Archive for Geopolitics

Madame Mao, Hillary Clinton: Political Power Grows Out of a Horndog Hubby

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

20111031-wikicommons JiangQingmovieshot 1934

“Every Communist must grasp the truth; Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

So said Mao Zedong, dictator extraordinaire. According to some historians of totalitarianism, Mao did democide (murder by government) even better than his mentor, Joseph Stalin. Whatever. Both were masters of mass starvation. Mao’s visionary Great Leap Forward, an accelerated modernization program, produced the Great Chinese Famine of 1958 to ’61. The dead numbered between 20 and 43 million. Thereby proving Mao’s maxim that “revolution isn’t a dinner party”.

As well as a go-go dictator, Mao was a celebrated author. His Little Red Book (aka Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung) a  compendium of revolutionary nuggets informed by Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, was must reading for the masses. Though the Red Book’s reputation dwindled after Mao’s death in 1976, a revaluation is in the works. Literary critics laud Mao’s anticipation of the formal terseness of Twitter. Indeed, if Mao’s epigrams were accompanied by emoji they’d seem thoroughly modern.

Mao wasn’t all revolutionary work and no play. The Chairman was also a prodigious horndog. Plowing his way through four wives, myriad girlfriends, and countless quickies. Partners for the latter were delivered by minions upon demand. Those chosen were honored to Serve the Revolution.

Mao’s fourth and final wife was Jiang Qing, an actress (stage name Lan Ping) blessed with looks and the correct line. She and Mao met in the late 1930’s in Yan’an in Shannnxi Province, the center of the Chinese Communist revolution during the Japanese occupation. In order to marry the much younger Jiang Qing, Mao jettisoned his third wife, He Zizhen. Not a popular move…

He Zizhen, a skilled guerrilla fighter and crack shot, had been with Mao on the Long March to Yan’an during the Chinese Civil War and was highly respected. Plus, Mao’s Communist Party comrades at leadership level were suspicious of Jiang Qing’s ambitions. Perhaps Mao had a few suspicions of his own; the new Madame Mao was forced to sign an agreement banning her from positions of political power for several decades. However, Jiang Quing was allowed to serve as Mao’s personal secretary. And she kept her hand in showbiz by overseeing films for the Party’s Propaganda Department.

Meanwhile, Mao continued to nail as much tail as possible.

By the time Madame Mao’s time in power purgatory ended, she’d built up quite a head of steam. Mao owed her big time for  tolerating his infidelities– and he knew just what payoff would suit her.

In 1966, Mao made Madame Mao deputy director of the Cultural Revolution Group (CRG), the prime mover of the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966–1976). Before you could say “purge”, Madame Mao was unleashing mobs of roving teenage Red Guards (SJWs on bath salts), rooting out implicit thought crime via reeducation sessions featuring public humiliation, torture, and slaughter, and oh yeah– settling scores with Mao’s myriad perceived enemies (particularly those who blamed him for the Great Famine) and pumping his Cult of Personality to ever more bloated proportions.

Here and Now

Half a century later, a woman whose political power also grew out of tolerating the infidelities of a horndog hubby may become President of the United States. But we can rest assured that if elected, Hillary Clinton will not be aping Madame Mao. Times have changed for women; despite all the power she finally wielded Madame Mao was still very much her husband’s bitch. She said as much when on trial in 1980. To those who wished to shield Mao’s image by painting Madame Mao as acting independently, she retorted “I bit whomever he asked me to bite.”

Hillary however, is her very own tool.

Under President Hillary, we won’t be seeing any massive statues of Bill being dragged through the streets at week long rallies devoted to his veneration. Any statues dragged, or rallies held, will venerate Hillary thank you very much. Crowds will be chanting “I’m With Her” not “Him”. Yeah, some rooting out of implicit thought crime from the populace will be required– but as for settling scores, Bill’s old enemies will have to take a back seat to Hillary’s new ones. (Here’s looking at you, Bernie!)

Far-fetched to think Hill might cherish Chairman Mao dreams?

Uh..have you checked those suits she’s been wearing lately?

Hillary in Yellow

Hillary in Blue

Hillary in Orange

hil_suits

 

 

 

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Net governance is a game – play it to win

by David Solomonoff

While we take the Internet for granted as an essential part of everyday life, decisions are being made behind the scenes that affect its future and the lives of everyone who relies on it. Net users are like players in a game where the rules are unknown and can change at any time.  Decisions are made by technologists, government regulators and legislators, nonprofits and civil society groups — with a great deal of influence by special interests — far from public view or understanding.

The recent announcement by Department of Commerce that the United States would relinquish part of its controlling role in managing the Internet Domain Name System (DNS), although long in the offing, was accelerated by fears of US control of the Net in the wake of recent NSA spying scandals.

The DNS essentially controls real estate in cyberspace by translating a human-understandable domain name like “google.com” to an Internet Protocol (IP) address that computers understand.

In October 2013 leaders of organizations responsible for coordination of the Internet technical infrastructure globally met in Montevideo, Uruguay, to consider current issues affecting the future of the Internet. In the Montevideo Statement on the Future of Internet Cooperation they expressed strong concern over the undermining of the trust and confidence of Internet users globally due to recent revelations of pervasive monitoring and surveillance. They also called for accelerating the globalization of Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) who manage the DNS, towards an environment in which all stakeholders, including all governments, participate on an equal footing.

On March 14, 2014 the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced its intent to transition key Internet domain name functions to the global multistakeholder community. NTIA asked ICANN, as the IANA  functions contractor and the global coordinator for the DNS, to convene a multistakeholder process to develop a proposal for the transition. In addition, NTIA explicitly stated that it would not accept a proposal that replaces the NTIA role with a government-led or an inter-governmental organization solution.

That fear of repressive government control of the Net also inspired three bills, H.R. 4342  (ih) – Domain Openness Through Continued Oversight Matters Act of 2014, H.R. 4367  (ih) – Internet Stewardship Act of 2014 and H.R. 4398  (ih) – Global Internet Freedom Act of 2014 to be introduced to the US Congress to prevent or delay the transition.

Supporters of the transition say critics betray their lack of understanding of Net governance with the proposed legislation. Several human rights and civil liberties groups supporting the transition wrote a letter arguing that the move would actually be preemptive and would sustain the current multi-stakeholder model.

The 800 pound gorilla in the room is ICANN itself which has been criticized for lacking transparency and accountability. Milton Mueller of the Internet Governance Project writes:

When the U.S. Commerce Department announced that it would end its control of the domain name system root, it called upon ICANN to “convene the multistakeholder process to develop the transition plan.” Many people worried about ICANN’s ability to run a fair process. As an organization with a huge stake in the outcome, there were fears that it might try to bias the proceedings. ICANN has a very strong interest in getting rid of external oversight and other dependencies on other organizations.

It was in this environment that the Brazilian President  Dilma Rousseff  (who herself was a victim of NSA spying) organized the NETmundial Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance which was co-sponsored by ICANN. Concurrently with the conference, she signed the Marco Civil da Internet, a bill that sets out new guidelines for freedom of expression, net neutrality and data privacy.

Wired UK compared NETmundial to a game:

To set the scene for a Brazilian meeting over internationalising the internet, we compare the little-known world of internet governance with the greatest spectacle in football

As Brazil gears up to host the 2014 World Cup, another world game is gathering pundits and crowds. Far from the flashy arena, this other contest is over Internet governance. It’s about how, and by whom, the paradigmatically ‘unowned’ internet is managed.

Quietly waged by smooth corporate strategists, diplomats, and tech-geeks, the fight over net governance goes to the heart of global politics and economics. The bets, most curiously, run close to those in football. Brazil and Germany are leading the charge, with several other European and South American teams as potential challengers. The big question is whether they can nudge perennial football underdog and undisputed internet champion, the United States, from the top spot.

The analogy between Internet policy and games is not new or inaccurate – in 2007 Google hired game theorists to assist in their strategy in an FCC auction for wireless spectrum.

Like any other game with winners and losers, there was disappointment in the outcome of NETmundial.

Sara Myers of Global Voices, an Internet freedom group wrote:

Provisions addressing net neutrality and the principle of proportionality were not included in the final version, and a section on intermediary liability lacked safeguards to protect due process and the rights to free expression and privacy.

But the greater problem for Internet governance and Internet freedom is how few Net users even know that the Internet is governed or managed at all. While recent surveys in the US show an alarming decline in understanding of how the US government works, the number of people who even know what ICANN is is probably far smaller.

Recently the Governance Lab at New York University developed a series of proposals to make ICANN more “effective, legitimate and evolving”. The most interesting was Enhance Learning by Encouraging Games:

ICANN must take seriously its commitment to engage its global stakeholder base in decision-making, especially those who are ultimately impacted by those decisions …. ICANN could make the complexities of Internet governance and ICANN’s work more open, accessible and interesting to people with games and activities aimed at the next generation … The use of game mechanics in decision-making contexts can bolster ease and equitability of participation (enhancing legitimacy); produce incentive structures to target expertise (enhancing efficiency); and mitigate complexity through simple rules (enhancing adaptability and the ability to evolve).

While the Gov Lab has not yet begun development of such games, another group has. Media artist Josephine Dorado and game developer Jeremy Pesner, working with the Internet Society (disclaimer: as President of New York Chapter of Internet Society I am also involved in development) are modifying reACTor, their online game to promote social activism, to specifically address issues involving Internet governance and Internet freedom.

Several years ago the Internet Society explored several alternate scenarios for the evolution of the Internet in a series of animated videos. These videos are a model for the type of scenarios the game will explore. Combined with feeds from news media, activist organizations and the Internet Society’s extensive documentation on Internet governance and policy, the game will award points and prizes to players who most effectively work for an open Internet.

To integrate the game with real-world action, POPVOX, a non-partisan platform which facilitates constituents contacting US legislators and regulators, will be used. Net governance organizations like ICANN could also be integrated.

reACTor re-envisions news engagement, online activism and mobile gaming. It connects news with augmented activism: calls to action inspired by news and sustained by gameplay.

Online activist movements have previously been organized by different actors, around different issues and on different platforms. reACTor is the unified platform that activist organizations as well as game players can easily add new actions to.

reACTor brings news and activism into the 21st century by closing the gap between becoming informed and becoming involved.

Let the game begin!

 

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Mexican Authorities Bust Communication Tower Used by Cartel

by David Solomonoff

Another case where non-traditional players are providing services and infrastructure that previously only government and government-approved monopolies could:
> The Mexican government busted a narco-communications system just > across the border in Reynosa.
>
> Pictures taken by Mexican soldiers detail the level of sophistication. > They’re narco-towers, communication equipment set up by the cartel and > busted by the Mexican government in Reynosa.
>
> It’s proof that the cartels’ pockets run deep. A total of nine > antennas were busted by Mexican officials during last week’s > operation. Experts believe the cartel is having to create its own > network because the government controls much of Mexico’s infrastructure. http://www.krgv.com/news/local/story/Mexican-Authorities-Bust-Communication-T…

via Global Guerillas, http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com

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Cambodia’s Curse, Mexico’s Manana, Reckless Endangerment Stateside

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

My summer reading this year kicked off with Cambodia’s Curse: the Modern History of a Troubled Land by former New York Times reporter Joel Brinkley. Brinkley won a Pulitzer in 1980 for his coverage (at the Louisville Courier Journal) of the fall of the Khmer Rouge.

The title Cambodia’s Curse bugs me. Though cultures resistant to change create illusions of inevitability, and a genocidal past casts long shadows, no nation or people are truly cursed. Nor do I buy Brinkley’s attempt to place partial blame for Cambodian acceptance of the Khmer Rouge on passivity engendered by the influence of Theravada Buddhism and Hinduism. First, it’s a simplistic take on the two religions, both of which are practiced in numerous countries that never exterminated a quarter of their own people in an effort to create a communist utopia. Second, countries with far different religious heritages have also had totalitarian holocausts. Germany and the Soviet Union most notably, respectively representing the right and the left.

As for Cambodian passivity, it must come and go– judging by the perpetual political turmoil of Cambodia in the 20th Century, and by the recent grass roots resistance to the land grabbing, population displacing, development policies of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Caveats aside, Curse author Joel Brinkley does a swell job nailing the crony-rich corruption of Cambodia’s current government as headed by Hun Sen. Whose honorary title of “Samdech” (akin to “your excellency”) was awarded him in 1993 by Cambodia’s amazingly tenacious King Norodom Sihanouk. Easy to imagine the retired (sort of) Sihanouk doing Karaoke of I Will Survive. Dubbed the world’s most versatile pol by the Guinness Book of Records, Sihanouk has surfed wave after wave of political change since 1941. Sometimes wearing his crown, sometimes not. Using his royal influence to legitimize the Khmer Rouge in one decade and deep-six them in another. Dancing with ideologies of all stripes, telling foreigners bearing aid and investment whatever they want to hear.

Prime Minister Hun Sen is also a marvel of tenacity. In 1975, as a Khmer Rouge battalion commander, Hun Sen took part in the campaign in the eastern zone of Democratic Kampuchea (Cambodia’s name under the Khmer Rouge) that included the invasion of the capital city of Phnom Penh and the forced evacuation— aka death march– of its entire population to a rural paradise of forced labor. By the late 70’s, Pol Pot and his pals in the upper echelons of the Khmer Rouge were imploding with paranoia. Hun Sen sensed the reaper was turning his way. When Vietnam, after a series of border disputes, invaded Cambodia in 1979 and overthrew the Khmer Rouge, Hun Sen rode in with them and was given a top spot in the government installed by the Vietnamese.

Years of civil war followed. The Cold War shaped the conflict. The Soviet Union backed the repressive Vietnamese government; the USA and China supported the rebel remains of the murderous Khmer Rouge. Arms flowed from all sides. In the early 1990’s, as the Soviet Union waned, the Vietnamese departed. The Khmer Rouge dwindled. Little dictator (compared to Pol Pot) Hun Sen remained in place as prime minister. To placate international good government types bearing financial aid, he was eventually forced to accept a toothless coalition government representing parties other than his own. Dissidents are still persecuted. An independent judiciary? Freedom of speech? Who needs the lies and distortions?

Meanwhile, the handful of elderly Khmer Rouge leaders charged with crimes against humanity will probably keel over before their trials are allowed to conclude and the bureaucrats, speculators, and family members favored by Hun Sen continue to help themselves to Cambodia.

As for Cambodia’s established reformers, the go-to guys when foreign policy players from other countries require an anti-Hun Sen, they seem almost as seasoned, agenda-wise, as Sihanouk and his Samdech.

An aside about my being a mental tourist in flailing states. Yeah, there’s the appeal of the morbidly exotic. But there’s also the illuminating shock of recognition. What past or present resident of a flailing post-industrial city in say, New Jersey or New York, hasn’t seen similar political stasis? With old boys and hoary reformers as the fixed poles of political expression? Old boys rule; reformers wax profitably pious. Both sides (if the two ends of a continuum can be called “sides”) claim revitalization is just around the next public-funded corner. They may squabble over who gets paid but always agree on the need for more more more.

OK. Hun Sen and his cronies in Cambodia make our crowd seem like pikers. But to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, we’re just haggling over degree. For folks interested in U.S. urban policy (or in improving their looting skills) Cambodia’s Curse is an instructive read.

Now Reading: Mexico

I recently started reading Manana Forever? Mexico and the Mexicans by Jorge Castaneda, Mexico’s former foreign minister. Only a few chapters in, so I can’t say much about it. But I have been brushing up on Mexico via other sources. My hitherto casual interest was amped last year by the flap over Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s comparison of Mexico to Columbia during that country’s narco insurgency days. Hillary’s take was testily denounced by President Obama– and by the Mexican government. As an example of difference in the two situations, Mexico’s national security advisor pointed out that Mexico has never “elected a drug lord such as Pablo Escobar to congress”.

Wags might reply why buy the cow when milk is so cheap.

InSight, a think tank site focused on research, analysis and investigation of organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean, recently ran an article (Mayor Goes Free, Mexico Fails Again to Prosecute ‘Corrupt’ Politicians) about the growing number of Mexican pols whose arrests on cartel-related charges have dissolved into non-prosecution. Including Gregorio Sanchez, the former mayor of Cancun,  Jorge Hank Rhon, the former mayor of Tijuana, and dozens of state and local officials in the state of Michoacan.

Mexico has 31 states (14 of which are on the U.S. State Department’s travel warning list) and a federal district. In late July, roughly 21 state prosecutors (a job akin to being a United States Attorney) resigned. Leaving the states and Mexico’s federal district temporarily without top cops. No reason given.

Zones of Silence

In June, Mexican reporter Ricardo Chavez Aldana (a native of Ciudad Juarez) spoke at the National Association of Hispanic Journalists’ annual meeting in Florida. Chavez was among several reporters who told of being threatened and of having relatives and/or colleagues murdered by drug cartels. June was a “particularly grim month” for journalists all over Mexico. On June 20th well-known crime reporter Miguel Angel Lopez Velasco and his wife and son were murdered in Veracruz. Another Veracruz journalist had been found in a shallow grave three weeks earlier. On June 7th, armed men abducted an editor of an Acapulco newspaper from a bar and on June 13th, a reporter for two dailies in the state of Sonora (bordering Arizona) was shot to death in an abduction attempt.

Also in June: a report titled Corruption, Impunity, Silence: The War on Mexico’s Journalists, by PEN Canada and the International Human Rights Program (IHRP) at the University of Toronto blasted “the Mexican government’s repeated failure to protect the human rights of journalists, its complicity in a number of rights violations against them, and the web of Mexican laws that limit freedom of expression and effectively gag journalists who seek to expose government corruption”.

During the same month the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) upped Mexico to #8 (among the top 10 countries) on its Impunity Index; the index calculates unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of a country’s population. According to CPI “deadly anti-press violence continued to climb in Mexico, where authorities appear powerless in bringing killers to justice.”

In 2010, Mexico’s own National Human Rights Commission reported that at least 66 journalists had been killed since 2005 and 12 others had disappeared. Mexican officials claim not all murdered or kidnapped reporters are targeted because of journalism activities. Most recently in the case of police reporter Yolanda Ordaz de la Cruz. On July 26th, her decapitated corpse was found on a street in Veracruz. Colleagues say she was investigating the murder of fellow reporter Miguel Angel Lopez Velasco and his family and had received anonymous death threats. The top prosecutor for the state of Veracruz denies her murder was linked to her work.

Boosters for tourism in Mexico often imply only people involved in drugs or those who don’t mind their own business are in danger. But in a country where drug cartel terrorism has created news blackouts in journalistic zones of silence, government corruption is supported by laws that limit speech, and where 70% of all federal arrests dissolve into dropped charges and the overall rate of impunity for criminal activity is eye popping, the true number and nature of victims, be they reporters, average citizens, or foreign tourists and workers, may be difficult to ascertain.

In the meantime, the Mexico Tourism Board, under the leadership of newly appointed Chief Marketing Officer Gerardo Llanes is seeking to tidy up Mexico’s image. Llanes, who in his prior position helped launch Diet Coke in Mexico, is reaching out to U.S. media outlets like Bloomberg, Newsweek, and CNN in order to help them “get the facts straight”. Llanes and the Tourism Board will cite “swimming with whale sharks and camping” as a few of Mexico’s attractions in an upbeat publicity campaign tagged “The Place You Thought You Knew”.

Twinge of recognition: in flailing post-industrial cities stateside, political boosters always claim that the crime afflicting their bailiwick is merely a matter of perception. They also revile and/or try to work the messengers who deliver the perception. And true crime stats are always elusive.

A word about Jorge Castaneda’s Manana Forever. In it Castaneda references (negatively) the Mexican proverb: “El que no transa no avanza”. Whoever doesn’t trick or cheat gets nowhere.

The Last Book of Summer

I’m on a waiting list at my local library (I don’t do tablets– too much like Etch A Sketch) for Reckless Endangerment by Gretchen Morgenson and Joshua Rosner. A nice cozy read about all the folks in the Washington Wall Street nexus who pumped the real estate bubble that distorted our economy and then picked the public pocket when the Ponzi collapsed. I don’t expect Reckless to be a shocker, more like the kind of mystery where you know who-done-it right from the beginning but enjoy seeing how the perp is brought to justice. Oh. Wait. None of the major housing bubble perps were brought to justice. In fact, most are doing better than ever.

El que no transa no avanza!

 

 

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Dominique Strauss-Kahn is still a Creep

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

The most defense-friendly version of what may have occurred between Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK) and a maid at the Sofitel Hotel in NYC still casts DSK as a creep. Particularly from a socialist (as DSK is identified politically) point of view. An old (but not dead) white European male from a country with an ugly history of colonialism, caps a political power trip to NYC by paying an African immigrant maid to service him sexually. He expects her to suck it up. But oops, the maid has an exploitive agenda of her own. How wack it that? Doesn’t she know her Brown Sugar place?

 

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Why Was Bin Laden Finally Found?

by David Solomonoff

The self-congratulation surrounding the killing of Osama bin Laden ignores the mystery of why he was finally found.

The Asia Times has a piece today by Spengler that may explain things. He believes that the Saudi royal family, threatened by the upheavals in the Middle East, especially Egypt and Yemen, caused his whereabouts to be revealed in anticipation of a closer military alliance with Pakistan. Previously Bin Laden had been “a loose cannon and an annoyance, but no threat.”

The conflict in Yemen is a proxy war between Riyadh and Tehran – with al-Qaeda acting as an Iranian ally. Although Bin Laden himself is Sunni, al-Qaeda’s closest state relationship is with Iran.

While al-Qaeda had drawn funding from both Saudi and Iranian sources, in present circumstances its activity tended to serve Iranian rather than Saudi interests.

The Saudis want to end the terrorist associations of the Pakistani military as the Saudi cold war with Iran grows increasingly hot, because they may need Pakistan for assistance.

The Saudis feel they can no longer trust the United States – or the Turks, “who have become the region’s spoiler.”

In the end Bin Laden demise was caused “by a great strategic upheaval that America does not yet understand, and is not prepared to respond to.”

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