single candidate emerged as the obvious victor. However, a significant number indicated their support for the front-runner, Ollanta Humala. People said that he is the only candidate who is addressing two key issues Peruvians are most concerned about: jobs and crime. One elderly woman, a veteran of the left, said, “Every five years we have to go vote. For what? All of the candidates make promises, but after they are elected they don’t deliver. I would be happy if there were jobs, and if there were an eight-hour work day with adequate pay. That would be sufficient for me.” Humala is the only candidate, she said, who is concerned with the poor. The other reason people said they are voting for Humala is because they perceive that he would be tough on crime. His background as a military officer plays into that perception both in Lima and in the provinces.

One 20-year old law student from Villa El Salvador who was voting in presidential elections for the first time said he voted for Toledo, though he noted that many of his friends had been won over by Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. “There’s not much difference between Kuzcynski and Toledo; they are both from the right,” he said. “But Kuzcynski is from the more radical right, and is not sensitive to social issues.” He added that one of the key problems facing Peru today is social conflicts, which he felt Toledo was better prepared to address. His friends, however, are impressed by Kuzcynski’s resume. “He held high posts in the IMF and the World Bank, for example. And he’s seen as different from traditional politicians.”

There is also a strong vote for Keiko Fujimori in Villa El Salvador. One 42-year-old worker from the popular district, who said he was also voting for Toledo, explained that he thought Fujimori is popular among some sectors chiefly because of her father’s legacy. “People aren’t voting for her,” he said, “they are voting for her father.” He said that many women remember that Fujimori gave large quantities of food for the soup kitchens and built lots of public works in the poorest areas of the district. “They are expecting the same should Keiko Fujimori be elected.” Anti-Fujimori sentiment is nevertheless strong in Villa El Salvador because of massive corruption and human rights violations committed during his government.

There are strong rumors in Villa El Salvador and elsewhere that Toledo supporters may be switching their vote at the last minute in favor of Kuzcynski to prevent Fujimori from making it into the second round. Given that last night’s poll by Ipsos APOYO showed only a 1.3 percent difference between Fujimori and Kuzcynski for second place, even a minor shift in voting patterns could place Kuzcynski in the second round against Humala. Either way, the second round vote is shaping up to be highly contentious.

Coletta A. Youngers is the Latin America Regional Associate with the International Drug Policy Consortium and a Senior Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). Jo-Marie Burt is an Associate Professor at George Mason University and also a WOLA Senior Fellow.

Populist Humala, Leading in Peru Presidential Elections, at Mercy of Swing Voters

Cross-posted from Peru Elections 2011, a Tumblr site of the WOLA Electoral Observation Delegation.

The latest poll, taken yesterday, confirms the trends of the past few days of a strong lead for Ollanta Humala, with Keiko Fujimori pulling out slightly ahead of the remaining candidates for second place in Peru’s elections schedule for tomorrow. The poll, taken by Ipsos APOYO, shows Humala at 28.1 percent and Keiko Fujimori at 21.1 percent. Pedro Pablo Kuczynski polls in at 19.9 percent, with Toledo falling to 16.8 percent. These results reflect the valid votes emitted at a simulated vote using paper ballots.

If these results hold, Humala and Fujimori will go to a second round vote on June 5. However, the margin of error is close enough that it is conceivable thatKuczynski could come in second place. In addition, some analysts suggest that Toledo’s supporters may vote for Kuczynski, which could propel him into second place. One reason might be a strategic calculation to prevent Fujimori from making it into the second round. Another analyst told us that some people are rethinking their vote based on a different calculus: “¿por qué subir con el chofer del auto si puedo subir con el dueño del auto?” In other words, why go for a ride with the chauffeur of the car when you can get a ride with the owner? This reflects Kuczynski’s profile as a member of Peru’s transnationalized, wealthy elite.

However, the reality is that these are the most volatile elections in recent Peruvian history. There is still a high percentage of undecided votes, even at this late date. In addition, election analysts told us that up to fifty percent of those approached by pollsters refused to participate in pre-election surveys, and it is quite unclear what this will mean for the results of tomorrow’s elections.

And, many voters are only loosely committed to their preferred candidates. For example, one 30-year old man from Villa El Salvador told us that he was planning to vote for Toledo but had changed his mind because of some declaration Toledo had made the day before. Now, he says, he might vote forKuczynski. Or, on second thought, he might vote for Fujimori.

It is a sad reflection of the current political scenario that Peruvians could conceivably vote into office Keiko Fujimori, someone so closely associated with a past government known for massive corruption, abuse of power, and crimes against humanity.

Coletta A. Youngers is the Latin America Regional Associate with the International Drug Policy Consortium and a Senior Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). Jo-Marie Burt is an Associate Professor at George Mason University and also a WOLA Senior Fellow.

Other Obstacles to Disarmament Exist Besides States Holding on to Nukes

It’s true that Russia seems to feel that it can’t divest itself of many more strategic nuclear weapons (the kind you’re familiar with). In his notes from the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., the Arms Control Association’s Greg Thielmann explains.

The 1000 warhead central limit posited for a New START follow-on agreement by numerous American analysts was also endorsed by Russian participants on two separate Carnegie panels. [But] Sergei Rogov of Russia’s USA and Canada Institute predicted that Russia would be willing to reduce to “something like 1000” in the next round. He said this would be a likely floor for bilateral arms control because of Russia’s concern with maintaining clear superiority over Chinese and other third-party strategic systems.

But

Equally as circumscribing to further disarmament, though, are issues other than strategic nuclear weapons. There was also fresh evidence in the Carnegie discussions . . . that future enhancements of U.S. strategic missile defenses and Russian resistance to tactical nuclear weapons limits threaten to derail further progress. Indeed, [Carnegie Moscow’s] Alexei Arbatov assessed “dim prospects” for a New START follow-on agreement. . . . not because of any problems inherent to a 1000 warhead limit [but] because of the difficulty of resolving the “thorny” issues [such as] missile defense . . . and tactical nuclear weapons.

It’s ironic that ancillary issues tie the hands of nuclear negotiators as much as reducing the numbers of nuclear weapons proper. This is especially the case in light of how laughable those issues are. Everyone knows that missile defense isn’t effective against the warheads of any nuclear state except maybe, on a good day, North Korea’s. As for tactical (scaled down for battlefield use) nukes, does Russia really foresee a time when it will be lighting those suckers off in the middle of a firefight, thus sowing radiation to all, friend or foe?

World Bank Horning Its Way Into UN Fund for Helping Poor Nations Deal With Climate Change

Cross-posted from the IPS blog.

The UN climate talks held in Cancun late last year paved the way for a new Green Climate Fund to channel money for developing countries to build resiliency, protect forests, and bring low-carbon technologies and practices into mainstream use.

That marked a critical victory for developing countries, but the biggest fights have yet to come. In the coming year, a committee of 40 government representatives (25 from developing and 15 from developed countries) will be working furiously with the UN and other institutions, as well as finance, gender, community participation, and other experts, on making this fund a reality. They must do everything from creating a management structure to forging a global definition of “clean energy.”

This ambitious task is meant to result in a Green Climate Fund that can handle the tens, if not hundreds, of billions of dollars a year developing countries will need in the coming decades to combat climate change and at the same time continue their fight against poverty.

It’s fundamentally disturbing, however, that the World Bank — the planet’s leading cheerleader for a growth-without-limits development paradigm — is elbowing its way to the front of the line to help design the new fund, almost guaranteeing itself a permanent role in its management.

More than 90 environment, development, human rights, and anti-debt organizations from around the world conveyed this concern in a letter to the Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the convener of the first fund design meeting.

In the letter, civil society leaders called for strictly limiting the World Bank’s role in the design on the Green Climate Fund for the following reasons:

First and foremost, the World Bank continues to finance dirty coal, oil and gas projects. According to a World Bank Group Energy Sector Financing Update prepared by the Bank Information Center, the global lender supported fossil fuel projects to the tune of $6.6 billion in 2010, a 116 percent increase from the year before. That included $4.4 billion for coal power projects, more than it spent on all new renewable energy and energy efficiency projects combined for the year ($3.4 billion). So while the World Bank is undeniably increasing it renewable energy financing, the volume is still dwarfed by its fossil fuel lending.

Bobby Peek, director of groundWork/Friends of the Earth South Africa, an environmental justice group in Durban, South Africa, that endorsed the NGO letter, noted, “Only a year ago the World Bank made its largest loan ever to dirty energy, signing $3.75 billion over to the Eskom energy company to build a 4,800MW coal-fired power station in South Africa.” He asked, “Is this the institution we want to put in charge funding the solutions to the climate crisis?”

Bank officials say that the Eskom power plant — and similar coal projects in other countries — are important for bringing access to electricity for energy-poor families. But environmentalists and local activists argue that the project will benefit large mines and smelters, not the local community. In fact, in an independent review of the Bank’s 26 fossil fuel loans in 2009 and 2010, Oil Change International found that none of these clearly identify access for the poor as a direct target of the project. The Bank agreed that not a single coal or oil project could be classified as improving energy access.

To the World Bank’s credit, it may be about to change course to a degree. A leaked draft of its new 10-year energy strategy revealed plans to move away from supporting new coal projects in middle-income countries. But environment and development groups argue that the language used in that draft document is riddled with loopholes. The energy plan also includes a massive scale-up of hydropower mega-dams that threaten to displace communities, destroy fisheries, and release their own greenhouse gases.

The Green Climate Fund should remain fully independent from the World Bank. Its design committee should engage experts from UN agencies and all regions of the world. Experts on gender, sustainable development, poverty alleviation, renewable energy and efficiency technologies, indigenous peoples, human rights, and social and environmental safeguards should weigh in, too.

Janet is co-director of the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network, where she provides analysis of the international financial institutions’ energy investment and carbon finance activities.

The Days of Anger: Humiliation, Fear and Dignity in the Middle East

Some will claim that the true, structural causes for these Arab revolts reside in the rising food prices or other objective economic factors. Others will claim it is the new social media. Others again will hail the rising multitude foretold in the West, happening in the Middle East. Who can prove them wrong? But that is not what the street interviewees and commentators tell us: they speak of Anger, of Pride, of Humiliation and Dignity.

In his famous, infamous book on The End of History and the Last Man Fukuyama was harking back to Plato and Hegel to stress how important these affects are in politics. They are sui generis: political moral affects of their own. Egotism and Desire are not the sole factors that determine human behaviour (as both liberal and Marxist ‘paneconomic’ theories have it). His major example is that it is not the economy that played a major role in the movement of Havel and his lot that brought down the totalitarian regimes in Eastern Europe. Thymos, meaning: feeling for justice, honour, anger, pride, dignity, etc. has been a determining factor from the onset.

The self burning of the Tunisian youngster was a thymotic gesture par excellence. One of the highest thinkable forms of it: total defiance, not only for dead, but even for the most painful and cruel of death. A quote from the web: Twenty-six-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi, living in the provincial town of Sidi Bouzid, had a university degree but no work. To earn some money he took to selling fruit and vegetables in the street without a licence. When the authorities stopped him and confiscated his produce, he was so angry that he set himself on fire.” (our emphasis).

This total defiance out of humiliation turning into anger, and anger turning into dignity and defiance has proved contagious: “Rioting followed and security forces sealed off the town. On Wednesday [January 12th], another jobless young man in Sidi Bouzid climbed an electricity pole, shouted “no for misery, no for unemployment”, then touched the wires and electrocuted himself. Tunisia’s president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali has fled his country after weeks of mass protests culminated in a victory for people power over one of the Arab world’s most repressive regimes.”

The jasmine revolution in a nutshell. Mohamed Bouazizi was not a calculating egotistic, economical being, measuring his profit. He just went for it. It is not by incident, that this most powerful of gestures of defiance and indignation has set off a wave of anger that floods the Arab world.

Anger has had some bad press lately in our culture. So much so that we tend to dismiss it. And yet it is this affect that has given its name to these appeals to revolt: ‘Days of Anger’. The Days of Anger have been succeeding one another since January: from Tunisia to Iraq, from Egypt to Yemen, from Oman and Bahrain to Libya to Syria. Was it just a cheap appealing slogan to mobilize? No. It contains a profound truth (philosophical, psychological, political or even psychopolitical as Sloterdijk would call it): he (or she) who is angry has lost all fear.

Anger can be a door to freedom. Freedom is just another word for nothing left to loose. Janis Joplin’s catch phrase explains it all. Human dignity resides in freedom. Therefore he who is free has nothing to lose, he who has nothing to lose is free. Even if anger is not a popular affect in our culture, the philosophical truth is that freedom lies in human nature, that it is in the human nature to desire not only for food and riches, but also for recognition, for honour, and pride. When this longing for dignity and recognition is not met, entire peoples can get angry. And lose fear.

He who loses fear, regains his pride and honour. He who regains his pride and honour has nothing to lose but his freedom. He will defend it with his life if must be. This sequence explains why the words of anger, pride, honour were not out of the air in street interviews and commentaries, and even in slogans: “Here we are, Egyptians, proud again!” read a slogan on Tahrir square quoted on Al Jazeera, on February, 10th at 7 pm local Belgian time. I noted it down for this article.

Why is it so touching, this slogan? Because it touches a deep string in all of us. Freedom is the base of dignity. A slave can be rich and healthy and well (mostly not, mind you), but has no dignity, cannot be proud. For he is not free. Now the people feel sovereign, free to speak and act. This is the biggest empowerment one can get. No bullets will stop this, even airstrikes can’t stop this.

Peter Sloterdijk’s accusations in his book Zorn und Zeit (Anger and Time) against what he calls ‘Anger Big Banks’ is convincing in his case studies, quite devastating in fact: his cases being the church and communism – but wrong in its premises and conclusions. By taking up Fukuyama’s theme and linking it to Nietzchean resentment, he casts an almost solely negative light on anger. The Days of Anger, from Tunisia to Syria, from Egypt to Libya to Yemen, etc. prove him wrong. Anger can be a very positive force in history as the days of anger in the Arab world prove.

A witness from Cairo on February 18th on Skype: “The repression is massive, and will only rise by the days … scary. This era is mad. Full of mixed hope and anxiety, I have this unbreakable smile with eyes filled with tears at times.” Libya is a matter of concern. But whatever Khadafy does, or any other leader in the Middle East for that matter, as somebody said from Tripoli on Al Jazeera (on February 23th): “The wall of fear has fallen, the spring of Arab youth has began.”

And we haven’t seen the end of this. Even China is weary and cracking down on activists – there it is ‘jasmine’ that has been the key word: they censured the word jasmine on the internet – can you imagine? Can you imagine a more innocent word? I can understand (not agree) that authorities censure words like porn, bomb, terrorism, but Yasmine. I mean. I think it is the practical joke of the year. World historically ridiculous. But indeed, the Chinese call their days of anger and protest “jasmine walks”. And indeed: the authorities are wetting their pants. They are scared like hell for this fertile spring breeze blowing from the Mediterranean. Let a thousand flowers bloom. Everywhere Tahrir Square!

Lieven De Cauter is a philosopher, writer and activist. He teaches philosophy of culture (in Leuven, Brussels and Rotterdam). His latest books: The Capsular Civilization. On the City in the Age of Fear (2004) and, as co-editor, Heterotopia and the city (2008); Art and activism in the Age of globalization (2011). He is initiator of the BRussells Tribunal.

How to Break the Deadlock With North Korea

Pyongyang(Pictured: Pyongyang Government Complex, No. 1.)

Relations with North Korea these days are about as cold as they could be. There haven’t been any talks between Washington and Pyongyang for many months. The South Korean government, although it spends a lot of money to store the rice it can’t sell, is not interested in sending humanitarian aid despite the recent UN report that as much as one-quarter of the North Korean population is on the edge of starvation.

Jimmy Carter has announced that he plans to go on what might be called a geopolitical elder hostel to North Korea, along with Kofi Annan, Mary Robinson, Gro Harlem Brundtland, and other former world leaders. They aim to break the deadlock. More power to them. They could pick up a lot of money in speaking fees, just as George W. Bush is doing at the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce later this month, but are instead going on what is certainly nobody’s idea of a junket.

Here’s the problem they’ll face. The United States is looking for some indication that North Korea is willing to deal on its nuclear program. And South Korea wants an apology for the sinking of the Cheonan, a South Korean boat that went down in disputed waters a little over a year ago. But North Korea has denied responsibility for the Cheonan. And, after the attack on Libya, North Korea believes even more in the utility of a nuclear weapons program in deterring foreign intervention.

Can the elders, with their combined 500 years of diplomatic know-how, somehow resolve this problem? It’s going to take more than silver-tongued rhetoric. Both the United States and South Korea are going to have to be ready to show a bit more flexibility. But North Korea, too, will have to bend a little.

One place to start is with an ambiguous statement from Pyongyang that can be read two different ways — as an apology to the South and as a denial of culpability by the North. Here’s an example:

We express great sorrow over the sinking of the Cheonan. We will work with South Korea [or Nam Chosun, as the DPRK refers to the South] and other countries in Northeast Asia to strengthen maritime security, prevent any future naval incidents, and ensure a peaceful and prosperous region.

The Carter delegation represents significant diplomatic firepower. It would be a shame for the elders to run up against the wall of intransigence on all sides. It’s time for some serious face-saving tactics.

Take Part in the Global Day of Action on Military Spending, April 12

GDAMSOn Tuesday, April 12, people in more than 35 countries, as well as Columbus, Dallas, Kansas City and dozens of other cities throughout the United States will participate in the first Global Day of Action on Military Spending.

Actions will include a protest in front of the White House at noon. Other U.S. cities include San Francisco, New York, Boston, Fairbanks, San Juan, and Honolulu (click here for a full list). There will be actions at the United Nations offices in Geneva, a march in Kampala, a demonstration in Dhaka, a women’s peace gathering in Seoul, and much more.

The Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC and the International Peace Bureau in Geneva, Switzerland are the event’s co-organizers. More than 100 organizations, including Religions for Peace, Scientists for Global Responsibility, the American Friends Service Committee, Win Without War, and Fellowship of Reconciliation have endorsed it.

This global action will come one day after the release on April 11 of the 2010 figures for global military expenditures by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. In 2009, the world spent more than $1.5 trillion on the military. Even in the middle of a global economic crisis, military spending has increased, with the United States responsible for nearly half of all expenditures.

“With the U.S. government in a budget crisis, it’s urgent that we move from military deeds to human needs,” says John Feffer of the Institute for Policy Studies and a Global Day organizer. “Meanwhile, other crises have put a great strain on the world’s resources: climate change, earthquakes, global poverty, nuclear proliferation, and the threat of health pandemics. Ever greater funds are necessary to repair the societies that have been damaged by war and conflict, including the latest war in Libya.”

“In the wake of the global economic crisis, some governments — especially here in Europe — are beginning to cut military spending. But they won’t allocate the savings made by these reductions to social/environmental needs or to combat poverty unless we pressure them to do so,” says Colin Archer of the International Peace Bureau and a Global Day organizer.

“This is why we are undertaking a serious worldwide mobilizing effort — beginning on April 12 — to make visible our demands to feed the people, not the military-industrial complex.”

The White House action, which will take place at noon, will feature poetry, puppets, and graphic representations of military spending. Representatives of national and local peace and human needs organizations will present “flash facts” that vividly demonstrate how our military dollars can be used more effectively to create jobs, address climate change, and reduce poverty.

Please visit our website, demilitarize.org, for more information about the Global Day of Action on Military Spending, the endorsing organizations, and the specific actions.

The Institute for Policy Studies is a community of public scholars and organizers linking peace, justice, and the environment in the United States and globally. The International Peace Bureau is a Nobel Peace Laureate (1910) with 320 member organizations in 70 countries.

For more information:
John Feffer: johnfeffer@gmail.com; 202-294-9128
Find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @GlobalDay412.

Also visit Demilitarize.org.

In Glenn Beck’s Crosshairs: Interview with Frances Fox Piven

Frances Fox Piven. Photo by Zach Roberts - zdroberts.com

Frances Fox Piven. Photo by Zach Roberts – zdroberts.com

Glenn Beck’s nightly tour through the terrifying political landscape of his paranoid imagination inevitably includes a detour into the shadowy precincts of liberal thought, unfriendly territory where conspiracies to destroy the United States are incubated in every university classroom, and enemies of the state lie in wait to hijack the American dream. A rotating cast of left-of center bogeymen haunts the narrative of Beck’s other America, infecting the brains of ordinary citizens with conspiratorial designs that, if not properly defended against, will ultimately bring about the structural collapse of the United States.

Over the past several weeks Beck has made a point of aggressively singling out Frances Fox Piven—professor of political science and sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center—as especially dangerous to American life and liberty. Beck accuses Piven and her late husband, Richard Cloward, of being the intellectual architects of a revolutionary plot to overthrow the United States government. The so-called “Cloward-Piven strategy,” outlined in a 1966 article published by The Nation, argued that a concentrated welfare enrollment drive could ultimately lead to a guaranteed national income. For Beck, Cloward and Piven are a particularly potent touchstone for kicking off feverish fantasies. They represent, in Beck’s mythology, “the roots of the tree of radicalism and revolution” that employ “fear and intimidation” to “overwhelm the system.”

What began as mildly amusing attention quickly turned worrisome as threats to Piven’s life began appearing on internet message boards and even in her electronic inbox after Beck’s website The Blaze posted an essay on New Year’s Eve entitled “Frances Fox Piven Rings in the New Year by Calling for Violent Revolution.” “I’m all for violence and change Francis,” one reader wrote, “where do your loved ones live?” Another chimed in that he had “5000 roundas [sic] ready and I’ll give My life [sic] to take Our freedom [sic] back. Taking Her life [sic] and any who would enslave My children [sic] and grandchildren and call for violence should meet their demise as They wish [sic]. George Washington didn’t use His freedom [sic] of speech to defeat the British, He [sic] shot them.” Still others warned Piven to “be very careful what you ask for honey… As I mentioned in previous posts…ONE SHOT…ONE KILL! …a few well placed marksmen with high powered rifles…then there would not be any violence.” One Beck supporter suggested that “We should blowup Piven’s office and home,” while another signed off by praying that “cancer find[s] you soon.” According to The Nation, a particularly succinct antagonist summed up his message in the subject line of a personal email: “DIE YOU CUNT.”

Concerns for Piven’s personal safety have since led to increased security precautions and an investigation by the FBI. Despite these unpleasant circumstances, however, Piven has hardly put her life on hold. Since the New Year, she has continued writing prodigiously, has appeared regularly on nationally syndicated radio and TV, and is currently teaching a class at the Graduate Center. IPS contributor Michael Busch sat down with Piven to discuss the ugly causes and consequences of Beck’s bilious targeting, as well as the recent attack on academic freedom at Brooklyn College, possibilities for a poor and working people’s movement in the midst of the US economic crisis, and the state of American democracy.

I was hoping we could begin with a brief discussion of what’s been going on: where it came from, how it has affected you personally, and what it says about our current moment.

Well, it started almost two years ago. I didn’t pay any attention to it, however, until last winter, when some of my students told me about it. Now, I don’t watch Glenn Beck very often. But they told me about Beck’s “tree of revolution,” and that Richard and I were at the trunk of this tree that has all these branches going off in different directions. My first reaction was that it was funny, because it was so fantastical. Who wouldn’t laugh if they were being given credit for the Students for a Democratic Society [movement], the Open Society Institute, ACORN, the election of Barack Obama, the financial crisis, and probably other stuff which I am forgetting right now?

But as it’s gone on, I have been forced to think about it a little more seriously. I think it is dangerous in and of itself, and also because it’s a symptom of serious problems in American democracy. It’s dangerous because our political culture includes a tradition of violent extremism, and also because there are always some loose nuts out there who are provoked by this kind of ranting. But it’s a symptom of a bigger problem, I think. The bigger problem is that there are a lot of people in the United States who are anxious, discontented, who are nostalgic for “the way things were,” who don’t understand the big changes that have occurred including deindustrialization and the decline of American power, or the increasing diversity of the American population, or the election of a black president, or changes in sexual and family patterns. These are very hard developments to decipher, to analyze, to explain. They’re hard for academics to explain! It’s also difficult to understand the government policies that are justified as dealing with these problems, or dealing with the economic recession.

That’s a situation that I think creates a sort-of available space for propaganda. That’s why Glenn Beck and company are dangerous: because they are propagandists. They tell a nutty story about what is happening in the United States instead of trying to understand what’s happening, trying to understand who’s responsible. Instead, they point at me and say, “SHE’S RESPONSIBLE!” Well, think how ridiculous this is. They also keep reiterating, “She is 78 years old!” And I’m responsible? This is paranoia.

Think about what we understand to be the elemental requirements for democracy. People are supposed to assess their circumstances, the circumstances of their community, to discuss those circumstances—why they occurred, what government can do about it—and then vote accordingly. But, if these crazy stories are poured into what you might call the public mind or segment of the public’s mind, it blocks the possibility for this kind of democratic discourse.

How do you make sense of the violent threats against you, especially in light of the Gabriel Giffords shooting, and the Beck-inspired assassination plots of Byron Williams? Is Barbara Ehrenreich correct to suggest that the possession or use of guns themselves have come to represent political action to some Americans? And if so, do you see a concerted effort by the far right to mobilize around this sense of “civic engagement,” for lack of a better way of describing it?

Well, I think that guns have always played a role in American political culture. That role perhaps grows and contracts, but there have always been extremist groups that have turned to guns and especially to forms of violence that play a dramatic symbolic role, like lynchings. So I’m not sure that this is new. It may be surging right now—maybe because of a black president and the economic downturn—but it’s not new. What is new, I think, is the potential power of propaganda in American life. And that’s in part because of the media, and the role of big money, and who owns the media. After all, it’s not Glenn Beck, it’s Rupert Murdoch—let’s face it. Glenn Beck is an idiot: an overweight, neurotic character who hit on this way of building an audience and making a lot of money. But FOX News gave him his platform.

Why do you think Beck has fastened on to you? How did you and your late husband end up at the trunk of the “tree of revolution”?

Why does he fasten on me? Partly it is accident: one of way or the other, he came into contact with David Horowitz, Fred Siegel Jim Sleeper and other annoying people who made the move from the far left to the far right in the 1970s, because the pay was better on the other side, or whatever. They, along with Thomas Sowell, have a line which is very familiar that ordinary people themselves never rise up and make trouble on their own, it’s always outside agitators that instigate them. And they say that Richard and I were the agitators that were responsible for the welfare rights movement and later the effort to get liberalized voter registration. Thomas Sowell said we were for the responsible for the demand for affirmative action—“black people didn’t want that!”

Still, they could have picked on lots of others, so it’s accidental that they picked on me. They could even have picked on one of their own! Just take a look at what ran in Ramparts magazine when David Horowitz was still an editor! But I think that what’s not accidental is that they’re turning to someone who was an advocate for expanded democratic rights for poor and minority people in the United States, and expanded political rights for poor and minority people in the United States—that’s not accidental. The Sixties movements drive them crazy. Actually, the Thirties movements also drive them crazy! But the Sixties movements have a kind of special edge to them because they did play a role in the election of Barack Obama, who is easily vilified and demonized because he is African-American.

If it’s true, as you say, that Glenn Beck’s narrative gains traction because of the complexity of American politics, what’s the remedy, what’s the way forward? In other words, what are the prospects for reinvigorating a working class movement in American politics?

Well, there is the potential. Some of the conditions are right. We have a president who’s not a champion of such movements, but who would nevertheless be vulnerable to them and forced to be responsive to them. We have a clear villain in the financial sector, a villain that is not only similar to the economic royalists that Franklin Delano Roosevelt ranted against, but who are patently illegal in many of their actions. And we have a lot of people who are losing their homes, we have people suffering under mountains of debt, not just credit card but student debt. A lot of people are unemployed and many more have taken big wage cuts.

But at the same time, I do think there a lot of organizing problems that we have to solve. Here’s what I’ve come to think we should do. We have to work on the organizing problems—how to bring people together; how to transform what is for many people a kind of humiliation—they’re debtors, or they are unemployed—we have to figure out how to transform this humiliation into indignation; we have to figure out how to identify targets for their indignation and their anger; how to shape local actions that have some muscle that can be brought to bear on the centers of power. Of course, there are people working on this, but the stuff that’s happened so far has been very small. Still, I see no reason that it can’t be much bigger, that it can’t get much bigger.

Can you talk a bit about the recent events at Brooklyn College: specifically, how you view what happened there, and what ways, if any, you see its connection to Glenn Beck’s targeting of you as part of a larger right-wing attack on the American university?

Well, first of all, I don’t think it’s quite right to suggest that my situation is linked to what happened at Brooklyn College. As to that situation, I think that administrators at CUNY—and I include the president of Brooklyn College here— are very sensitive on the issues of Israel and Zionism, and that’s partly because of the larger political environment of New York. It’s also because of the history of CUNY. There have historically been a lot of Jews at CUNY, there are lots of Jews on faculty. And it’s because Jewish politics—and by that I mean the politics of American Jews—has itself been very distorted, I think, by Israeli policy. And so, you have a sensitivity that leads to the events at Brooklyn College. I remember another: the Graduate Center graduation a few years ago in which a trustee—invited to give his blessing to the graduates—used the occasion to launch a kind of tirade against any anti-Zionist sentiment in the institution.

It’s true that David Horowitz, who is one of the gang promoting the idea there is a Cloward and Piven theory of orchestrated crisis to bring down capitalism, did work with Campus Watch a few years ago, and a lot of neo-cons are hyped-up on the issue of Israel. In that sense, maybe there is a connection [between the Brooklyn College and Glenn Beck fiascos]. However, the university is the one institution in the United States that hasn’t been completely swamped by the march to the right in the country. When the American Sociological Association’s three most recent presidents issued a statement defending me, they got an incendiary response from somebody called “Shadow Merchant.” Randall Collins, one of the presidents, emailed Shadow Merchant to ask him how he had gotten the statement so quickly. In response Shadow Merchant laid out a big plan—I think Shadow Merchant is a probably some right-wing professor emeritus—but Shadow Merchant said, and I’m paraphrasing of course, “this is the counter-revolution and one of the things we’re going to do is mob every lefty professor.” And he concluded his tirade by heaping praise on Senator Joseph McCarthy.

So, I think that the Right will target the universities, and that we have a responsibility to stand up to this kind of Right, and we especially have a responsibility to stand up to the propaganda of the Right. Lunacy is not good for democracy.

Speaking of which, what do you make of the state of our democracy look like at present?

Well, democracy—understood as electoral representative democracy—is in a lot of trouble. Now, some of that comes from the growing role of business in American politics: the concentrated resources that business interests groups bring to bear on campaigns and candidates as lobbyists, as big-money contributors, and the influence they have on the parties, as well.

But some of the trouble also comes from the influence of propaganda in a society that is very difficult to understand for the ordinary citizen. One has to have explanations for what happens, and the role of government in what happens, in order to do one’s democratic duty as a citizen and as a voter. American politics is hard to understand. The fact that it is so dense, so complicated, so opaque and turgid opens the way for lunatic propaganda. And sometimes not so lunatic! The right-wing propaganda campaign that has now been going on for forty years—a campaign that is sometimes referred to as the politics of distraction—to try to wean the American working class away from New Deal policies and the Democratic Party by raising cultural issues that largely have to do with race and sex. This larger campaign is perhaps not lunatic, but neither is it a contribution to democratic discourse.

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