brad brace contemporary culture scrapbook

May 31, 2008

Filed under: Film,General — admin @ 3:23 pm

The secret of Vanuatu’s happiness

Filed under: General,global islands,vanuatu — admin @ 3:08 pm

The South Pacific country of Vanuatu has been voted the happiest place in the world so what makes its inhabitants such a happy lot?

The twin pillars of a classically happy life – strong family ties and a general absence of materialism – are common throughout this island nation

Jean Pierre John is living the dream. That popular fantasy of owning one’s own island, complete with swaying coconut palms, coral sea and tropical forest, is his for real.

On the island called Metoma, in the far north of Vanuatu, Jean Pierre can look around and truly say that he is master of all he surveys.

This single fact would put Jean Pierre in an exclusive club, you would think, one made up of billionaire businessmen, royalty and rock stars.

But Jean Pierre is none of these things. In fact, he could not be more different.

On Metoma, Jean Pierre and his family live in thatched huts.

They have no electricity or running water, no radio or television, and their only mode of transport is a rowing boat, which pretty much limits them to trips to the neighbouring island.

On top of that, they have little money and few opportunities to make any.

No money?! Suddenly their island life does not sound all that glamorous. But here’s the thing, the Johns really are happy.

This may sound surprising but living on their island they want for nothing.

Local produce

All the family’s food comes from on or around Metoma. Coconuts, yam, and manioc – their staple diet – are all grown on the island and then, of course, there is a sea full of fish to harvest.

And if fish protein gets boring, there is always the occasional fruit bat, from a colony that roosts on the island.

Indeed, food is so easy to gather that the family appears to have a lot of relaxation time.

When the Johns do have money – perhaps when they sell one of the few cows they own – they will buy soap powder and kerosene for their lamps.

But if not, they are just as happy to make do with island solutions – sticks which can be crushed to make soap and coconut oil in place of kerosene.

Some useful items are even washed up onto their island – buoys from boats are cut in half to make bowls and old fishing nets are recycled as hammocks.

It may sound like a Robinson Crusoe existence, and in many ways it is, but the Johns are not castaways. They live on Metoma out of choice.

Jean Pierre had not heard that Vanuatu had been voted happiest country in the world but, when I told him, he nodded in a knowingly happy sort of way

It is not as if they have not experienced some of the trappings of a more modern world.

Jean Pierre grew up on one of Vanuatu’s larger islands and still makes the occasional visit. His eldest son, Joe, even went to school in the nation’s capital.

In fact Joe, a very easy-going 28-year-old, had recently returned to Metoma to live full time and he told me that the only thing he missed was hip hop music, but that it was a small price to pay for living on the island.

No money worries

Jean Pierre had not heard that Vanuatu had been voted happiest country in the world but, when I told him, he nodded in a knowingly happy sort of way.

So what is his secret of happiness?

“Not having to worry about money,” he immediately replies, while picking his nose in an uninhibited way.

If you asked the same question in the UK, you would probably get the same response. The only difference is that, in Jean Pierre’s case, it means not needing any money, rather than having bundles of it.

We can all repeat the mantra “money can’t buy you happiness” until we are blue in the face, but deep down, how many of us in the West really believe it to be true?

But I can see that Jean Pierre’s happiness is more than just a question of money. It also comes from having his family around him, and there is undoubtedly an enormous respect between them.

Absence of materialism

His children – and this includes those of adult age – do anything their father asks, not out of coercion but because they genuinely want to please.

Forget the Waltons, the Johns are the real McCoy: one happy family.

While talking to Jean Pierre, I find myself wondering whether he is the most contented person I have ever met.

But he is keen to know whether I am having a good time on his island too. Every day he asks me if I am happy. When I tell him things are great, his eyes light up and he replies in pidgin, “Oh, tenkyu.”

Whether happiness can truly be measured is a debatable point, but there is no doubt that Metoma – or indeed Vanuatu as a whole – has the ingredients to encourage a greater sense of happiness.

The twin pillars of a classically happy life – strong family ties and a general absence of materialism – are common throughout this island nation.

The simple things in life, it seems, really do make you happy.

May 27, 2008

Poverty Thrives Amid Unprecedented Prosperity

Filed under: corporate-greed,General,human rights,wealth — admin @ 2:25 am

Global poverty is thriving — rather ironically — amidst one of the most prosperous times in human history.
Kul Chandra Gautam, a former assistant secretary-general and deputy executive director of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, points out that world economic output was never more prodigious: last year it hit the 60-trillion-dollar mark.

At this time of unprecedented global prosperity, in which someone becomes a new billionaire every second day, “We have the contrasting situation of nearly one billion people living on less than a dollar a day and 800 million going to bed hungry every night,” he added.

And according to the U.S.-based Forbes magazine, the number of billionaires worldwide reached 1,125 this year, a staggering increase from 179 in 2007.

They emerged not only from rich countries such as the United States, Germany and Japan but also from developing countries, such as Egypt, Nigeria, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil, Belize, China, India, Mexico and Venezuela.

Addressing the third forum of the Tokyo-based Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC), Gautam said it is because of poverty that nearly 10 million children die every year from causes that are readily preventable.

“It is poverty that keeps 93 million children out of primary schools, the majority of them girls, and it is poverty that lands millions of children in child labour, often in hazardous circumstances, when they should be going to school.”

The recent dramatic rise in food and petroleum prices is also bound to further impoverish the already poor, “and as usual, children are likely to be its main victims”, Gautam said.

The Arigatou Foundation of Japan, the organisers of the Hiroshima Forum, is convinced the time has come for the world’s religious institutions, and all those who profess religious faith, to come forward and join hands in this global fight to alleviate the suffering of children and promote their well-being.

Since its founding in May 2000, GNRC has emerged as an important global alliance of religious organisations and people of faith committed to interfaith dialogue and action aimed at improving the lives of children.

One of the themes of the Hiroshima Forum, currently underway, is “the ethical imperative to ensure that no child lives in poverty”.

The United Nations estimates that over 600 million children live in absolute poverty worldwide. The reduction of extreme poverty by 50 percent is one of the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), with a target date of 2015.

But Dr A.T. Ariyaratne, founder and president of the Sarvodaya Movement, one of the most successful grassroots movements in Sri Lanka, is sceptical about reaching that goal.

“Poverty and powerlessness go hand in hand — both at the political and economic level,” he said. In most developing countries, Ariyaratne said, the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen by the day.

He dismissed as a “bunch of lies” some of the statistics doled out by national governments to bolster the argument that poverty is on the decline in their respective countries.

“I have met a number of political leaders — even at the cabinet level — who don’t even know what the Millennium Development Goals are,” Ariyaratne said.

The Venerable Kojun Handa, supreme priest of the Tendai Buddhist denomination, singled out the “deep economic disparities” in which children are deprived of their basic necessities, including adequate food and education.

“At the same time, if we turn our eyes to those regions of the world that are considered ‘advanced nations,’ including Japan, we see a ubiquitous emphasis on excessive material wealth.”

He said these rich nations believe in the ultimate superiority of their economies and the many negative facets of an internet-based society in which children are corrupted through the damage inflicted upon them.

Still, Gautam quoted his former boss and mentor, the late Jim Grant of UNICEF, who said there had been more progress for children in the last 50 years — during the second half of the 20th century — than perhaps in the previous 500 years.

In Asia alone, over a billion people have been lifted out of poverty in the past half century, of whom 400 million were from China.

India is rapidly following a similar trend. The Republic of Korea has seen its per capita income increase from 100 dollars to 17,000 dollars.

Late last year, UNICEF reported that for the first time since it started keeping records, the annual number of child deaths decreased to below 10 million. This accounted for a 60-percent reduction in the under-five mortality rate since 1960.

“This is a remarkable testimony to the continuing progress in child survival and success of many health interventions,” said Gautam.

Smallpox, which used to kill five million people a year in the 1950s, was eradicated during our lifetime. Polio, which used to cripple millions, is on the brink of eradication. Deaths due to measles, one of the biggest killers of children, declined by 90 percent in Africa in the last seven years, he noted.

“There are more children in school today than ever before, and gender disparity is rapidly declining at the primary school level,” he added.

“And thanks to the heightened sensitivity created by the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, issues such as child labour, trafficking and abuse of children, children in armed conflict and other violence against children are being systematically exposed, and action taken to address them.”

“And many non-governmental organisations (NGOs), faith-based and inter-faith groups like the GNRC, and civic leaders are championing the cause of children,” he said.

Overall, he said, children are much higher on the world’s political agenda. Increasingly, they figure prominently in election campaigns, parliamentary debates and national legislation.

The fantastic communications capacity in the world today makes it possible to bring the blessings of science and technology to the doorsteps of even the poorest people in the most remote corners of the world.

And child-oriented programmes are benefiting from this information and communications revolution.

But the bad news is that much of this progress has bypassed the bottom billion people in the world, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of South Asia, Gautam said.

Civil wars and conflict, and the pandemic of HIV/AIDS have exacerbated the fight against poverty by weakening the economies and social fabric of many countries, specifically in Africa.

“We all thought there would be an era of peace, and a huge peace dividend, following the end of the cold war. But regrettably, ethnic conflicts and tensions spread following the collapse of the Soviet Union and former Yugoslavia,” he added.

May 16, 2008

Filed under: Film,General — admin @ 6:39 am

Artist tragically denied support and pay for 35 years!

Filed under: art,burma,china,corporate-greed,General,government,human rights — admin @ 6:34 am

Regime-Quakes in Burma and China

When news arrived of the catastrophic earthquake in Sichuan, my mind
turned to Zheng Sun Man, an up-and-coming security executive I met on
a recent trip to China. Zheng heads Aebell Electrical Technology, a
Guangzhou-based company that makes surveillance cameras and public
address systems and sells them to the government.

Zheng, a 28-year-old MBA with a text-messaging addiction, was
determined to persuade me that his cameras and speakers are not being
used against pro-democracy activists or factory organizers. They are
for managing natural disasters, Zheng explained, pointing to the
freak snowstorms before Lunar New Year. During the crisis, the
government was able use the feed from the railway cameras to
communicate how to deal with the situation and organize an
evacuation. We saw how the central government can command from the
north emergencies in the south.

Of course, surveillance cameras have other uses too like helping to
make Most Wanted posters of Tibetan activists. But Zheng did have a
point: nothing terrifies a repressive regime quite like a natural
disaster. Authoritarian states rule by fear and by projecting an aura
of total control. When they suddenly seem short-staffed, absent or
disorganized, their subjects can become dangerously emboldened. Its
something to keep in mind as two of the most repressive regimes on
the planetChina and Burmastruggle to respond to devastating
disasters: the Sichuan earthquake and Cyclone Nargis. In both cases,
the disasters have exposed grave political weaknesses within the
regimesand both crises have the potential to ignite levels of public
rage that would be difficult to control.

When China is busily building itself up, creating jobs and new
wealth, residents tend to stay quiet about what they all know:
developers regularly cut corners and flout safety codes, while local
officials are bribed not to notice. But when China comes tumbling
downincluding at least eight schools in the earthquake zone the
truth has a way of escaping from the rubble. Look at all the
buildings around. They were the same height but why did the school
fall down? a distraught relative in Juyuan demanded of a foreign
reporter. Its because the contractors want to make a profit from
our children. A mother in Dujiangyan told The Guardian, Chinese
officials are too corrupt and bad%.They have money for prostitutes
and second wives but they dont have money for our children.

That the Olympic stadiums were built to withstand powerful quakes is
suddenly of little comfort. When I was in China, it was hard to find
anyone willing to criticize the Olympic spending spree. Now posts on
mainstream web portals are calling the torch relay wasteful and its
continuation in the midst of so much suffering inhuman.

None of this compares with the rage boiling over in Burma, where
cyclone survivors have badly beaten at least one local official,
furious at his failure to distribute aid. Simon Billenness, co-chair
of the board of directors of U.S. Campaign for Burma, told me, This
is Katrina times a thousand. I dont see how it couldnt lead to
political unrest.

The unrest of greatest concern to the regime is not coming from
regular civilians but from inside the military a fact that explains
some of the juntas more erratic behavior. For instance, we know that
the Burmese junta has been taking credit for supplies sent by foreign
countries. Now it turns out that it have been taking more than
creditin some cases it has been taking the aid. According to a
report in Asia Times, the regime has been hijacking food shipments
and distributing them among its 400,000 soldiers. The reason speaks
to the deep threat the disaster poses. The generals, it seems, are
haunted by an almost pathological fear of a split inside their own
ranks%if soldiers are not given priority in aid distribution and are
unable to feed themselves, the possibility of mutiny rises. Mark
Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK, confirms that before the
cyclone, the military was already coping with a wave of desertions.

This relatively small-scale theft of food is fortifying the junta for
its much larger heistthe one taking place via the constitutional
referendum the generals have insisted on holding, come hell and high
water. Enticed by high commodity prices, Burmas generals have been
gorging off the countrys natural abundance, stripping it of gems,
timber, rice and oil. As profitable as this arrangement is, junta
leader Gen. Than Shwe knows he cannot resist the calls for democracy

Taking a page out of the playbook of Chilean dictator Augusto
Pinochet, the generals have drafted a Constitution that allows for
future elections but attempts to guarantee that no government will
ever have the power to prosecute them for their crimes or take back
their ill-gotten wealth. As Farmaner puts it, after elections the
junta leaders are going to be wearing suits instead of boots. Much
of the voting has already taken place but in cyclone ravaged
districts, the referendum has been delayed until May 24. Aung Din,
executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma, told me that the
military has stooped to using aid to extort votes. Rainy season is
coming, he told me, and people need to repair their roofs. When
they go to purchase the materials, which are very limited, they are
told they can only have them if they agree to vote for the
constitution in an advance ballot.

The cyclone, meanwhile, has presented the junta with one last, vast
business opportunity: by blocking aid from reaching the highly
fertile Irrawaddy delta, hundreds of thousands of mostly ethnic Karen
rice farmers are being sentenced to death. According to Farmaner,
that land can be handed over to the generals business cronies
(shades of the beachfront land grabs in Sri Lanka and Thailand after
the Asian tsunami). This isnt incompetence, or even madness, as many
have claimed. Its laissez-faire ethnic cleansing.

If the Burmese junta avoids mutiny and achieves these goals, it will
be thanks largely to China, which has vigorously blocked all attempts
at the United Nations for humanitarian intervention in Burma. Inside
China, where the central government is going to great lengths to show
itself as compassionate, news of this complicity could prove

Will Chinas citizens receive this news? They just might. Beijing
has, up to now, displayed an awesome determination to censor and
monitor all forms of communication. But in the wake of the quake, the
notorious Great Firewall censoring the Internet is failing badly.
Blogs are going wild, and even state reporters are insisting on
reporting the news.

This may be the greatest threat that natural disasters pose to
contemporary repressive regimes. For Chinas rulers, nothing has been
more crucial to maintaining power than the ability to control what
people see and hear. If they lose that, neither surveillance cameras
nor loudspeakers will be able to help them.

May 9, 2008

Filed under: Film,General — admin @ 8:45 am

Global Poverty: More Big Business is Not the Solution

Filed under: corporate-greed,human rights,resource,wealth — admin @ 8:43 am

By most accounts, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown is genuinely passionate about reducing global poverty.

But he is not willing to challenge the structures of the global economy that generate poverty, or the corporations that build, benefit from and maintain those structures.

Nor, apparently, is he immune to gimmicky notions of corporate leadership to support development, or the lure of high-profile summits to shed light on new plans to do — very little.

Thus, earlier this week the UK was treated to the spectacle of the Business Call to Action summit, which Brown’s office co-sponsored with the UN Development Program. More than 80 CEOs of large companies gathered with Brown and other luminaries to discuss how they could help meet the Millennium Development Goals, which aspire to reduce global poverty by half by 2015. Roughly two dozen of these CEOs — from Anglo American, Bechtel, Citigroup, Coca-Cola, De Beers, Diageo, FedEx, Goldman Sachs, GE, Merck, Microsoft, SAB Miller, Wal-Mart and others — have signed the Business Call to Action, which states, “as leaders from the private sector, we declare our commitment to meet this development emergency.”

The premise of the event, as Gordon Brown said, was to advance “a new approach — moving beyond minimum standards, beyond philanthropy and beyond traditional corporate social responsibility — important though they are — to develop long-term business initiatives that mobilize the resources and talents that are the central strengths of global business.”

The mantra of the event was for corporations to “explore new business opportunities that use their core business expertise” and that also help spur development.

Taken at its face value, this was, um, not exactly inspiring. Says Peter Hardstaff of the UK-based World Development Movement, the CEOs “have all agreed — to do more business.”

But the problem goes way beyond the fact that business as usual — or even a little bit of new business initiative with a development-conscious orientation — is not going to do much to reduce global poverty. The real problem is that business as usual is a central part the problem.

“Instead of holding these companies to account for their actions,” says John Hilary, executive director of War on Want, a UK-based anti-poverty group. “Gordon Brown has allowed them to portray themselves as allies in the fight against poverty. The prime minister should be working to address the poverty and human rights problems caused by business, not giving the companies a free ride.”

War on Want focused attention on the harmful development impacts of many of the corporations signing the Business Call to Action. The group has campaigned against mining giant Anglo American. It has documented how Anglo American has benefited from human rights abuses associated with civil wars in Colombia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Local mining communities in Ghana and Mali have seen little economic benefit from Anglo American’s operations (or the spike in the price of gold); instead, says War on Want, the company’s mines harm their environment, health and livelihoods.

Other corporate signatories to the Business Call to Action have directly hurt poor people through their “core business” more than can be offset by development-tinged ventures (even assuming such ventures succeed). Wal-Mart contracts with sweatshops. Bechtel tried to price-gouge and rip-off Bolivian consumers and the Bolivian state through control of the country’s privatized water system. Merck refuses to license life-saving medicines for cheap generic production.

Simultaneous with Brown’s business summit, Action Aid UK pointed to a major systemic abuse by multinational corporations that undermines development: They don’t pay their taxes. The group released a report looking at tax payments of 14 corporate signers of the Business Call to Action. It found that these companies combined are underpaying taxes by more than $6 billion a year, as compared to what they would pay if they paid at the statutory rate in the United States and UK. The group did not suggest any illegal activities by the companies — there are plenty enough legal tax avoidance strategies.

Money lost to developing countries through capital flight and tax avoidance is many times greater than aid flows into poor countries, says Jesse Griffith, the lead author of the Action Aid UK report.

Tax avoidance is a key issue because it strips money from national treasuries that would otherwise be available for social investment, and because it reflects structural problems that could and should be cured without any need for global philanthropy or aid.

But tax avoidance is only one of many ways that corporations exploit and perpetuate economic policies and institutional arrangements that contribute to poverty or inhibit authentic development.

The World Development Movement issued a 10-point challenge to corporations that claim an interest in promoting global development. It called on companies to stop using their political influence to promote policies that undermine development. It urged companies to: stop lobbying to open up developing country markets, and let developing countries “use the same trade policy tools industrialized countries used to get rich;” stop demanding rich country-style patent rules for the poor; support radical government action, starting in rich countries, to address climate change; support binding codes of conduct for multinationals, including respect for labor rights; end support for privatization and deregulation, including particularly financial deregulation; stop lobbying for and exploiting tax loopholes; and other measures.

This is not exactly an agenda that global business leaders are likely to take up soon.

On the other hand, it’s not exactly likely that global business leaders are going to lead the way to end global poverty.

Among other things, that’s going to take a global movement, led from the Global South, to implement the policies implicit in the World Development Movement call.

May 8, 2008

Filed under: Film,General — admin @ 7:37 am

Internet Archive Beats Back FBI’s Demand for Subscriber Data

Filed under: General,government,ideology,media,usa — admin @ 7:32 am

The FBI has agreed to drop its demand that a San Francisco-based Internet library turn over subscriber information, according to court documents unsealed Monday. As part of a settlement, the FBI also agreed that its previously secret efforts could be publicized.

The bureau served the Internet Archive — whose Wayback Machine page allows viewers to see old versions of millions of Web pages — with a national security letter in November 2007, but under the terms of a settlement reached between the two in April, the FBI has withdrawn the letter and agreed to make most of its contents public.

Kurt Opsahl, a staff attorney with San Francisco’s Electronic Frontier Foundation who helped represent the archive, said he believes the victory is only the fourth successful challenge to a national security letter.

The FBI said the letter to the archive was part of a national security investigation and that they “permit the FBI to gather the basic building blocks for our counterterrorism and counterintelligence investigations,” according to a statement by Assistant Director John Miller.

The letters, often compared to subpoenas, don’t need approval from a judge and contain gag orders prohibiting their recipients from even speaking of their existence. The settlement in the Northern District federal court comes less than a year after New York District Court Judge Victor Marrero found national security letters unconstitutional, though his decision is under appeal.

“One of the most important victories here is that we can even say this letter was received,” said Opsahl.

The Internet Archive sued the FBI in December, arguing that the gag orders in the letters violate the First and Fifth amendments. The suit asked the court to find the letters unconstitutional and order the FBI to stop sending them.

After four months of negotiating, the FBI decided to settle, Opsahl said.

“The consequences [of litigating] would be that a second court would find that the statute was unconstitutional and that it was not applicable to libraries under this circumstance,” he said.

The use of national security letters has skyrocketed since 2001, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. A March 2007 report by the Department of Justice’s inspector general said the FBI issued more than 192,000 requests between 2003 and 2006.

In the letter served on the Internet Archive, the FBI sought the name, address and e-mail exchanges of a subscriber to the archive’s services. Opsahl said the archive only gave agents public information that they could have gotten themselves from the nonprofit’s Web site. He said the archive keeps a record only of registered patrons’ e-mail addresses.

Opsahl said that although the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is reviewing Marrero’s decision, will now have the most say over the constitutionality of national security letters, he hopes the Internet Archive’s challenge will encourage other groups to take on the FBI.

The archive agreed to redact portions of the letter, but the FBI must prove to Judge Claudia Wilken by Dec. 1 that those sections pose a national security threat, otherwise the entire document will become public. Among the still-secret contents are the name of the targeted subscriber, the name of the FBI agent pursuing the target and more specifics about the kind of information the agent was seeking.

May 6, 2008

Filed under: Film,General — admin @ 7:47 am

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress