Category: Human Rights & Democracy

Corbyn’s Conundrum: Maduro and Marxism

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain’s Labour Party, is far from the saintly figure that his millions of supporters think he is, an image that he has cultivated over the years.

The man behind the twinkly-eyed mask has once again been revealed to have a gaping hole where a moral center should be. His support for violent revolutionary and terrorist groups that all share anti-Western or anti-British sentiments is documented and well-known. None of this is enough for his fans, who when presented with evidence of his lack of moral character react the same way Trump’s fans do, with hoots of derision, shouts of fake news and complaints of the Labour and wider British establishment’s right-wing bias.

However, when evidence of Corbyn’s moral emptiness is right before their eyes, his supporters still choose not to see who he really is.

Following years of worsening privations suffered by the citizens of Venezuela, as their government’s experiment with socialism has unfolded in the humanitarian catastrophe that these experiments always do, Corbyn has refused to condemn Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

This, despite the fact that Maduro recently claimed victory in a referendum that bestowed on him dictatorial powers that allowed him to rewrite the constitution. The vote was a sham and was treated as such by the opposition, who boycotted it.

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Poland, Trump, and Hungary: This is what illiberal democracy looks like

The election of Trump, the Law and Politics Party winning a majority in Poland in 2015, and Viktor Orbán’s government in Hungary; what they all have in common is not merely a right-wing bend, but a contempt for liberal democracy. So goes the narrative, which has been particularly on display since Trump’s speech in Poland, that “illiberal democracy” is threatening the underpinnings of democracy in the Western world and beyond.

Some of the more conservative-minded would say this argument is the resentment of the losers. Trump, Szydlo, and Orbán won their elections fair and square. Why should they be dismissed just because you disagree with them? “If a democracy now needs to be a tool for spreading liberalism, conservatives are by definition, not democratic,” Sumantra Maitra wrote for Quillette.

Here is the thing: the problem isn’t simply with policy preferences but with the normative structures of democracy itself. These governments are taking actions to solidify their own power, not just to advance ideological interests of the people, but to advance the personal and party-based interests of the leaders or the ruling parties in ways that strike at the legal and moral underpinnings of democracy and rule of law.

A few examples will illustrate what exactly is meant by illiberal democracy. In Poland, the ruling party is trying to enact a measure that would give them control over the composition of the judiciary. As reported by Politico Europe:

Poland’s parliament, under the leadership of the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, passed a law dissolving an independent body responsible for the nomination of judges. At the same time, PiS submitted a draft law that would force the entire Supreme Court into retirement and give the country’s justice minister the ability to decide which judges can stay in their current roles.

Currently, Poland’s federal judges are appointed by a professional panel of lawyer. The Law and Justice party attacked the judges as leftists—the party chairman called the judiciary a “stronghold of post-communists”—and it is easy to see how a panel made up of lawyers could be attacked as “elitist” and biased to be more favorable towards political liberalism than the public, due to expected leanings within the field. Perhaps there is a case to be made for having judges appointed by the president, prime minister, parliament, or some combination thereof, as is done in places like the United States and South Korea. Although there are problems with the system in the U.S., which has resulted in the politicization of judicial appointments, there is a case to be made for some level of political accountability in the process.

The problem is that the manner by which Law and Justice is planning to implement this program appears meant to give their party control over the composition of the court

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Otto Warmbier and North Korea: The larger meaning

Otto Warmbier was released from North Korea in a coma and died.

The story of the American arrested in Pyongyang and sentenced to 15 years for allegedly trying to take a propaganda poster back home captivated the American media and was the source of a fair share of hot takes. As usual, it was quickly turned into a pointless political football to be tossed around by the cultural right and the social justice left. Some idiots on the left (a Huffington Post unpaid blogger, Salon, Larry Wilmore — no one of too much influence) took a sick kind of schadenfreudic pleasure in seeing a white man arrested and sentenced to a harsh prison term. Conservatives took these silly statements by a few liberal bloggers and thus used them as examples of the “moral perversion” of the “social justice left” (Noah Rothman of Commentary, Nick Gillespie of Reason).

It’s a distraction from the issue here. North Korea arrested someone for a minor offense and sentence him for one and a half decades–and possibly mistreated him (we can’t speculate too much without facts). For race-obsessed morons who have no sympathy for white people, consider this: The vast majority of North Koreans are Korean people. The same government that uses Americans–of all races and genders (including journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling and professor Kim Sang-duk) as bargaining chips tortures and kills Koreans. An estimated 200,000 Koreans are in concentration camps as a result of political “crimes.”

The same government that will throw an American in jail for 15 years for stealing a propaganda sign forces local people to have portraits of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il on every wall. In the same place that an American may have contracted botulism, hundreds of thousands, maybe over a million, have starved to death over the years.

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“Then they decided to kill me”: Shahed Kayes on his campaign against illegal sand mining in Bangladesh

The population of Bangladesh has increased by 60% since 1990. Its capital Dhaka is one of the fastest-growing cities in the world, expected to have a population the size of Shanghai’s current population within the next decade. This unstoppable growth is fueling an explosion in construction. Bangladesh isn’t alone. Countries throughout South Asia and South East Asia are growing at breakneck pace as well as urbanizing.

Dhaka traffic near Gulistan Crossing. Photo by Flickr user Twentyfour Students.

Dhaka traffic near Gulistan Crossing. Photo by Flickr user Twentyfour Students.

All of this construction needs massive amounts of concrete. And concrete needs sand. But where does the sand come from? Shahed Kayes is founder of the Subornogram Foundation, which established schools for poor and marginalized families like the fisherfolk who live on islands in the Meghna River. There, he found sand mining companies dredging sands from close to the islands, causing the islands to erode and disappear. When he began to protest the practice, getting Bangladesh to pass laws against it in 2012, he was met with threats–and nearly killed.

Shahed Kayes teaching a class.

Shahed Kayes teaching a class. Screen capture from AdvocacyNet.org video.

I met him in Gwangju, South Korea this summer, where he is working towards promoting democracy at the May 18 Memorial Foundation and studying at Chonnnam University, and then interviewed him. Following is an edited transcript and audio. The audio also includes conversation about South Korea’s historic democracy movement and the Gwangju Uprising of 1980, which was the impetus for the creation of the May 18 Memorial Foundation.

Here’s the audio:

Here’s the text:
Mitchell Blatt: Many people do not think of how much sand is used in the world. But when it comes to building towers or anything that uses concrete, it involves a lot of sand [also for glass, and expansion of landmass in places like Hong Kong, Singapore, and China’s east coast]. Can you give an introduction as to why sand mining is important?

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The broad impact of Chinese hukou on education restrictions

Children of white collar workers, college graduates denied education along with migrant laborers

Mr. Li digs the tunnels for Beijing’s subway system, but Beijing won’t let his daughter attend school. Mr. Li is one of the over 8 million people living in Beijing without a Beijing residence permit.

On October 12, they were among a group of parents of children without Beijing residence (hukou) who gathered outside a courtroom to support a fellow parent who had sued over access to education. News of the court date was censored after spreading online.

Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the hukou system has regulated where Chinese citizens can live and work and allowed for the government to have a great level of control over the economy and labor. While the system has been relaxed since the pre-reform days of a control economy, it still impacts access to public services, including education.

It’s not just temporary migrant workers, who provide much of the labor needed to build cities and keep them functioning, who are discriminated against. Some who have lived in Beijing for decades, including white collar workers and graduates of top universities, cannot enroll their children in local schools.

This could be a growing problem as the economy becomes more and more service-oriented and the population more and growing share of the population obtaining higher education and moving to cities to work.

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