Focal Points Blog

Overpopulation Makes a Mockery of Citizenship

Alan Weisman

Alan Weisman

In his highly acclaimed book World Without Us (Picador, 2008), Alan Weisman  speculated on how the earth would fare in our absence (even worse … then much better, thank you). In his most recent book, Countdown (Little, Brown and Company, 2013), Weisman chronicles the impact of population growth on the earth. He attempts to determine its ― in technocrat speak ― “carrying capacity” and reports on what forces are working towards and against that end. As you can imagine, much of it revolves around agriculture, resources, and climate change. Countdown is required reading for all earthlings.

Some thought-provoking excerpts:

. . . at the First World Optimum Population Conference [in 1993], [environmental scientist] Gretchen Daily and [population studies authority Paul Ehrlich and his wife stated that optimum population] did not mean the maximum number that could be crammed onto the planet like industrial chickens, but how many could live well without compromising the chance for future generations to do the same. At minimum, everyone should be guaranteed sustenance, shelter, education, health care, freedom from prejudice, and opportunities to earn a living.
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Jordanian Women Who Marry Immigrants Denied Civil Rights

Protesters In Amman Call For An End To Government Corruption And Parliamentary Reform

Last December the spokesman for the Jordanian government, Mohamad al Moumani, announced that the government will not grant civil rights to Jordanian women married to non-Jordanian citizens. Instead, he said, “Jordanian women will be accorded services rights.”

His explanation was “to prevent giving political rights [or Jordanian citizenship] to the children of Jordanian women who are married to non-citizens.” This issue,” he added, “is a sovereign  issue.”

The government’s position is echoed by the former Chief of the Royal Court, Reyad Jameel Abu Karaki, who told me from Amman that Jordan should not pay for the choices those women have made. “Why should we pay for schooling, health care or feeding those children when we barely can do that for our own citizens?”
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German Resistance: A Matter of Principle

German Parliament member Reinhard Weisshuhn

German Parliament member Reinhard Weisshuhn

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

In the early days of the changes in 1989, a new kind of politics emerged within the opposition movements poised to enter parliaments and governments. Many dissidents had a deep distrust of political parties and of political compromise. After all, under Communism, all the official political parties merely followed the script provided by the ruling elite. And political compromise was nothing less than collaboration with the authorities – providing information to the secret police, for instance, or becoming the worst kind of careerist.

It was this experience of politics that produced its antithesis: anti-politics. In a famous essay on the subject, Hungarian novelist George Konrad favored a healthy skepticism toward power rather than an obsession with seizing power. Vaclav Havel, too, focused more on the morality of everyday gestures – living in truth – rather than engaging in the degraded arena of real, existing politics. Civic movements, not professional politicians, became the vehicle of choice for transforming society.
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U.S. Still Friends With Gulf States Despite Sunni Slaughter of Shia

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

You may have heard that the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant  has seized control of a large part of Fallujah, Iraq. Meanwhile, in Northern Syria, Isis, as it’s known, is not only ostensibly fighting with President Assad’s regime but others also opposed to it: the Free Syrian Army and the Islamic Front. In fact, BBC reports,  a member of  National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces said, “Isis is an extension of the Assad regime.”

Also, you may have heard that in December, al-Nusra and Jaysh al-Islamd, a division of the Islamic Front, massacred between 20 and 100 Alawites, Druze, Christians, and Shiites in Adra, Syria, complete with beheadings and the attendant necrophilia we’ve all grown to know and love with Sunni Islamist extremists, according to Russian journalists.
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More Sanctions on Iran = Uranium Enriched to a Higher Grade

Ratcheting up the Rhetoric on Iran

(David Holt / Flickr)

In light of how much it has invested in uranium enrichment, it’s unrealistic to expect Iran to abandon the process. At the National Interest, Colin Kahl explains.

Given the significant financial investment—estimated to be at least $100 billion—and political capital the regime has expended to master uranium enrichment, the supreme leader will not agree to completely dismantle Iran’s program as many in Congress demand. … If Khamenei senses [President] Rouhani and [Minister of Foreign Affairs] Zarif are headed in that direction, he will likely pull the rug out from under continued negotiations, regardless of U.S. threats to escalate the pressure further.
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To Washington, Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan Has Gone Off the Reservation

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyio Erdogan and Fethullah Gulen

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyio Erdogan and Fethullah Gulen

The current corruption crisis zeroing in on Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyio Erdogan has all the elements of one of his country’s famous soap operas that tens of millions of people all over the Middle East tune in to each day: bribes, shoe boxes filled with millions in cash, and dark whispers of foreign conspiracies.

As prosecutors began arresting leading government officials and businessmen, the Prime Minister claims that some foreign “ambassadors are engaging in provocative actions,” singling out U.S. Ambassador Frank Ricciardone. The international press has largely dismissed Erdogan’s charges as a combination of paranoia and desperation, but might the man have a point?
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Is Assad Really a Master Strategist?

Assad

With recent events in Syria, President Bashar al-Assad seems to have pulled off two coups. In November, NBC’s Richard Engel described the more obvious of the two.

In exchange for destroying the poison gas and the factories that make it – a process that’s almost impossible to verify — there would be no U.S. military strike. Assad would get to stay in power and continue his war with “conventional weapons,” including artillery and Scud missile attacks on civilian areas, napalm dropped on schools, and starving the opposition into submission. Even more shocking is that Assad has weathered the crisis appearing to the world as reasonable, rational and ready to compromise.  
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Beta Testing Drones on Unwitting Subjects

Predator_and_Hellfire

In a moving testimony at the Guardian, Heather Linebaugh, a former drone analyst for the United States, writes:

“Whenever I read comments by politicians defending the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Predator and Reaper program – aka drones – I wish I could ask them a few questions. I’d start with: ‘How many women and children have you seen incinerated by a Hellfire missile?’ And: ‘How many men have you seen crawl across a field, trying to make it to the nearest compound for help while bleeding out from severed legs?’”
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Hungary’s Relative Income Equality Hides Other Inequities

Robert Braun, chairman of Hungary's  New Economics Foundation

Robert Braun, chairman of Hungary’s New Economics Foundation

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

If you look just at the statistics, Hungary seems to be doing pretty well, inequality-wise. The country experienced a significant spike in poverty and household inequality after the political changes of 1989-90. But since then, its rate of inequality has remained around the European average. It moved from Scandinavian levels of inequality (according to the Gini coefficient) to a situation comparable to, say, France. Moreover, according to at least one estimate, significant government redistribution efforts have been responsible for this trend.

But these statistics obscure a couple important facts. Particularly after the financial crisis of 2008, the poorest segments of the population were hit hardest in terms of loan repayments. “Indebted households in the lowest income quintile pay a higher share of their income as debt repayment, and they are also more likely to be in arrears with their repayments because of financial difficulties,” according to one article on income inequality in Hungary.
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Pakistan Allows China to Use Karachi as Lab Rats in Nuclear-Energy Experiment

Karachi. Wikimedia Commons

Karachi. Wikimedia Commons

As if Karachi didn’t have enough problems. Already, it’s “far and away the world’s most dangerous megacity,” writes Taimur Khan in Foreign Policy. Due, in large part to Sunni attacks on Shiites, its homicide rate is “25 percent higher than any other major city.” Now it’s broken ground on two new nuclear power plants. All together now: What could possibly go wrong?

In fact, even more than you think and for a reason outside the bounds of nuclear energy’s attendant risks.
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