FEATURED PHOTOS AND STORIES

Friday:  August 15, 2014

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Entries in Obama (5)

Tuesday
Nov222011

'We back the people, not dictators' (BLOG/REPORT) 

By Teymoor Nabili in the Middle East 

On the day the White House announced yet another blow in its 30-year campaign against Iran, former State Department official and Middle East expert Martin Indyk was in Doha to argue that US policy in the region has undergone something of a transformation.

(On the same day, veteran CBS correspondent Bob Simon was visiting the Al Jazeera newsroom. “I’ve known Martin for 20 years “ he told me, adding with a wry smile “Ask him if he still uses the phrase “peace process.”  I did. He doesn’t.)

Indyk says he plays no real part in policymaking these days, or even advising anyone in the Obama administration, but the thesis he confidently expounded at the Brookings Doha HQ was that the entire calculation of US interests and values has been fundamentally recalibrated as a consequence of the uprisings across the Middle East.

An Obama administration was always likely to step away from President Bush’s focus on democracy promotion to a certain extent, he said, but it was the Arab awakening that really made the difference.

 “It’s very clear the US is on the side of the people now, and not the dictators.”

It was an interesting proposition, and one that was tested by members of the audience.

One mentioned Saudi Arabia. That, it seems, is an exception. The strategic interests are paramount in the case of Saudi, but the US is applying pressure for "values" reform behind the scenes.

What about Bahrain? Well, the problem there was that President Obama was so diverted by the events of Libya that he momentarily took his eye off Bahrain, and so he missed the narrow window of opportunity to make a difference.

And yes, perhaps the response to events in Tunisia was a little behind the curve; but certainly we can expect the new policy to be demonstrated soon with regards to Egypt, and President Obama will surely stand behind the latest uprising against the military coup leaders that are now once again killing people on the streets. America had been naive in thinking the military would be custodians of a transition to real democracy.

And the reason why the Israel/Palestine issue is now off the Obama agenda is because of the polls in Israel.

Bibi eats poll numbers for breakfast, Indyk said, and as soon as he realised that Obama was polling badly in Israel, he knew he could challenge the US president with impunity.

It was all interesting stuff, delivered in the moderate and calming tones of the seasoned diplomat; but I’m not sure the audience went home believing that there has indeed been a fundamental change in the way Washington conducts its relationship with the Middle East.

A short while before his presentation, I sat down with Indyk in the Al Jazeera studio to talk about how this new approach might translate into action now, in Syria, Egypt and Iran.

He told me he thinks military action in Syria is a strong possibility, with Turkey best   placed to intervene. Obama, he says, is in “constant contact” with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and that’s the best way the US can “exercise leadership” over Syria.

As for Iran, well, there’s no doubt in his mind that the IAEA report is a “smoking gun”. Obama’s done what he can, Iran has been utterly intransigent, and it was even Tehran that scuppered the Turkey/Brazil swap deal, not Washington.

Here’s the full thing.

Originally published by Al Jazeera under Creative Commons Licensing

Friday
Sep232011

Obama at the UN: What a difference one year makes (BLOG/ REPORT)

By Gregg Carlstrom in the Middle East

Palestinians marching in Ramallah on Wednesday in support of the PLO's statehood bid. [Gregg Carlstrom/Al Jazeera]

The reaction in the West Bank to US President Barack Obama's speech at the United Nations has been, as you might expect, frustrated. Frustrated - but not surprised.

The frustration was mostly with the tone of the speech, rather than its substance. The most offensive line to many, at least in interviews this morning, was Obama's declaration that "there are no shortcuts"; as several Ramallah residents reminded me, the Palestinian people have been dispossessed for 63 years already.

But the speech did not surprise anyone; it has been clear for months, after all, that Obama planned to veto the Palestine Liberation Organisation's bid for full membership at the UN. Mustafa Barghouti, the Palestinian politician and activist, called Obama's position "disappointing" in an interview before the president's speech.

I think it is very strange that Obama will veto a bid for Palestinian statehood, when a year ago at the UN General Assembly he supported the idea," Barghouti said. "The US talks about freedom and democracy, but Palestine is excluded."

Interestingly, many people I've spoken with in Ramallah believe Obama wants to support Palestinian membership at the UN, and that his promise to veto the bid is simply election-year politics.

Obama wants the Jewish vote, because he is going to elections," said Jamal Mansour, an employee at the ministry of youth and sports. "If it was at another time, we would get more, but right now, the Israelis will press Obama.

"He's not doing what he promised, because he has the Israeli lobby in the United States, and because an election is coming up," said Jacob Awad, a student holding a sign with a rather coarse message for the American president.

I can't guess at Obama's core convictions, of course. Many US commentators have argued that Obama needs to veto the bid to help his electoral odds. Then again, if Obama did support the PLO's bid, would he lose the Jewish vote to, say, Rick Perry?

It's worth noting that George W Bush, a vocally "pro-Israel" president, never won more than 24 per cent of the Jewish vote; American Jews are not the one-issue voters they're often made out to be. (Obamacontinues to poll better among Jewish voters than any other group.)

In any event, the reaction from Israel - or the Israeli press, at least - has been mostly enthusiastic. Ma'arivdescribed it as an "American embrace". Eitan Haber, a columnist for the popular daily Yediot Aharonot, quipped that the only thing missing from Obama's speech was "a nice photograph of Theodor Herzl", the father of modern-day Zionism.

It was as if he lifted words and entire sections out of [Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu's planned address," Haber wrote.

There were a few dissenting views, the most pointed from Ha'aretz's Akiva Eldar, who criticised Obama for his "graceless courting of the Israeli government".

We'll see if Haber's assessment was true on Friday, when Netanyahu is scheduled to address the General Assembly. Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas will also speak, and then submit the PLO's formal request for full membership.

Originally published by Al Jazeera under Creative Commons Licensing 

Tuesday
Jun212011

What Pearls of Wisdom Does Michelle Obama Have to Share with South Africa's Youth? (PERSPECTIVE)

By Fazila Farouk

When I first heard that America's first lady, Michelle Obama, was coming to South Africa, I thought to myself, “There goes the news - column inches upon column inches are going to be wasted on the colour of her lipstick.” The fact that she’s America’s “fashion ambassador” already made the news in the run up to her visit.First lady Michelle Obama. CREDIT: White House

Obama’s transformation from understated and perfectly well groomed woman to glorified clotheshorse has been disappointing to observe. Nobody begrudges her the opportunity she’s been given to transform her appearance, but in all fairness, she did take to the glamour rather more enthusiastically than one expected - openly relishing it and making fashion the hallmark of her role as America’s first lady. One expected a little more substance from a woman of her standing.

The official reason given for Obama’s visit to South Africa is that she’s in the country to talk to our youth about leadership and that she’s particularly interested in young women. This, I have gathered from media reports as well as questions that I personally had to field in a telephonic interview with a reporter from the Washington Post.

Well, that’s the official reason for Obama’s visit, but I’d hazard a guess that the unofficial reason may have more to do with America’s domestic politics than it has to do with the country’s international relations.

It is well known that 2012 is a presidential election year in America when Barack Obama will be running for re-election. The dynamic duo, Mr. and Mrs. Obama appear to have divvied up the globe in pursuit of the ethnic American vote.
 
Some weeks back, President Obama was in Ireland re-connecting with the Irish heritage on his late mother’s side of the family so he could build support for the Irish-American vote back home. Just last week he was in Puerto Rico courting the Latino vote. His wife’s visit to South Africa (and Botswana) seems a natural next step in their international campaign to bolster domestic support for his re-election next year, in this case, targeting the African-American vote.

The Obama’s are very good at marketing themselves. President Obama’s 2008 election campaign has even won a prestigious international advertising award for “best marketing campaign in history.” When it comes down to the brass tacks of his re-election, the Obama’s know what it will take to keep him in office.

This time the Obama’s need to rally the support of the international community, as they’ve made such a mess of things back home. The so-called grassroots constituency that brought Obama to power is likely to stay away in droves next year, as the bold “change you can believe in” Barack Obama turned his back on them from his first day in office as America’s president.

It all started with him appointing Wall Street insiders to his team. Then he went a step further by making good on Bush era prescriptions to bail out the banks that caused the 2008 financial crisis in the first place. His grassroots constituency was left out to dry.

While the Obama’s moved into the most sought after address on the planet - the White House - thousands of African-Americans lost their homes as a result of the sub-prime mortgage crisis caused by the banks that President Obama has been so cautious not to confront. His electoral support base, of course, thanked him for his lack of gratitude by staying away in droves from America’s 2010 midterm elections, which resulted in the Democrats losing the US Congress to the Republicans.

If Obama’s grassroots constituency does vote for him again, “Brand Obama” won’t be duping them so easily the second time round. This time they’ll be voting for the lesser of two evils in the Democratic Party’s battle against Republican rule. They’re well aware of this fact too.

In September last year during a televised public meeting, Velma Hart, an African-American mother representing the bedrock of his middle class support base, openly challenged President Obama to his face. She said, “Quite frankly I’m exhausted. I’m exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change that I voted for, and deeply disappointed with where we are right now.” His mealy mouthed response is not worth elaborating on, suffice to say that it was hopelessly inadequate.

So what message is Michelle Obama going to share with ordinary, middle class and poor South Africans after her husband’s administration so clearly let down people of a similar class in America?

What exactly is her message to the youth of South Africa going to be? “Pull yourselves up by your bootstraps?” As someone who epitomises the story of success built on sheer determination and hard work, it’s clear she that she would be partial to individual endeavour.

But the America that she grew up in is not the America of today. Nor does either America come close to the fledgling democracy that is South Africa today.
Any young working class woman in Soweto comes up against a wall of challenges that Obama in her entire early life would never have encountered.

So how then does a young person contribute to our society when the conditions are far from what can be described as ‘enabling’, not only because of the shortcomings of the South African government, but quite significantly, also due to the foreign policy decisions of the Obama administration?

What has Obama got to say to the HIV positive youth in the ghettos of South Africa whose lives and future livelihood depend on our country being able to make access to anti-retro viral drugs universally available?

What is her response to the fact that the PEPFAR fund, a multi million-dollar AIDS fund initiated by George W. Bush, had its funding reduced for the first time in its seven year history under the Obama administration last year? The consequences of this decision are so dire for combating the HIV/AIDS pandemic in South Africa that the Treatment Action Campaign went as far as writing aletter to President Obama condemning it.

The saga continues today still. Just last week at the opening of the18th International Aids Conference in Vienna, which drew participants from around the world, high-level aids activists were reportedly “raging at the Obama administration, while pining for the Bush administration.”

President Bush was a much better friend to the HIV infected youth of South Africa than the Obama’s can ever claim to be.

And what about the masses of unemployed youth in South Africa? The most crippling crisis facing the youth of South Africa today is the challenge of unemployment. What exactly is the Obama administration doing to ensure their access to productive, secure and decent work?

Well, in this regard, the Obama administration has once again failed the youth of South Africa (and the rest of developing world too).

The Obama administration can take credit for taking “the development” out of the “development round” of trade negotiations at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), commonly referred to as the Doha round of talks.

America, in particular, has been singled out for making unreasonable demands on emerging economies, which includes South Africa, to open up their markets to US products. To simplify a somewhat complex set of negotiations where the US is demanding tariff reductions from the developing world, which would allow American goods to flood these countries’ markets -- what this boils down to in the end, is that job creating sectors in South Africa are under threat from cheap and not infrequently subsidised American goods.

Of concern is the hypocrisy of the image presented by the first lady of America.
While Michelle Obama has busied herself establishing an organic vegetable patch in the gardens of the White House, promoting home-based food production, the food crisis has ravaged many developing countries that have lost their ability to grow their own food, as imports have flooded in under current international trade rules. Subsidized American agribusiness with a propensity for flogging genetically modified products onto unsuspecting developing nations is one of the main culprits distorting agricultural trade between first and third world countries.

One of the defining features of our interconnected global economy is that decisions taken in New York and London reach deep into the lives, dreams and aspirations of ordinary folk in townships like Soweto. What’s new since the financial crisis of 2008 is that the young people in the developing world who've always been exploited and abused by the overlords of the global economy are now being joined by an army of youth in Europe from countries such as Greece and Spain where unemployment has crept up to unprecedented levels, resulting in street protests and riots – not unlike our very own service delivery protests.

However, unlike South Africa, the youth of Spain and Greece come from middle class families. They’re educated and have skills, but are unable to find jobs -- and the reason they can’t find jobs is through no fault of their own. The problem is the growing financialisation of the global economy that has undermined investments in job-creating sectors.

Together with his benefactors, President Obama, whose campaign was generously funded by Wall Street’s Goldman Sachs, has played an important role strengthening the financialisation of the global economy. Thus, what is sometimes referred to as “Casino Capitalism” has become the basis of the global economy.

This is what led to the financial crisis, the subsequent recession and a global decrease in jobs. Some 30 million jobs have been lost worldwide since the 2008 crisis (according to a co-authored International Labour Organisation report released in the latter half of 2010).

The jobs will continue to bleed until we address the fundamental issues that drive this unjust situation. The youth of the world, including our own in South Africa, will continue to face an uncertain future until the world is put on a different trajectory that respects the right of every human being to a decent life that offers a secure and decent livelihood. The struggle for employment does not have to result in a scramble for dirty, dangerous and demeaning work – the three D’s commonly associated with the work poor people are most easily able to secure, and which is largely the outcome of liberalisation policies promoted by the Obama administration.

In light of the above, it does seem somewhat fraudulent for America’s first lady to be prancing around the world telling young people to get involved in actively contributing to their societies. What pearls of wisdom is she carrying around in her purse to share with the downtrodden youth of South Africa and the world, while the policies of her husband’s administration ensure that these young people remain trapped in a life of destitution and servitude?

Its time political leaders, including their supportive spouses, realised that rhetoric ought to be matched by deeds that make a difference to the lives of ordinary people facing challenging realities.

Farouk is executive director of the South African Civil Society Information Service. This article first appeared on the SACSIS website.

 

 

Sunday
May292011

Palestinian Territory: A Spring Forgotten (PERSPECTIVE)

By Ronit Avi

Responding to the rising tide across the Arab world in his speech on May 19, President Obama aptly directed his focus away from politicians and toward the people, from the "raw power of the dictator" to the "dignity of the street vendor." It was a convincing argument, driving home the President's message that the United States has "a stake not just in the stability of nations, but in the self-determination of individuals."Waiting for their Arab Spring: feelings of hopelessness and isolation among young people in the Palestinian Territory are well documented. CREDIT: M Bociurkiw

Yet when it came to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, President Obama curiously fell back on language about governments and treaties rather than individual freedom and human dignity. While he acknowledged that in an increasingly democratic Middle East peace cannot be made by leaders alone, Obama failed to grant the same recognition that he gave to demonstrators standing up for freedom across the Arab world to the thousands of Palestinians and scores of Israelis who are doing the same on a daily basis in places like Nabi Saleh, Al-Walajeh, Bil'in, Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan.

It was a striking omission in light of Obama's call in his Cairo Speech in 2009 for Palestinians to adopt nonviolence, and was particularly disheartening given the urgency of the moment.

Only a few weeks ago, Bassem and Naji Tamimi, two leaders of the nonviolent movement in the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, were arrested on dubious charges aimed at crushing the resolve of a village that has been struggling without arms to prevent the encroachment of nearby Israeli settlements upon its land and water supply. These arrests come as part of a broader crackdown that the Israeli army has been implementing against nonviolent Palestinian, Israeli and international protesters. Faced with the prospect of a broadening unarmed movement against occupation, the Israeli military has apparently decided to hunker down and deter protestors through a process of intimidation, repression and attrition.

This is bad news for any of us who value the universal rights Obama laid out in his speech, and it is especially alarming given the highly charged atmosphere on the ground. As we've seen across the region, where nonviolence fails, bloodshed follows. Those of us who wish for a peaceful end to the conflict and to the occupation, and who oppose a return to the violence of recent years, cannot afford to ignore the voices of those in places like Budrus and Bil'in who assert that the most effective and courageous response to oppression is not suicide attacks or rockets, but rather unarmed protest and collective organizing.

In recognizing the bravery and resolve of these Palestinians and Israelis, President Obama would have sent an important message of support to those who believe that a nonviolent path is the most constructive way forward -- even in the absence of real negotiations. Instead, a fragile and increasingly threatened movement is met with silence from an American President who is willing to press Arab allies into uncomfortable corners. The same Obama who tells the leadership of Bahrain that "you can't have real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail" is seemingly looking the other way when unarmed Palestinian and Israeli protestors are routinely met with violence and face arrest, often without credible charges.

What's more, those protests taking place in the West Bank and East Jerusalem often bring Israelis and Palestinians together, creating powerful bonds around a common cause of justice, peace and dignity. The President was right to reference Israelis like Yitzhak Frankenthal of the Parents Circle-Bereaved Families Forum, profiled in our first film Encounter Point, and Palestinians like Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, who despite unimaginably painful losses actively pursue reconciliation rather than revenge. Yet equally important, and especially crucial at this volatile time are the Israelis and Palestinians who join forces and take direct nonviolent action against injustices on the ground. Whether they succeed, as they did in the village of Budrus, or fail, the common struggle has an unmistakably humanizing impact. In places like the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, which we focus on in our upcoming documentary film, Israelis from increasingly diverse political, social and religious backgrounds are joining Palestinian residents in a common struggle for justice. 

These are the kind of grassroots partnerships that will give real meaning to agreements signed on paper, and that will develop the trust necessary for any peace accord to endure. Rather than ignoring them, the President should be placing them front and center in his vision for the region. As he so eloquently stated, "we cannot hesitate to stand squarely on the side of those who are reaching for their rights, knowing that their success will bring about a world that is more peaceful, more stable, and more just." This is true for all those across the region who employ nonviolence to bring about a better future, and Palestinians and Israelis certainly deserve no less. 

Ronit Avni is the Founder & Executive Director of Just Vision, which researches and documents Palestinian and Israeli nonviolence and peacebuilding efforts. She recently produced the award-winning film, Budrus. Her opinion piece is reproduced here with permission.

Saturday
Apr302011

Obama Honours Journalists Under Attack Around World (NEWS BRIEF)

US President Barack Obama. CREDIT: White House(HN, April 30, 2011) US President Barack Obama, pausing during a mostly humour-filled White House Correspondents Dinner this evening, defended the right of journalists to do their job around the world.

Speaking in front of 3,000 guests at the annual event in Washington, D.C., Obama said journalists are increasingly under threat.

Said Obama: "In the last months we have seen journalists threatened, arrested, beaten, attacked, and in some cases even killed - simply for doing their best to bring us the story..giving people a voice and holding people accountable.

"And through it all we have seen daring men and women risk their lives for the simple idea that no one should be silenced and everyone deserves to know the truth."

He said reporting by journalists is "especially important in times of challenge - like the moment America and the world is facing now."

The US President paid tribute to "those that have been lost as a consequence of extraordinary reporting that they have done over recent weeks. They help too to defend our freedoms and allow democracy to flourish."

According to the figures collected by Reporters Without Borders, a non-profit organization that fights for the rights, freedom, and protection of journalists worldwide, 25 journalists were killed in 2002, 64 in 2005, 87 in 2007, and 18 since the beginning of the year.

Earlier this month, award-winning photo-journalist and documentary film-maker Tim Hetherington and a colleague were killed while reporting on the ongoing conflict in Libya.

- HUMNEWS staff