Archive for January, 2017
TFF director Jan Oberg comments on the important, positive commitment of the EU foreign policy chief on the JPCOA with Iran.
January 10th 2017.
President Barack Obama steps down at the age of 55. He will probably live, given his healthy lifestyle, until he’s over 90. So what on earth is he going to do for the next 40 years? Run for King of England? He would probably win, as he is much more popular in Europe than he ever was at home.
Realistically we don’t know and right now probably he doesn’t. But of one thing we can be sure of as he writes his second autobiography in his very special prose he will be critically re-evaluating every decision and policy change he made. This is an honest man if on a few occasions he failed to be. And we, the jury, try to be, if sometimes we fail too.
What did he do right and what did he do wrong? This week I look at his domestic policies, next week at his foreign policies.
When he came to power the economy was in a shambles, still attempting to recover from the worldwide fall out from the collapse of the Wall Street icon, the bank, Lehman Brothers. He dealt with the issues as a true follower of the greatest economist of them all, John Maynard Keynes – priming the pump with massive investment in roads and America’s rotting bridges.
He invested heavily in elementary, secondary and post-secondary schools. He put 5 billion dollars into early education including Head Start. He increased the grants program that has expanded the opportunity for low-income students to go to college. He raised the taxes on the wealthy right back to what they were before President Ronald Reagan began the Republican goal of cutting them and continued by subsequent Republican presidents.
With much opposition to his “nationalization” of Detroit’s bankrupt car companies he bailed them out with low interest loans- which they later repaid. This saved around 1.4 million jobs.
He made a deal with Swiss banks that permits Read the rest of this entry »
By Jan Oberg
A moment of world history missed by quite a few
I was in Aleppo December 10-14, 2016 and the Eastern part was finally liberated on the 12th.
Beyond any doubt, this was a world historic moment: because of Aleppo’s importance as city in Syria and the Middle East, its status as UNESCO World Heritage site, as turning point in the soon 6 year long war in and on Syria. And because of the almost 100.000 people who came out of 4,5 years of hell-like occupation and because of the sheer proportions of the destruction.
Remarkably, there were no leading Western media present, also not those who were in Damascus and thus had a media visa. Most reported from very far away or from Beirut in neighbouring Lebanon, Istanbul or Berlin.
I happened to be the only one from Scandinavia and among the first dozen of people – mostly media people – to get into the East of the city and see the devastation and talk with the exhausted but immensely happy people.
I had the opportunity to visit the Hanano district, the old town, Ramouseh, Sheikh Saeed, the huge industrial zone Shaykh Najjar and the Jinin reception zone to which the people in need of humanitarian assistance arrived.
Old media reactions
From a normal professional media perspective, my presence there as well as my photos should, given the importance of Aleppo and its human dimensions – have attracted some interest, perhaps even been seen as a scoop. Particularly by those who had no reporter on the ground.
Well, not exactly so.
TFF’s media list counts some 4000 adresses worldwide – individuals as well as editorial offices – of which about 700 in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland. All received a couple of messages that I would be in Syria and how to reach me.
One Danish newspaper, left-wing Arbejderen made an interview upon my return.
No other media did.
Here some examples of how the old media in Scandinavia tried to perform their little tricks. They are all respected, professional media with a record of decency – not sensational yellow press. Read the rest of this entry »
By Jan Oberg
Lund, Sweden, January 9, 2017
TFF Photo Story # 3
Unique photos with text from Aleppo’s Jibrin reception center for people finally liberated in Eastern Aleppo December 11-12, 2016.
Documentation of the fact that it was the Syrian authorities, the Syrian Army, Russian doctors, the Syrian Red Crescent and volunteering Syrian youth who took care of these destitute internally displaced people.
In short, the evil guys – the only ones at that – according to most Western media.
No Western humanitarian organisations were seen, neither any leading Western media.
The media have also conveniently stopped writing about Aleppo – beyond doubt a world historic event – and ignored the suffering of the innocent, non-armed victims in this crisis: the largest humanitarian crisis in the world since 1945.
The last article about Aleppo in New York Times is from December 19, about 7-year old Twitter-girl Bana and written by a marketing expert. The level can hardly get lower.
The story of Aleppo cannot be silenced.
TFF’s first two photo reports have already been seen by close to 50.000 people. There are many other eyewitness reports – all on social media, de facto barred from the mainstream media.
The attempt to ignore the historical turning point that Aleppo is and to silence on-the-ground reports will fail.
A larger truth is emerging. The moral and political failure of Western and allies’ policy since 2012 makes the story of Aleppo just too embarrassing, something neither politicians nor governments nor media want to be reminded of.
But 13 million Syrians who are in need of humanitarian help – thanks to non-UN sanctions since 1979 and the war – need a more truthful story.
And they need the world’s attention and help – to all of them and not to the politically chosen few.
By Johan Galtung
This New Year announces itself with bangs all over, not whimpers.
Pope Francis made a tour d’horizon on all continents, strongly denouncing the violence in favor of his alternative: negotiation.
Much violence is copycat or copyrat; violence being a la mode. Copying–aka learning–is not wrong. But it depends on what is copied.
Here my 10-11 wishes:
Wish no. 1: copying peace rather than violence, for instance from ASEAN and the Nordic Community, making peace self-reinforcing.
Wish no. 2: reporting violence less prominently, more toward the end of newspapers-TV-radio news, and reporting peace upfront.
Wish no. 3: understanding war better, not only how many killed but how many bereaved; understanding peace better as model for others.
Wish no. 4: introducing Yin/Yang in Western thought: no totally good or bad humans or states around; they are all improvable mixtures.
Wish no. 5: linking the good in ourselves to the good in others for peaceful cooperation, yet keeping the bad in mind, for security.
Wish no. 6: identifying unsolved conflicts and unconciled traumas that may lead to violence; solving the conflicts, healing the traumas. Read the rest of this entry »
By Jonathan Power
January 3rd 2017
The West African state of the Congo has always been taking one step forward, two steps back. This goes back to the days when Congo became independent from Belgian rule in 1960.
Now we see it again. There were supposed to be elections at the end of last year. But President Joseph Kabila has clung to power. Last week after months of negotiations led by the Catholic bishops a deal has been agreed. If Kabila is given one more year in office then he will call elections in a year’s time.
The latest round in Congo’s modern history goes back to the Rwandan genocide in 1994 when Hutu extremists organized the mass killing of at least half a million Tutsis. The killings triggered a civil war that led to the eventual defeat of the Hutu-led Rwandan army. As they retreated they forced two million Hutus to leave with them, most of them settling in the eastern Congo in refugee camps.
From there the Hutus, now well fed by the western charities, began to launch armed incursions back into Rwanda. They were supported by the Congolese (then called Zaire) under the leadership of the tyrant, President Mobutu Sese Seko.
It was around that time the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, decided on a successful regime change in the Congo. Read the rest of this entry »
December 27th 2016
What you see depends on where you sit. There are the pessimists who see President-elect Donald Trump who said in his tweet about the need to engage in a new arms race. There are the optimists, sitting on the other side of the room, who believe the kind words uttered by President Vladimir Putin and Trump to each other mean that there well could be a new agreement on reducing their nuclear armories.
2017 will be a lot better than 2016.
When I wrote my history of Amnesty International (“Like Water on Stone”, Penguin, 2002) I was struck both by the staff and activists how positive they were, despite dealing with some of the worst horrors in the world.
Amnesty staff would not be in their jobs if they did not possess above-average resilience. The wear and tear of constant failure – as it often seems – of dealing with intransigent authorities, the bereaved and the seriously distressed on a daily basis is not a way most of us would choose to earn our daily bread. It is, indeed, surprising that the turnover in staff is about normal for an organization of this size.
Ask a staff member what keeps them going and they certainly don’t say elections in Guatemala, once effectively ruled by death squads, or the death of the child-killer, the Emperor Bokassa of the Central African Republic. They say: “Look, it’s because I had this letter from so and so’s wife.” or “Did you hear what so and so said last week when he came into the office to thank us?” Read the rest of this entry »
By Johan Galtung
To understand something we often compare it with something else.
A recent Harvard study found 26.7% of world car production in China and 13.3% in USA; US economy bigger but China leading in export with 8 of the 12 biggest harbors; USA end 2016 fighting 7 wars with bases all over and China with no wars or bases, investing, building the New Silk Road-Lane, the Economic Belt. How successfully, it is to be seen.
But these are global power relations. That the West is going down, the Rest is coming up, the USA is a major part of the West and China of the Rest, are decades-old truths. And the EU is also part of the West.
What does domestic China remind us of, historically, structurally? Not USA, a state since 1776, 1812. Let us compare China with present border and context to Europe from the Atlantic to–whatever the border.
One conclusion can be foretold: only recently are both of them becoming cohesive, as super-states and as super-nations. Why, and how? Read the rest of this entry »
By Jonathan Power
December 20th 2016
An abiding fear for Donald Trump is that the Middle East dictators’ successors in power will be militant Islamists who once elected will stop at nothing. At one time in the presidential campaign he threatened to “nuke” them. Even though the secular-minded President Bashar al-Assad appears to be winning the civil war in Syria the Islamists will sit on his tail.
Violent-inclined Islamists point to the Koran and the Hadith to justify their violence. Indeed, there are sentences in both that are close to their interpretation. Even though they may hype up these passages and ignore other more peaceful ones the truth is that Islam does have a tradition of the hard school. Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of Muslims today don’t subscribe to it.
The Harvard professor, Steven Pinker, writes in his monumental study of violence, “The Better Angels Of Our Nature”, “The laws and many practices of many Muslim countries seemed to have missed out on the Humanitarian Revolution”. According to Amnesty International three-quarters of Muslim countries execute their criminals and adultery can be a capital crime.
Every year more than a hundred million girls in Islamic countries have their genitals mutilated. Islamic countries were the last to abolish slavery and a majority of countries in which people continue to be trafficked are Muslim. (However, to balance that, the murder and crime rate today in Muslim countries is much lower than in so-called Christian countries.)
Historians and journalists continually point a finger at the demands and punishments of Shar’ia law. Read the rest of this entry »
By Jonathan Power
December 13th 2016.
President-elect Donald Trump has decided to poke China in the eye. He has phoned the president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, assuring her of America’s support. Yes, the US has always supported Taiwan but usually behind the scenes, apart from its arms supplies. It does not recognize it diplomatically. China was angry.
After Sunday’s news that Trump was reconsidering the US’s long-held “One China” policy Beijing is furious.
When, last November, President Xi Jinping met Ma Ying-jeou, then Taiwan’s president and leader of the Kuomintang Party, I observed that if China continues to play its hand quietly it can, if it is shrewd, in the end win re-unification. But perhaps it will be over Trump’s dead body.
The leaders of the two parties, the communists and the Kuomintang, the Republican claimants for power in China, hadn’t met since 1945 during aborted peace negotiations. A while later the Kuomintang, facing defeat from Mao Zedong’s communist army, fled the mainland to Taiwan.
Beijing has over a thousand rockets aimed at Taiwan. The US supplies arms aplenty to Taiwan – some of which need American cooperation and participation to be fired. Despite that China is capable of overwhelming the island’s defences. Read the rest of this entry »