Is a Two-State Solution possible?

This post was written by Tim Kelly, Hyun Seung Noh, Allissa Fisher and Ashton Knippenberg

In his 2010 article, “One State/Two States: Rethinking Israel and Palestine”, Danny Rubinstein presents the argument that though some might support a two-state solution, in reality it might not be feasible. For his article featured in Dissent Magazine, Rubinstein uses the example of 50-year-old Palestinian spokesperson Sufian Abu-Zaida, who has recently changed his mind about a two-state possibility after years of work moderating talks between Israelis and Palestinians. By now, most of the world forces are backing the idea of Israel helping the Palestinians create a state of their own. “The Obama administration, the European Union, Russia, those Arab states that still maintain their initiative of almost a decade ago (to establish peace with Israel in exchange for its withdrawal to the 1967 border),” writes Rubenstein. But for some reason, the Palestinians seem to not want to cooperate.

Sufian Abu-Zaida via ALRAY Palestinian Media Agency

Sufian Abu-Zaida via ALRAY Palestinian Media Agency

Rubenstein goes on to describe the current (2010) situation in the West Bank, where Israelis hinder Palestinian progress by controlling major waterways, roads and infrastructure. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is one of the few who continue to work to change this situation, but the decline in the Palestinian nationalist movement in the past few years has pushed the reality of two-states (which both sides seem to want) out of the realm of possibility.

Using several examples, Rubenstein constructs reasoning for this decline in the Palestinian nationalist movement and shows that in 2010, hundreds of thousands of were Palestinians applying for Israeli citizenship without embarrassment because of the fear of losing residency. He concludes, after deeply analyzing the differences between older and younger generations of Palestinian politicians and explaining the thought processes of several refugees, that though perhaps both sides might want a two state solution, trends in 2010 severely hindered this hope.

It seems as though Rubenstein’s opinion on the inevitability of a one-state solution aren’t universally held. Jane Adas also an article in the New York City and Tri-State News as a response to Danny Rubenstein’s “Keeping the Two-State Solution Alive.” In her response she not only sites and explains the main points of his argument but also supplies plausible reasons why the idea of a single state are not so popular. She references a Green Party representative Norman Finkelstein as well as U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer arguing that, although a single state between Isreal and Palestine seems promising, it may not be a resounding success long term. Finkelstein feels that there is a lack of support for both sides. Adas explains that “he suspects that declining support for Israel has less to do with intermarriage than with the fact that both Israel’s history as we now know it and Israel’s present behavior have become indefensible from a liberal, moral standpoint.” This historical controversy between these two groups has allowed for a lot of mistrust that may not be so easily forgotten in the long run of a developing single state. He further explains that this mistrust has lead to some economic disagreements and sanctions that hinder the Palestinians.

Kurtzer disagrees with the possibility of a unified single state on more of a cultural level. Not only are there economic disputes but there are many social discrepancies. He feels that “both parties not only had histories of bad behavior—Israel’s settlement expansion and Palestinians’ ‘predisposition to resort to violence when things got tough’—and were divided on substantive issues, but each side also was divided internally.” His argument is that their individual differences historically do not allow for the proper cultural diffusion that Rubenstein encourages.

In “Is it too late for a two-state solution?,” written for +972, an online magazine, Lisa Goldman supports the points in Rubinstein’s article, saying that Rubinstein’s claim that the waning of the Palestinian national movement will ultimately be the catalyst for a single state is very much true. She also mentions that the purpose of Rubinstein’s article is not just to show what is happening, but also to warn people that it might not be possible to reverse the process. At large, her article outwardly seems to agree with Rubinstein’s theory by pretending as neutrality. In her writing, Goldman is trying to prove to Rubinstein’s readers that a one-state solution is becoming the more realistic possibility, even though Rubinstein never outwardly spoke of a one-state is solution, implying that she sneakily supports the idea of Israel’s most prominent journalist, Danny Rubinstein, especially in her use of the contradictory title, “is it too late for a two-state solution?.” The purpose of her article is to make people see the Palestinian situation and to justify the argument that a one-state solution might be an inescapable result.

+972 magazine logo via tabletmag.com

+972 magazine logo via tabletmag.com

According +972 magazine’s webpage, the magazine was found in 2010 to provide fresh, original, on-the-ground reporting and analysis of events in Israel and Palestine. Moreover, the publication is committed to human rights and freedom of information, so it does not represent any one organization, political party or specific agenda, according to the site’s “about” section. +972 allows guest contributors to publish as a fair and credible medium, based on English-language. Differing from the information found on the +972 web page, the print version of +972 magazine is known for left-wing news, sponsored by Israel-friendly-companies and organizations. Lisa Goldman is a cofounder of +972 magazine and is a former journalist of Israel. Her response article toward Danny Rubinstein is a supporting article in accordance with her political viewpoint.

 

 

Bushido for Berlin: German Rap and Politics

In June 2012, he completed an internship in the office of Christian von...

Center, Rapper Bushido

When I first visited Germany I was surprised to see the differences between their rap music and ours in America. The styles, messages, and even the beats seem to be quite different in some cases. The biggest thing that stuck out to me, though, is how political their rap can be. Sometimes American rappers will touch on political topics, but in Germany there seems to be an entire branch of political rappers. They rap for and against political policies, and even world issues.

Die Fantastischen

Die Fantastischen 4

Rap, or hip-hop, in Germany came about in the 80’s, and was quite similar to the rap in the United States, including the fact that it was made in english. Since the style of German rap was so similar to American old school rap, it did not grow in popularity until the 90’s. A notable name for the rap scene during the 80’s was Die Fantastischen Vier (Fanta 4) from Stuttgart. In the 90’s Fanta 4 followed suit, with the group Advanced Chemistry, and started rapping in German. This would be the moment that German rap rose in popularity within Germany. Rap was not the only thing on the rise in Germany during the 90’s, though. After reunification between East and West Germany, there was a rise in immigration, and this is the period that one can notice the use of rap as a voice for current affairs. Billy Jam, a radio host from New York’s WFMU, wrote:

“By the early ’90s, Turkish-German, the country’s largest minority, became a powerful voice in German hip-hop. German-Turkish rap essentially came into being in the 1990’s as a direct correlation with the rise of anti-immigrant feelings in Germany and violent attacks upon Turkish immigrants in the country. Hip-hop quickly became a voice for this marginalized sector of German society and consequently the number of Turkish-German rappers has multiplied vastly.”

Immigration to Germany had been going on since the 50’s, but after the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification, there was a rise in violence against Ausländer or foreigners, especially those of Turkish decent. Consequently, from the 90’s on German rap has become very politicized.

Rioters threw Molotov cocktails at the complex, trapping residents inside. It...

Riot against foreigners at Rostock

Not all German rap is political, but mainstream German rappers like Sido, Fler, and Bushido all are known for their politically controversial lyrics. The rapper Bushido is a great example of this. Bushido’s real name is Anis Mohamed Youssef Ferchichi. He was born to a German mother and Tunisian father, and grew up in middle-class Berlin, but soon after leaving school he was charged for crimes of vandalism and drug possession. When he started his rap career he joined with German hip-hop label Aggro Berlin, who is also known for provoking controversy. In a paper on changing demographics in Germany, J. Griffith Rollefson states, “as the racialized descriptions, symbols, and alter egos of the label’s artists indicate, Aggro Berlin is in the business of capitalizing on government and media fears in a racially hypersensitive nation.” This fit well with rapper Bushido who’s lyrics are known to be misogynistic, nationalist, homophobic, and crude. Other controversies of Bushido include tweeting anti-israel posts, having possible ties to a Lebanese organized crime gang, assault, and copyright infringement. One of his latest controversies comes from his single Stress ohne Grund (Stress for no reason). In the song he says:

Und ich will, dass Serkan Tören jetzt ins Gras beißt,
Ich schieß auf Claudia Roth und sie kriegt Löcher wie ein Golfplatz

In this segment of the song, he is speaking about two politicians. The first one, Tören, he wants to “bite the dust”, and the second one, Roth, he says, “he shoots [her] and she gets hole like a golf course.” Also, in the song he speaks about the gay Mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, and others. Bushido had charges filed against him, because the song was considered homophobic, racial, and violent. In a later interview, he stated that the song is “in no way a call to violence and that if he shoots with anything, it’s words.” Bushido also wrote a bestselling autobiography and played himself in a film about his life, but after all of this controversy, the next step he takes in life is quite surprising.

Bushido Internship

Bushido interning in German Parliament

In 2012, Bushido announced on Twitter that he would be starting his own political party. In an interview with Bild Magazine he says, “he was seeking to become mayor of Berlin and win a state parliamentary seat.” This comes as a surprise to many, and Bild Magazine even asked him if it was a joke, which he said it was not. He even did an internship in the German Parliament to learn more about politics. At the time of the interview, Bushido did not know what his party would be called or what platform the party would have. He did say, however, “while the platform for his as-yet unnamed party is not complete, he’s committed to helping those in problem areas, especially immigrants.” His goal is to make life easier for immigrants living in problem areas. He doesn’t just want to give them money though. He “wants to create more incentives [for immigrants] to voluntarily [learn German],” which would be a start to making life easier for them. He also wants to bring other German celebrities into his party, like actor Moritz Bleibtreu from Lola Rennt, former Wimbledon champ Boris Becker, and music producer Dieter Bohlen. When asked about his past lyrics of homophobia, misogyny, and violence, he says, “These texts are past … I have nothing against gays. And my God, we love women, women are sexy.” While the next elections are not until 2016, I think it will be very interesting to see what comes of this. To see a rapper, who has a controversial and criminal past that made his living on crude and violent lyrics, step into the political realm is something to follow in the future. It is hard to say how much success he will garner politically, but maybe his popularity in the rap industry will help him to become mayor of Berlin. Since rap has such a strong political voice in Germany, maybe it is possible for the two worlds to collide. 

Sources: A Brief Overview of German Hip-Hop from Billy Jam /// Changing Demographics: Migration Flows from or to Germany /// Bushido Ballyhoo: When Hip-Hop and German Politics Collide /// German Rapper Bushido Starts Own Political Party /// Rüpel-Rapper Will Eigene Partei Gründen

Kindred Spirits in Sochi… As Long As They’re Traditional

Plagued by everything from exorbitant corruption fees to terrorist threats, the XXII Winter Olympics in Sochi have already focused plenty of attention on Russia, for all the wrong reasons. Perhaps most inflammatory, however, was the passage of a bill banning poorly defined “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors;” in essence, Putin has institutionalized homophobia in Russia by passing legislation which criminalizes gay rights advocacy. Although he signed the bill over seven months ago, the resulting fall out has yet to settle, and in many ways, has taken up even more of the limelight than the games themselves.

German National Team — Sochi XXII Winter Olympics

The new law has understandably garnered an outcry from across the globe, with most of the responses being firmly on the side of gay rights. Within Russia, protests have been made by everyone from 14-year old schoolgirls to professional activists; outside the country, they have taken the form of everything from Germany’s fabulous new uniforms to calls for an outright boycott of the games (such as those made by the Russian politically-minded punk rock group Pussy Riot).

To be fair, it hasn’t been an entirely uphill battle for activists. Despite Russia’s assurance that any foreigners can and will (and have) be fined, jailed, and/or deported if found violating the law, international pressures have ceded some acquiescence and the opening ceremony itself ironically featured the work of tATu, a Russian pop duo who gained their fame by feigning homosexuality.

Svetlana Zhurova, mayor of Olympic Village and former Olympic champion

Of course, some are asking what Russia’s political policies have to do with an international sports competition. Former Olympic champion and current Olympic Village Mayor Svetlana Zhurova, for example, has begged spectators and athletes alike not to protest the law. According to her, “we are going to applaud the straight people and the homosexuals just like the previous Olympic Games,” and Sochi is neither the time nor the place for activism.

The Olympics, however, have always represented much more than a medal. Our friends at Google perhaps posed the best argument by pulling up the Olympic Charter itself, and reminding the world of the true heart of the Olympic games: a spirit of friendship, solidarity, and fair play — a spirit which has thus far been sadly lacking under Putin’s tightening iron fist.

@GreeceUnemployment is breaking records! #InABadWay

According to a leaked government email, covered in my last post, the general public in Greece became aware that officials were considering implementing a 6-day workweek. I picked up the story while on my laptop reading about the Eurocrisis on CNN. This blog post topic was actually easier to find, because it presented itself with only the swipe of my finger.

I came across this tweet, which is very unfortunate news but great for me to talk about in my blog, while browsing through my twitter feed on my phone. This specific article also appeared on my Google alerts and I am sure it was covered by other news related twitter accounts. To keep my post narrow I am going to discuss the Huffington Post tweet as it pertains to the original source in which I gained my information.

 The article, Greece Unemployment Rises Above 25 Percent, was posted to Huffington Post’s website in the World section on October 11th. It was first tweeted by @HuffPostWorld and later tweeted by @HuffingtonPost, which is where I picked it up. The article explains that as of July unemployment has hit an overall record high of 25.1% with youth unemployment increasing well past 50%.

          I could continue on with the rather depressing figures and facts on the current economic crisis in Greece, however, I am going to touch on the reach (people who saw the tweet) for these two tweets and the reactions received after they were posted on twitter.

           When you combine these numbers there was a chance 2,168,750 people saw either tweet posted by Huffington Post. Keep in mind that excludes other news sources tweets, people who retweeted and their followers who had some kind of interacted with the tweet.

          Phew, I’ll let you digest that and move on to a variety of opinions people shared with their followers.

Proud

(Personal reaction from Greece Unemployment tweet.)

Satire

(Personal reaction from Greece Unemployment tweet.)

(Personal reaction from Greece Unemployment tweet.)

Related to American Government/Politics

(Personal reaction from Greece Unemployment tweet.)

(Personal reaction from Greece Unemployment tweet.)

Austerity: In economics terms – “A policy of deficit-cutting by lowering spending via a reduction in the amount of benefits and public services provided,” (Wikipedia).

(Personal reaction from Greece Unemployment tweet.)

(Personal reaction from Greece Unemployment tweet.)

Other

(2 part personal reaction from Greece Unemployment tweet.)

(Personal reaction from Greece Unemployment tweet.)

(Personal reaction from Greece Unemployment tweet.)

(Personal reaction from Greece Unemployment tweet.)

 

I have to admit when I came across the tweet my only interaction was:
(1.) Seeing it
(2.) Taking a screen shot so I could find it later to write this post.

          I didn’t retweet, quote the tweet or even favorite it because I use twitter more as a source to gain information rather than share it. That is why I was able to come across the tweet because you can pick and choose what you want to be reading about. It also goes to show that twitter is the top dog for getting the word out in real time with the ability to reach millions of people.

         Think about your online presence, especially on twitter, and the way you interact and share its content. Don’t have a twitter? You should get one. Coming from a former skeptic at least check it out and learn about how it works.

And for now I leave you with this…

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

…..Now go try twitter.

The Forgotten – Russia’s Veterans & Military Reform

Vitaly Efremov, a Lieutenant serving in Russia’s Armed Forces, wrote a  “Letter to the Minister of Defense” in the style of, “emenyem.” He painted a picture of a bleak, dismal experience in the service and asked for reforms. The Minister of Defense’s reply?

Lt. Efremov was posted to a distant Siberian base, Ussuriysk as punishment for his protest, in the Russian tradition of cracking down on dissent.  As former military myself, veterans issues are extremely important to me. Service is hard no matter what military you’re serving in and I find a common bond with people across all nationalities because of this. It’s simply a hard way of life and the majority of the people find that their time and efforts are better spent elsewhere. That’s why those that serve deserve special considerations from the government and I don’t think that there is a military anywhere in the world that compensates it’s troops enough for what they do. This particular case helps illustrate the challenges faced by members of my own family in Russia. My experiences in the military and training with the armed forces of eastern European countries have been largely positive and I’d like to bring your attention to the possibility of hope for these forgotten men.

 


Efremov’s video letter to the Minister of Defense (Emenim style)

Dmitry Choukline

My time in Fallujah, Iraq – Dmitry Choukline

I signed up for the U.S. Marine Corps when I was 18 and fresh out of high school. It was the best/worse decision I think I’ve made but the important distinction was that in the end, it was my decision. In some countries, the youth don’t get that choice. When I came back to civilian life, I was able to seek support from an over-burdened and faulty Veterans Affairs – but my point is that I was still able to get the help I needed. Most of my family is back in Russia. My three cousins whom I haven’t since I was 17, have grown up, married, had kids – and two have served in the Army. It was an interesting situation as we found ourselves on opposite sides of the Iron Curtain, at least symbolically.

Both our armed forces had seen changes in their organization during our time in. The Russian government announced that the draft will now only be one year for those slotted to be in the Army. The United States Marine Corp have made radical changes in training, organization and equipment. The Veterans Affairs department is seeing the largest overhaul of it’s structure and benefits since the G.I. Bill was introduced post World War Two. I have honestly been surprised at what the new guys are dealing with, and humbled. My experience serving had been completely different than what my cousins went through. I was very interested to find out what it would’ve been like for me if my family hadn’t moved to the states. With such a change in the way the U.S. does business following it’s recent experience in the “Global War on Terror”, I was wondering if Russia, with it’s increased funding and following wars in the Caucasus, might experience a similar albeit fundamentally different progress of their own.

To give you a little background, the Russian Army is a fairly sizable force numbering roughly around a million souls. The vast majority of these are conscripts. Russia has a bi-annual draft that the majority of those coming of age would like to avoid.

The Hazing

Andrei Sychyov recovering in the hospital following operations to stop the spread of gangrene after he was beaten

Stories like that of Andrei Sychyov, a private who was hazed so badly by his fellow soldiers that he suffered amputation of his legs, genitalia, and part of his hand after gangrene, set in when he couldn’t go to the military hospital for help. The hazing has a formal name: Dedovschina (дедовщина) is the practice of systematic hazing and abuse of the new conscripts, the dukhs (ghosts) by the older “Deds” or grandfathers who are close to completing their military obligations. Dedovschina’s literal translation is grandfatherism and it is a symptom of a broken system. With no-one to maintain order and discipline in the barracks, the lack of a professional enlisted corps of NCO’s and the lack of funds and reluctance of reforms creates a situation where officers leave soldiers in charge of one another to self-govern. You can see how this becomes a problem with the new batch of conscripts being brutalized during their first year, only to find themselves in a position of authority for the second. The cycle continues.

Serving to death in the Russian army – RT.com

It’s not at all hard to find videos of conscripts being abused and hazed. A quick Google search brought up numerous Youtube videos of beatings and humiliation in the barracks. I am not going to put them up here but the point is – it’s widespread.

Reforms

Vladimir Putin is trying to solve this problem. Specifically the problem of overall reform. The Russian military system is outdated and ineffective. Corruption runs rampant and the reluctance to change is deep-rooted in the belief that a numerically large military  – is a powerful one, and necessary to defend Russia’s large borders. Dr. Dmitry Gorenburg, a research scientist at CNA (a Washington, DC thinktank), is a prominent authority on Russia’s military and the state of their affairs. His blog: http://russiamil.wordpress.com/ is a fantastic resource for almost any type of subject relating to Russia’s armed forces and their reforms. He has this to say about the need to downsize the military…

None of the arguments made in favor of maintaining an army of 1 million soldiers make sense. They are usually based on factors such as the country’s size or the length of its borders, rather than on an analysis of the realistic military threats that Russia might face in the foreseeable future.

The government is pouring in billions of rubles to try and close the gap between the military’s aging infrastructure and the current needs of the state. Dr. Gorenburg explains the intricacies of how difficult this problem is to solve:

http://russiamil.wordpress.com/2011/07/29/the-russian-militarys-manpower-problem/

My limited knowledge in this can only give a quick gist of what’s going on. In order to reform the military by scaling back the number of forces, modernize the existing ones, and professionalize the military – the state, specifically Putin in his agenda, has to ensure accountability across the board for the changes made.

The problem is that the Old Guard is generally opposed to reforms because doing so would decrease the amount of soldiers available for service. A conscripted army is a cheap army to maintain compared to that of professional volunteer military and a professional military cannot be used to perform farm labor for extra pay. The reforms would also tackle the rampant corruption endemic to the military. A lot of the funds originally slated to go to modernizing the military, have found their way into the back pockets of corrupt generals and officials. Putin, apparently, is on a warpath to get this done, and presently this is his third official try to do so.

Progress?

Russia’s Armed Forces on Parade – ForeignPolicy.com

He may be succeeding. Having fired the generals opposed to reform and replaced them with those eager to see change, Putin is pushing ahead with his characteristic determination to get things done. And right now is his best chance to do so. Flush with funds from the nationalization of it’s oil and largely rebounded from the economic crisis of the 90’s, Russia has been pouring money into it’s military. So far, the changes have been largely organizational. This is important however, since it allows the military to contract it’s size and requirements in order to remain an effective defender of national interests.

Robert Haddick, in his article, “This Week at War: A Leaner, Cleaner Russian Army” outlines some of the challenges faced by this administration, as well as some of the changes already enacted. Specifically, Putin’s move to bring in civilian supervisors like Anatoly Serdyukov, the official government tax collector is paying off. The funds are finally starting to go where they were intended.

The Next Step

The benefits of a modernized military are clear to reformers and objectors alike. One of the biggest problems following the re-organization of the military is the building of a professional NCO corps. Non-Commissioned Officers or NCO’s for short, are known as the backbone of the western military doctrine. These professionals are enlisted volunteers responsible for the delegation of authority, the supervision of morale, discipline and training. They have come up through the ranks and provided the guidance and experience needed to make others carry out orders. In short, they are the ones that make things happen on the bottom line – and Russia has no such institution. Well it does – but it’s called Dedovschina and it’s clearly not working.

There is a sign of changing times. In the recent war with Georgia back in 2008, a visible shift was seen when the majority of units deployed – were contract soldiers. The need for incentives to attract service-members has been given some attention. Dr. Gorenburg provides a recent update of the proposed pay structure for the conscripts coming in this year, essentially doubling their pay – link here. While the amount is not necessarily significant, roughly around $200 a month, that’s still a really low figure when compared, for example, to a U.S. Private with less than 4 months of training who earns around $1403 a month. The contract soldiers and officers, on the other hand, may finally be able to find a salary that’s competitive to the civilian sector after their pay was reformed too. This might actually make the military a place that draws young people to it as viable career instead of as a sentence.

The point is that with rising salaries, the hopes for an increase in benefits seems likely to happen. According to the themoscownews.com, veterans of Russia’s armed forces may see more relief coming. President Putin recently signed a decree stating that disabled veterans are entitled to social security, compensation, and medical care (all in various degrees).

 So What?

Training in Ukraine – Ukrainian Marine Corps Officers and my fellow Marines.

Does any of this really matter? Why do I consider this issue of reform all that important? Well besides having a personal connection to these problems, I think there is a great deal to be optimistic about. Just the fact that an institution of such magnitude in a country as historically closed off as Russia is trying to change gives people a lot of hope that things will get better. It seems that maybe “the forgotten” have finally become “the remembered” and the veterans lives will continue to improve. I especially hope this is the case for the disabled veterans, like Andrei Sychyov, or others wounded or hurt in one of Russia’s many brushfire wars.

A reformed Russian army has geopolitical consequences as well, and most of those are actually benificial to the U.S. Think about it this way: a military that is focused on policing it’s own backyard, tactics and equipment similar to those used by Western powers and a high degree of professionalism would make the ideal partner when cooperating on regional problems. The realization that the Cold War is finally over when the army is rebuilt might signal a reverse in the tendency to treat each other as opponents. In essence this could make the U.S.  military’s job easier, the borders a little friendlier, and people’s lives a little better.

– Dmitry

Interesting links on the subject:

Dr. Gorenburg’s blog on Russian military reform: http://russiamil.wordpress.com/

Dedovschina (Grandfatherism – the hazing of conscripts):http://www.rferl.org/content/article/1055451.html

Miscellaneous Russian military photos (updated frequently) – http://www.militaryphotos.net/forums/showthread.php?99988-Russian-Photos-(updated-on-regular-basis)/page3488

New Russian military uniforms: http://englishrussia.com/2010/07/13/new-uniform-of-the-russian-army/

 

 

A picture is worth a thousand words. It’s also pretty destructive.

What makes political cartoons so attractive in comparison to other means of communication? As I sit here writing this blog post trying to figure out what I want to write about, it is this question that keeps popping up in my mind. The power of cartoons: why are they used as a method to communicate political themes when words could have accomplished the same thing?

The answer to the question might seem fairly obvious: provocation. Take for example the French cartoonist Charlie Hebdo and his recent depictions of the prophet Muhammed. It wasn’t too long ago his studio was set on fire in a wave of protests against his depictions. Would a similar reaction happen if the same message was conveyed in words?

Charlie Hebdo’s depiction of the prophet Muhammed

In reviewing Euro-crisis caricatures, I tend to find many of the them quite humorous. It’s easy for me to say that though: I’m an outsider – an American – looking in on the crisis. Depictions of a Greek being ran over by a car called crisis and being ‘saved’ by a Red Cross bulldozer driven by Merkel is probably hilarious to the German (I find it quite funny as well); to the Greek, however, I am thinking it is far from evoking humor. Would taking the same picture and transforming it into words have the same impact and reactions?

Angela Merkel ‘saving’ the Greek.

Using a picture, such as our aforementioned German bulldozer example, seems to have more of a profound impact on the Greek viewer than German headlines and descriptions such as “bankrupt Greeks” and “frauds in the Euro family.” Using derogatory words aren’t as effective as the action of pictures and visualizations. As the German magazine Der Spiegel reported recently, “Greeks filed a lawsuit for collective libel against the Munich-based magazine Focus several months ago after it depicted the Venus de Milo statue with an extended middle finger in February 2010.” The fact that Greeks sued over a depiction shows just how hard-hitting depictions can be.

Words just aren’t cutting it: they are only words. Even Merkel’s criticism of “southern European inefficiency” (I guess this commented offended quite a few southern Europeans) couldn’t persuade a European to sue a German; a picture, however, has the ability to enrage the masses.

I suppose the methods for decoding pictures rings closer to home than the analytical approaches used when reading. The point is much clearer and memorable because of its nonverbal nature. For example, when a German is depicted as being a Nazi during the crisis, one can automatically associate the current behavior of the Germans with the behavior of the past. Whether it is true or not, one gets the sense that a crime is being committed, an atrocity is happening, and something needs to be done. It is indeed a much easier and more efficient way of portraying a message: as they say, a picture is a thousand words.

A picture almost a thousand words.

Nonetheless, many believe cartoons are still unnecessary and aren’t as effective. According to Christina H. from Cracked.com, political cartoons

“…should be a means to get a controversial point across in a concise, effective and humorous way. In reality, most usually convey less information than, say, grunting or gesturing. Whether you agree or disagree with the message is irrelevant, as these cartoons are often shitty ass vehicles for any message. Taken on average, political cartoons are the least effective way of making a point aside from suicide bombing and Internet petitions.”

Christiana H. makes her point crystal clear: political cartoons aren’t the best way to convey a message.

The question here, then, is whether a cartoon’s efficiency of portraying a message is worth it. Does portraying Angela Merkel as a Nazi have any relevance to the crisis, or does it further tarnish the reputations of Greek citizens? One might like to think that using words, although less efficient, does less harm to a particular individual. But then again…

Angela Merkel as a Neo-Nazi.

Maybe it is the case that more laughs and positivity result from the art, rather than anger and hate. It’s been said before that the best medicine goes down much better with a bit of humor. What do you think? Do political cartoons and depictions do more harm than good, or does a questioning and analysis even matter?

A Punk Band’s Prayer – Deliver Us from Putin

“Open all the doors, tear off your epaulets

Come, taste freedom with us.“

Pussy Riot

Russia’s literature and music has always had a political connotation to it. With no outlet to vent their frustrations, Russia’s artists, writers and poets have been some of their country’s greatest patriots and also its biggest critics. The recent controversy over the state’s punishment of a punk bands “concert” has ignited the passions of Russia’s youth about the issue of free speech. The band Pussy Riot performed a controversial anti-Kremlin concert in a Moscow cathedral to the delight of their fans and to the disgust of the authorities all the way up to Putin himself.

Hooliganism is an official charge that can carry a sentence anywhere between 3 to 8 years in prison and it’s the state’s official charge brought upon the bands member. It’s also likely to stick. This is Russia – and sometimes it shows just how different it can be.

 

What drives these young women’s hearts? Nadezhda Tolokonnikova explains in her closing statements.

“We were searching for real sincerity and simplicity, and we found these qualities in the yurodstvo [holy foolishness] of punk. Passion, total honesty, and naivete are superior to the hypocrisy, mendacity, and false modesty that are used to disguise crime. The so-called leading figures of our state stand in the Cathedral with righteous faces on, but, in their cunning, their sin is greater than our own ” – Nadezhda Tolokonnikova

 

The road to free speech in Russia has long known the heavy hand of the state. Demonstrations have historically been met with riot police, tanks, tear gas and paramilitary police forces. Yet today’s tech-savvy generation has given dissidents a new voice through social media. With the ability to organize protests through online services like Facebook and Twitter, Russian authorities have a hard time in reacting to the growth of such gatherings. Pussy Riots lyric’s might be considered crude by some but they deliver a powerful message of dissent that Dostoevsky would be proud of.

In a way, the band’s usage of Orthodox imagery signals a return to a kind of pure spiritualism that was pervasive amongst Russian literary legends. The nihilistic search for truth, a kind of purity and transparency guides the band’s political and spiritual goals.

“It was our search for truth that led us to the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. I think that Christianity, as I understood it while studying the Old and especially the New Testament, supports the search for truth and a constant overcoming of oneself, the overcoming of what you were earlier.”

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova

Pussy Riot’s case is easy to categorize as a simple matter of state vs. free speech, however Vadim Nikitin, a contributor to The New York Times in his article “The Wrong Reasons to Back Pussy Riot” points out that the band had a bad tendency to actually incite riots. Despite the apparent “Kangaroo Court” put on by the state, the band does have some legitimate criminal offenses to answer for. Nadezhda’s moving words in her closing statements seems to be an effective smoke screen for her participation in a public orgy – while pregnant as a form of protest – (Nadezhda’s profile). Vadim says,

“The members of Pussy Riot are not liberals looking for self-expression. They are self-confessed descendants of the surrealists and the Russian futurists, determined to radically, even violently, change society.”source.

He may have a point as the bands message promotes rebellion against all state organizations not just corrupt ones.

-source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=grEBLskpDWQ

An American expatriate blogger in Russia, Почемучка aka “Pochemuchka” (the one who asks a lot of questions) disagrees. The bands more racy activism is irrelevant in the context of their message. She points out that the sheer bravery to stand up so defiantly to the government and corrupt church officials is the real message that needs to be taken away from this case:

“Almost every Russian will tell you outright that the democracy of their country is a farce. But many also support sending these women to prison. In my opinion, seeing these two things as solid opposites prevents any kind of cultural analysis. However, “it’s part of their culture, so it’s okay” is a statement that disregards any universality amongst human beings–like the idea of “basic human rights”… my opinion on the Pussy Riot case is that the sentence these women received for what I see as a logistically simple act of civil disobedience far outweighed the physical damage actually incurred against the church.

This case gives a very exciting perspective into the younger Russian activists and the culture that they are promoting. Despite obvious flaws in their incendiary approach, their message remains the important takeaway. That voice of dissent – delivered through, somewhat unorthodox means was heard loud and clear in the Kremlin. It is interesting to see a new generation of Russia’s warrior poets and their influence on Russia’s historically closed off society.  The question remains to be seen whether this unique approach to activism will lead to any changes in the Russian state’s attitude toward free speech and lend encouragement to others to voice their dissent.

 

Or will their efforts just promote a government crackdown while alienating themselves from the rest of Russia’s citizens?

Please comment and let us know what your views are on the subject. Is this type of behavior justified in the pursuit of free speech and how are these women punk rock activists unique amongst their community? Would this even be an issue in the United States or other countries?

Thanks

– Dima

Interesting links regarding this topic:

Pussy Riot’s Twitter page

Pussy Riot’s Closing Statements

The Pochyemuchka Diaries – American Expat in Moscow

The Wrong Reasons to Back Pussy Riot – Vadim Nikitin’s Op-Ed in The New York Times

Punk Punishment: Pussy Riot’s ‘unholy prayer’ splits society – RussiaToday

Pussy Riot profile: Nadezhda Tolokonnikova – The Guardian’s story on the Pussy Riot’s “Evil Genius”

 

Changing Politics-European Drug Laws and You.

There have been many events in the recent past where there has been cause for questioning our ideologies on what rules to impose on information, but now we are looking at censorship not on a media level, but on a chemical informational level. For example, why is it illegal to imbibe a safe and even health promoting amount of the therapeutic drug MDMA, but it is not illegal for people to be put through a rape scene in a movie?  Furthermore, why are people allowed to put limitations on what people metabolize in their bodies?

Questions need to be answered and in order to set the scene for these questions and answers here is a slight bit of information regarding recent UK troubles in this area…A British Professor (David Nutt) and neuropsychopharmacologist dedicated to the study of Pharmacokinetics and Pharmacodynamics was recently fired from his lofty position of adviser on a UK Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs for what this writer will consider a strange reason. He was fired for essentially publishing a pamphlet where he espoused ideas that the UK’s drug laws, are from a moral standpoint, wrong. The kicker must have been his suggestion that the drugs class system (the levels of scheduled drugs) be changed to reflect the dangers of drugs as opposed to political motivations. For more information on the position of the ex-professor Nutt kindly click this interview link. EX-NUTTSPEAKS!

These advisories function as the epitome-consider-er of substances which are being misused and  appears to be capable of having harmful effects sufficient to cause a social problem.  As such, there are a couple primary factors pushing the consideration to change present drug laws. For the UK, there is a vested interest in the relationship between drug and alcohol abuse. Reformers are calling for this consideration due to the fact that they know drugs and alcohol abuse stem from the root of something. Why are people taking drugs, what kind of lives push the use and abuse of drugs, and does prohibition actually help this political and economic equation are the kinds of questions being asked at the moment.

Some Current Drug prohibition thoughts-

“Drug prohibition is a blessing for organized crime”, said Dennis de Jong, Dutch Member of the European Parliament. “My own government unfortunately is now moving towards more repression on the coffee shops. Instead of the more reasonable approach towards regulation, the authorities now want to ban foreign visitors by installing membership cards, which will only increase the illegal market”– Via 420 Magazine

In the recent events involving an essential recreating of drug laws there is a clear focus on …

…the harms of prohibition and the law reform debate – obviously directly reinforced by a number of the other questions.” –Via Transform-Drugs.blogspot.com

UK drug laws

Another important idea to consider is the actual comparative harm of legal and illegal drugs and the cost of them. To help set the scene here are some current working definitions of drug prohibition law. For example, in the US a schedule 1 drug is considered a drug with no medical value and high potential for abuse. On the list of Schedule 1 drugs is marijuana. This writer is struck by the idea that the working definition for scheduled drugs has to do with medical and abuse potential and in fact, marijuana has high medical value and low abuse potential. This combined with the fact that Methamphetamine, a highly toxic and abusive drug, is only listed as schedule 2…making it politically less harmful than marijuana. There is a certain strangeness to the idea that the government doesn’t want more harmful things to be illegal while less harmful things, or even things with a perceivable medical value would be at the top of an illegal list.

Considering prohibition also brings up the dual opposite notion of decriminalization of drug use. People used to follow the ideology that less lenient drug laws would provide for a more drug abusing culture. Currently, countries such as the Netherlands and Portugal have shown that decriminalization does NOT lead to increased use, but in fact provides….

…safer conditions for drug consumers, and more efficient approaches in law enforcement. The same goes for Spain: “In the Basque country, the Cannabis Social Club model, a form of collective cultivation of cannabis for personal use, has been recognized by authorities and proves to be a very successful approach that is not questioned”, explained Martín Barriuso.

To see who is leading the way in drug policy—>Netherlands drug policy

So I leave you with these kernels of information.  It is your duty as a citizen of this world to safeguard your freedoms and to be the amalgamation of all the information you come in contact with.  I hope that this information is used and dispersed, and it has been a joy to share with all of you.

-new announcement regarding new UK drug laws and the factors involved…..>>>>>….click here….

Pirates Taking Over Germany?

Pirate party.

Picture from P2P-Blog

Sounds like the theme of every kids 5th birthday party right? Well to some that may be accurate, but I’m not talking about birthday parties. I’m talking about a growing political movement across Europe, especially in Germany. The Piratenpartei (pirate party) is a political movement that is focused on conserving the civil rights of German citizens. Sounds kind of familiar right? Think back to the 1960’s, America had a civil rights movement. This movement is different however, this isn’t about racial equality, and this is about preserving the safety and secrecy of German citizens.

Since their founding in 2006, the party has quickly grown in power and in membership. In the most recent elections, the Piratenpartei got over 9% of the vote, which in Germany is quite impressive.  The party is very popular amongst younger libertarian people. They all believe in the same thing; the government should be more transparent, they want less surveillance of the citizens, and they generally want more civil rights when it comes to the Internet.

Picture from P2P-Blog

Recently Germany passed a law called the Access impediment act. The act is much like the one proposed in Russia and currently being enforced in several other countries throughout the world. The law limits what people can and cannot access on the Internet, i.e.: child pornography, illegally downloading music/ movies, etc… the Piratenpartei is staunchly against this law.  They are also against the surveillance of citizens and the “wiretapping of telephones”.

I personally believe that this party is a great thing. Although the German government is arguably more transparent then our own government, I still believe that there should be more access to government documents and that wire tapping/ spying on the citizens should be illegal. The Piratenpartei has gained power in other European countries (Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Belgium, France), and I believe that it will continue to spread around the world.

To find more information about the pirate party click here and for the P2P-Blog click  here.

(Shades of) Grün -2

Political Green

For Germans, “green” is the color, “green” is the environmental movement, and increasingly importantly it is politics. The changes in Germany’s political landscape accompany the rising awareness of renewable technologies of the public.

Die Grünen – The Green Party

Green party is based on principles of sustainable governance on various aspects of a society, not only on environment. The political party is founded in many nations. The Green Party of the U.S. formed in 2001.

German Green Party Logo

Die Grünen, the Green Party of Germany green has gained significant support from the public and achieved a series of victories. It took control of Baden-Württemberg this spring. As the New York Times put it, it had the same connotation of capturing the Texas statehouse. The Greens are said to have won the cultural war on issues like gay rights and the integration of immigrants. It was also reported that the Greens, though have roots on the left, have tapped into the mindset of the conservatives.

“The party is a more interesting alternative for larger groups in society, not just for people who study environmental policy at university,” said Gustav Fridolin, one of the Swedish Green Party leaders.

As Germany leads the postindustrial world, the Green Party of Germany leads the nation’s postindustrial movement.

The Pirate Party

In comparison to the surging Green Party, the Pirate Party is much younger and recently won its first seats in the Berlin state elections*. It seems to be making its own contribution to the political “green”.

The logo of the Pirate Party Germany

According to treehugger.com, the Pirates call to keep natural areas available for everyone, such as maintaining open access to river banks. It also calls for free public transport, and activates against expanding highways through the city. The Pirates advocate nuclear-free power as well. And its campaign program explicitly calls for “sustainable, ecological economic policy.”

The young political party represents another post-industrial political force.

*In Germany, any party winning more than 5% of the votes is entitled to a share in government. With 8.9%, the Pirate party lands 15 seats in the state government.

Poor, Sexy and Stupid?

Guess what? It’s time to reelect the mayor of Berlin! The current mayor, one Klaus Wowereit, is the apparent reelectee. But wait, doesn’t Berlin have major fiscal and social problems? Yes that is true, the unemployment rate in Berlin is close to double that of everywhere else in Germany. Along with its high unemployment rate, Berlin’s public schools are rated as some of the worst in Germany, and real estate investors are raising the price of rent so high the average citizen can’t afford them. So why is the mayor, that has served for over 10 years now, being reelected?

Picture from Oliver Wolters

It’s quite simple; it might be the fact that the people of Berlin love his easy going, and quick thinking attitude. Or it might be the fact that he “Came out of the closet” during a political party conference, this makes Berlin one of Europe’s 3 major cities with a homosexual mayor (Hamburg, Paris, Berlin). Either way, Berliners love him regardless of the obvious problems that he seemingly shrugs off.

The problems Berlin faces aren’t something to shy away from, rampant joblessness, cars being set ablaze by unknown arsonists, a very unreliable public transit system, and the fact that the school system is one of the worst in Germany. Like I said before, the unemployment rate in Berlin is close to double that of Germany as a country. This, accompanied with the rising price of rent, is forcing many people out of their homes and onto the streets. The increasing amounts of homeless people, some people may argue, is both straining the public transit system and the police force. Recently there have been a rash of cars being set ablaze by unknown arsonists. But with these problems being so blatant and obvious why isn’t the mayor addressing them? And better yet why is he going to be reelected?

This too is a simple answer, during his term as mayor; he has transformed Berlin into a European cultural hub. He turned the once divided city, into a united city with a unique identity. He has also been very forthcoming in the bringing of movies and other activities to Berlin. He was also the mayor that adopted and pioneered Berlin’s slogan “Poor but Sexy”. However if the problems continue as they are now, he may have to change the slogan to “Stupid, Poor, and Homeless”.

For more details click the link below –

http://www.sprengsatz.de/

http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,786061,00.html

The Muslim Threat

Thilo Sarrazin presenting his controversial book

Presenting his controversial book: Thilo Sarrazin

Germany is becoming stupid and it’s the Muslims’ fault.

Germans should be able to live among Germans and should not live in a country where the main language is Turkish or Arabic, women wear head scarves, and daily life is organized by the call of the Muezzin.

Says Sarrazin. His rhetoric is certainly more than just questionable. It has made him the target of public criticism and has driven him into resignation from his job as a member of the executive board of the Deutsche Bundesbank and a member of social democrats.

It is obvious why he received so much criticism. What’s surprising is that hardly anyone who does so has not read his book. This does not by any means mean that I support his theses. However, Sarrazin’s direct and offensive language has almost averted objective discussions on a topic that is not only of national but international importance. (“Es geht mir vor allem um Klarheit und Genauigkeit, die Zeichnung ist daher kräftig, nicht unentschlossen oder krakelig. “)

Sarrazin based his argument on facts but his language stands in his own way. While it is true that, for example, the German elite and academic families have fewer children than Muslim families from predominately lower class backgrounds, it is very problematic to find cultural reasons for the  IQ of Muslims, which – on average – is lower than the IQ of Germans. If you take this whole argument one step further and claim that the above statement is also due to genetics, it becomes impossible to discuss it objectively.

In a very blatant way, Sarazzin mixes facts with myths or half-truths and claims that our society has turned Darwin’s theory of the survival of the fittest into a survival of the most fertile, i.e. the Muslims. The truth behind this argument is that lower class families in Germany have more kids than academics and many immigrants, unfortunately, still belong among the least educated part of society. This cannot, however, be blamed on genetic defects caused by intermarriages but is more likely to originate in the cultural value of education in general and the education of women in particular. Furthermore, Muslims usually learn differently than Europeans.

That's not funny, Ahmed!

In the Western world, logical thinking and independent thinking are valued much higher than in the East. (Another problem is that these arguments usually generalize and are thus, prone to stereotyping certain ethnic or cultural groups. This article is no exception.)

Research shows that the decisive factor in a child’s intellectual development is not their national or cultural background but the upbringing and education. During childhood and adolescence, the child’s IQ grows by about 5 points per year and about 80 % of this growth happens in school. While intelligence is hereditary, the genes only play a minor role in the development of cognitive ability.

I don’t want to defend Sarazzin’s theses in any way, but the public reaction to his book shows that he touched a very sensitive topic in Germany. Germany is divided into two sides either supporting Sarrazin or resolute opposition. Ist er ein Hetzer oder ein Held?

Chirac is back, Sarkozy slumps

Book cover for Chiracs memoirs

Book cover for Chirac's memoirs

France media has been abuzz with the stories of former French President Jacques Chirac lately. His 500-page memoir of life in politics up to 1995 came out at the same time he was ordered to face charges of corruption. He has been accused, along with nine others, of creating fictitious jobs while mayor of Paris.

But a recent report on France 24, says that the French still admire the former French president, and think he should stand trial. Some hope that his memoirs will offer stirring details about the corruption scandal, but so far the only parts that have been leaked to the press and TV show his admiration or disdain for particular political leaders.

“These leaks put us on the spot, especially since no bookstore has received the book yet,” explains Catherine Bourget, a press attaché from the book’s publishing house, Nil Éditions.

See a video interview with Jacques Chirac for more about the content of his memoirs. He reveals very little beyond politics.
But Chirac isn’t the only French politician making headlines. President Nicolas Sarkozy has seen his popularity ratings drop after the push to name his son, Jean, as head of the agency in charge of Paris’ La Defence business district.

The charges of nepotism were loud and strong — and they came at a time when his administration was roiling with underage sex scandals about the culture minister and a court battle with a former prime minister.

“Something has changed in the country,” Jean-Marc Ayrault, a senior Socialist deputy said. “The air has changed. The thread between this president and the French people has broken.”

How much of Sarkozy’s popularity was tied to the debacle with his son Jean? Will the nepotism scandal change French opinions about their president? What affect with Chirac’s corruption trial have on French politics?

It’s all in the family

It’s no surprise when the name Sarkozy makes the news in France, after all the French president and his son are known for their good looks and powerful connections, as well as their beautiful, rich wives. But as France 24 reported last week:

Jean Sarkozy

Jean Sarkozy

Pressure is piling up on embattled French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose 23-year-old undergraduate son looks set to head-up the main business district in Paris. Worryingly, not only have there been howls of disapproval at home, but the international community is now joining in as well.

Some critics are calling it nepotism. At issue: Whether Jean Sarkozy should head the agency in charge of the Paris business district La Defense. Almost two years ago, he was chosen as a councilor in the same rich suburb where his father’s career began. A few critics say Jean Sarkozy is getting the attention because of his looks and name and not for his abilities.

The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera has even suggested that the elder Sarkozy is trying to appoint an heir apparent. Read a LeMonde commentary on the situation.

Jean Sarkozy is said to be known for his blond good looks, and as the president’s son he should be used to the attention, right? Would it be unusual if his good looks failed to help propel his political career? Unlikely.

It seems that good looks worked in his father’s favor, too. The elder Sarkozy recently made the list of Hottest Heads of State.

But Nicolas Sarkozy is ranked at 28, well behind U.S. president Barack Obama at No. 15.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy

French President Nicolas Sarkozy

The list isn’t official and the public doesn’t get to vote, according to Time Magazine.

Is Jean Sarkozy getting too much media attention because of his powerful connections and good looks? Are good looks and political success linked more closely in French society than in American society?