Sunday, 30 January 2011

Truth is Relative

Scenes of protest as reported by Al Jazeera

Scenes of protest as reported by Egyptian State TV

Scene of protest as hoped for by everyone 

Lost in Transit - USA & Media

The graphic above says it all when it comes to the USA & it's media response to events unfolding in the Islamic world. Look closely and tell me where YOU think Egypt should be on the map....Look think back to grade 7 geography. 

After 8+ years of war, Billions of dollars, thousands of wounded or dead, and umpteen hours of broadcast, FOX News has misplaced managed to forget where Iraq is, misplaces Egypt and merrily presents the graphic above to millions of Americans as News? This is freudian I tell you. I mean how cosmically stupid are these people ? But that's not the scary part. The real scary thing is that this very type of information and reporting is being passed on a "news" to inform their US audience. Don't forget folks, this is the very same news network that employs Sarah Palin, is a favorite of the Republican party (Bush, Cheney who control their Congress and is watched by millions of Americans over their morning cups of coffee.

Now to be fair, there are plenty of good American journalists covering the events in Egypt and the rest of the region with fair and honest reporting but when you consider the lead in viewership that FOX holds, this is a scary breakdown.

Now moving on to the political side of things, we have the Obama Administration's pleas for "restraint" blah blah blah. As events have unfolded since Jan 25th they've tried to position themselves in the middle of the situation. Obama & Clinton have been urging "political reform and restraint" but have stopped at that. It would seem that they would rather Mubarak regained control and threw a few minor concessions at the people. But at the same time, we're being told that Obama has been pressing Mubarak hard for the last 2 years to enact these same no effect it seems. After 8 years of Bush AND 2+ years of Obama both asking/demanding/suggesting/cajoling for reform nothing is accomplished but 5 days of protest by the Egyptians themselves are forcing a regime change.

Seems like either the USA has no influence in spite of Billions of dollars spent OR the US hasn't really been trying very hard to influence change. You tell me. In the meantime, read this and make up your own mind.

My personal advice to CNN, FOX and the other media outlets. I know it's more work and is not always pleasant but.... you're in the news business, not the entertainment business. Put people on the ground and bring the audience you claim to serve the facts on the ground and provide some context so they can interpret things for themselves. If you are unable or unwilling to risk your own people, at the very least work with the other media outlets that are willing or get out of the business altogether. 


Sunday, 23 January 2011

Running with scissors or smarter than that ?

Another tumultous week has passed us by and the year's barely 3 weeks old.

  • In the USA, a repeal of healthcare by the GOP, Sarah Palin doing her best gaffes and State of the Union prep by Obama and Co.
  • In the NFL, playoff madness with Jets and Steelers advancing
  • WikiLeaks getting more secret info on bad people. Bankers this time and the tattle-tale is getting jail
  • EURO zone problems. In fact, global economic problems continue merrily along
  • I didn't win the damn lottery again (this was particularily crushing for me)
  • And the week's headliner from Tunisia. Revolution, government deposed, an ex-president playing "musical countries" and a country struggling to be free after almost a quarter century of dictatorship.
One of the big winners of the Tunisia events was the news network Al-Jazeera. Their reporting was on the ground, in the thick of things with input from various learned and knowledgable people. Globally and especially in social media, AJ (Al-Jazeera) was the one network that seemed to be plugged into the situation leaving it's western peers playing a game of catch-up.

Well, not to be caught sitting on their collective laurels, AJ today kicked off a series of 4 reports on approx. 1600 documents referred to collectively as the Palestine Papers. These documents apparently detail over a decade's worth of secret negotiations between the PLO / Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government.

Now secret negotiations are nothing new. WikiLeaks has demonstrated that clearly. What's shocking with this revelation is the extent to which the PA (Palestinian Authority Govt) negotiators were willing to give away everything including the kitchen sink in the hopes of achieving peace or something resembling it, and to negotiate this without even the tacit approval or knowledge of the Palestinian people.

Some of the concessions that appeared to be on the bargaining table included granting the Israeli's rights to lands that they have already "illegally settled", greater access & control of areas right up to the Haram, and even ceeding control of East Jerusalem (the traditional Palestinian quarter). All of this would effectively displace hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and be a definitive win for Israel without any meaningful upside for the Palestinian population save the possibility of a recognized state which would itself be fractured within it's new borders.

I am nowhere near knowledgeable enough to speak with any authority about the issues in this conflict but I do know a little bit about how I would feel if my government were giving away chunks of my homeland without even consulting me. I'd be livid. I imagine that tomorrow morning we'll all get to see how the people in the region respond.

Now I did ask an Al Jazeera correspondent today "Does AJ know how inflamatory this news is going to be ? Could make Tunisia look like a lover's spat..." to which he responded "What's inflamatory - people finding out out whats being done in their name ?".

He has a point. Don't the people have a right to be told what's being done in their name ? If the politicians are acting unilaterally then they should be called out on it but in a region that's a powder keg to begin with, is it wise to be waving a lit match ? Hard question to answer. I can only hope that Al Jazeera has thought through what it's doing. 

Already this evening, the PA's chief negotiator has backtracked a bit, their President has questioned the source of these documents and denied any back room shenanigans and the Israeli media is already in spin mode. Tomorrow morning will bring a new reality in Palestine. I can only hope that the people take the news a lot more calmly than I would or else Al Jazeera; like the proverbial messenger; could end up getting shot.

Monday, 17 January 2011

I have a dream

Full text of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech.

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check -- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating "For Whites Only". We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Tunisia: How the US got it wrong - Opinion - Al Jazeera English

Tunisia: How the US got it wrong - Opinion - Al Jazeera English

(posted without their permission but it's all Al Jazeera's reporting. I just thought it would fit with my last 2 posts)

The events in Tunisia again show how US foreign policy in the Middle East fails to fully understand the region.
 Last Modified: 16 Jan 2011 15:10 GMT

One sign read "Game Over". But in fact, the game has barely started.

The Facebook generation has taken to the streets and the "Jasmin Revolt" has become a revolution, at least as of the time of writing. And the flight of former President Ben Ali to Saudi Arabia is inspiring people across the Arab world to take to the streets and warn their own sclerotic and autocratic leaders that they could soon face a similar fate.

As the French paper Le Monde described it, scenes that were "unimaginable only days ago" are now occurring with dizzying speed. Already, in Egypt, Egyptians celebrate and show solidarity over Tunisia's collapse, chanting "Kefaya" and "We are next, we are next, Ben Ali tell Mubarak he is next." Protests in Algeria and Jordan could easily expand thanks to the inspiration of the tens of thousands of Tunisians, young and old, working and middle class, who toppled one of the world's most entrenched dictators. Arab bloggers are hailing what has happened in Tunisia as "the African revolution commencing... the global anti-capitalist revolution."
The birth of a human nationalism?
Around the turn of the new millennium, as the Arab world engaged in an intense debate over the nature of the emerging globalised system, one critic in the newspaper al-Nahar declared that an "inhuman globalisation" has been imposed on the Arab world when its peoples have yet even to be allowed to develop a "human" nationalism. Such a dynamic well describes the history of Tunisia, and most other countries in the Arab/Muslim world as well.

And so, if the people of Tunisia are lucky, they are in the midst of midwifing the Arab world's first human nationalism, taking control of their politics, economy and identity away from foreign interests and local elites alike in a manner that has not been seen in more than half a century.

But the way is still extremely treacherous. As a member of the Tajdid opposition party told the Guardian, "Totalitarianism and despotism aren't dead. The state is still polluted by that political system, the ancient regime and its symbols which have been in place for 55 years."

Indeed, the problem with most post-colonial nationalisms - whether that of the first generation of independence leaders or of the leaders who replaced (often by overthrowing) them - is precisely that they have always remained infected with the virus of greed, corruption and violence so entrenched by decades of European colonial rule. Tunisia's nascent revolution will only succeed if it can finally repair the damage caused by French rule and the post-independence regime that in so many ways continued to serve European and American - rather than Tunisian - interests.
A region's tipping point
The stakes could not be higher. The "Tunisian Scenario" could lead either to a greater democratic opening across the Arab world, or it could lead to the situation in Algeria in the early 1990s, where democratisation was abruptly halted and the country plunged into civil war when it seemed that an Islamist government might come to power. We can be sure that leaders across the Arab world are busy planning how to stymie any attempts by their people to emulate the actions of Tunisia's brave citizenry. But at this moment of such great historical consequence what is the US doing about the situation?

The timing couldn't have been more fortuitous, as Secretary of State Clinton was in the Middle East meeting with Arab political and civil society leaders at the moment events took their fateful turn. Yet when asked directly about the protests the day before Ben Ali fled her answer said volumes about the mentality of the Obama administration and the larger US and European foreign policy establishments to the unfolding situation.

"We can't take sides."
A more tone deaf response would have been hard to imagine. This was a moment when the Obama administration could have seized the reins of history and helped usher in a new era in the Arab/Muslim world world. In so doing it could have done more to defeat the forces of extremism than a million soldiers in AfPak and even more drone strikes could ever hope to accomplish. And Mrs. Clinton declared America's attention to remain on the sideline.
Obama's Reagan moment
Can we imagine that President Reagan, for whom Obama has declared his admiration, refusing to take sides as young people began dismantling the Iron Curtain? Indeed, even when freedom seemed a distant dream, Reagan went to Berlin and challenged Gorbachev to "tear down this wall!"

It's not as if the Obama administration doesn't understand what kind of regime it was dealing with in Tunisia. As the now infamous WikiLeaks cable from the US Ambassador in Tunis to his superiors in Washington made clear, "By many measures, Tunisia should be a close US ally. But it is not." Why? "The problem is clear: Tunisia has been ruled by the same president for 22 years."

Indeed, WikiLeaks did Clinton and Obama's job: It told the truth, and in doing so was a catalyst for significant change in the country - yet another example of how the release of all those classified documents has helped, rather than harmed, American interests (or at least the interests of the American people, if not its political and economic elite), even if the Obama administration refuses to admit it.
What is clear is that if the massacre in Tuscon last week might have provided Obama with his "Clinton moment", as he eloquently led the country on the path towards unity and healing, the Jasmin Revolution has handed him his Reagan moment. Obama needs to stop playing catch up to events, lay aside hesitation and throw his support behind radical change in the region, behind young people across the Middle East and North Africa who could topple the regimes who have done more to increase terrorism that Osama bin Laden could dream of accomplishing.
Decades of support despite repression
The US has understood and even welcomed this very dynamic in Tunisia for the last half century. A 1963 Congressional report on "US Foreign Aid to 10 Middle Eastern and African Countries" stated positively about Tunisia that "Tunisia has been known for its internal political stability and unity... This fact, unique in a ME country, can be explained by the existence of an unopposed single-party rule... Under the vigorous leadership of President Bourguiba, Tunisia offers a favourable and stable political climate, progressive in its outlook, in which to bring about economic development. US aid should be continued at the same or higher level," the report advised.
In recent years the US position has been little different. The Tunisian regime was supported by the United States because it was secular, cooperated on the "War on Terror" and followed, at least on the surface, liberal economic reforms. And European support for Ben Ali was even stronger, with successive French governments openly declaring their preference for stability and cooperation against illegal immigration and the threat of terror to supporting the kind of democratic transformation that would have gone much farther to securing those goals.

During the Bush administration, then Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick rebuffed attempts by local journalists to get him to admit to a double standard in calling for human rights without actually supporting them in countries like Tunisia and Egypt. The Bush administration supported draconian anti-terrorism laws that were clearly used to repress any opposition to the regime.

Today, Clinton declares that in fact the US doesn't have much power in the region. "We can't force people to do what we want," she explained in Doha at the Forum of the Future earlier this week, emphasising reforms that were focused far more on "economic empowerment, rather than political change," according to the Washington Post. Clinton never even mentioned the word democracy in her prepared remarks, or human rights for that matter.

And while she preached the gospel of reform and civil society, Clinton praised the record of another despotic regime, Bahrain, whose foreign minister participated in the forum with her. This even though the country's record of censorship and political repression lags little behind Tunisia's, if at all, as the annual Human Rights Reports of Clinton's State Department clearly show.
Taking history's reins
The WikiLeaks cable that by many accounts helped encourage the protests that have now toppled the Ben Ali regime had the virtue of being honest, as it explained that the incredibly deep and endemic corruption up through the very top of a regime that had completely "lost ouch with the Tunisian people" produced an untenable situation.
It's clear, then, that the US understood the problems plaguing Tunisia, so why didn't Clinton speak as openly as her ambassador in Tunis? Imagine what support she would have gotten from the people of Tunisia if she only stated what everyone already knew? If at the very least she had, as her ambassador urged in the then classified communique, declared America's intent to "keep a strong focus on democratic reform and respect for human rights," words that the US would not utter directly and openly until Ben Ali had fled the country.
The question now is, does Obama have the courage, the "audacity", to use one of his favourite words, to seize the moment?

Once Ben Ali had fled the country, the President did salute "brave and determined struggle for the universal rights", applauded "the courage and dignity of the Tunisian people", and called on the Tunisian government "to respect human rights, and to hold free and fair elections in the near future that reflect the true will and aspirations of the Tunisian people".

But unless there is a stick behind this call, there is every reason to believe, as so many Tunisians and other commentators worry, that the country's corrupt and still powerful elite will find a way to remain entrenched in power once the situation calms down. Indeed, Obama's call to "maintain calm" is counter productive. While violence is of course deplorable, the worst thing for Tunisians to do would be to remain calm, to tone down their protests and leave the streets.
Now is the time for Tunisians to ensure that the revolution that is just sprouting is not cut off or co-opted. The protests need to continue and even expand until the foundations of the regime are uprooted and other senior officials removed from power and sent into exile as Ben Ali has now been.
What is President Obama going to do if they emulate their colleagues in Iran and ruthlessly suppress further protests? If he and other world leaders don't lay out the scenario to the Tunisian people and the elites still trying to contain them now, so everyone understands what the United States will do to support the people, what incentive will those seeking to retain power have to take another route?
Crucial next steps
While the United States and the international community should not directly intervene unless the military begins killing or arresting large numbers of people, there are a number of steps Obama could take immediately to ensure that this nascent democratic moment takes root and spreads across the region.
First, the President should not merely urge free and fair elections. He must publicly declare that the United States will not recognise, nor continue security or economic relations, with any government that is not democratically elected through international monitored elections. At the same time, he must freeze any assets of Tunisia's now ex-leadership and hold them until they can be reclaimed by the Tunisian people.
Second, he should declare that the young people of Tunisia have shown the example for the rest of the Arab world, and offer his support for a "Jasmin Spring" across the Arab world. Obama should demand that every country in the region free all political prisoners, end all forms of censorship and political repression, and fully follow international law in the way they treat their citizens or the people's under their jurisdictions.
Furthermore, the President should call on every country in the region to move towards free, fair, and internationally monitored elections within a specified time or risk facing a similar cut-off of ties, aid and cooperation. Such demands must be made together with America's reluctant European allies.
Of course, such a call would apply to Israel as much as to Egypt, to Morocco as well as to Saudi Arabia. There would be one standard for every country from the Atlantic to the Indian ocean, and the US would pledge to stand with all people working to bring real democracy, freedom and development to their peoples and countries and to oppose all governments that stand in their way.
Imagine what would happen to America's image in the Muslim world if the President took such a stand? Imagine what would happen to al Qaeda's recruitment levels if he adopted such a policy (in fact, al Qaeda has been equally behind the 8-ball, as it was only Friday that the leaders of the movement's so-called Maghrebian wing declared their support for the protests in Tunisia and Algeria).
Imagine how hard it would be for so-called "supporters" of Israel to attack the President for finally putting some teeth behind his criticism of Israeli policy (which Clinton in Doha incredulously said the US could do nothing to stop) if he could reply that he was only holding Israel to the same standard as everyone else and that his policies were actually protecting America's core interests and security?
Sinking in the sand
In Doha, Clinton poetically spoke of regimes whose "foundations are sinking into the sand" and who will, it is assumed, disappear unless "reform" occurs. The reality is that US foreign policy towards the Middle East and larger Muslim world is equally in danger of sinking into the sands if the President and his senior officials are not willing to get ahead of history's suddenly accelerating curve. It is the US and Europe, as much as the leaders of the region, who in Clinton's words are in need of "a real vision for that future."
Clinton was eloquent in her closing remarks at the Forum for the Future, where she declared,
"Let us face honestly that future. Let us discuss openly what needs to be done. Let us use this time to move beyond rhetoric, to put away plans that are timid and gradual, and make a commitment to keep this region moving in the right direction. People are looking for real leadership in the 21st century, and I think it can be provided, and I know that this is the moment to do so."
She couldn't be more right, but it will only happen if the United States, and not the Arab world's aging and autocratic leadership, takes her sage advice.
Mark LeVine is a professor of history at UC Irvine and senior visiting researcher at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University in Sweden. His most recent books are Heavy Metal Islam (Random House) and Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine Since 1989 (Zed Books).
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Parlimentary Shuffleboard Tunisia

A few quick notes on what's going on in Tunisia right now (for actual news, see the link below)

- President Ben Ali flees country after 24 years in power looking for safe haven. First to France where he's denied by Sarkozy then scattered reports that he was in Malta, Sardinia, UAE & Dubai before it was confirmed that he'd been accepted in Saudi Arabia

- Last official act of former President was to name his sitting Prime Minister Ghannouchi the acting President. According to the Tunisian constitution, Ghannouchi was 2nd in the line of succession behind the Speaker of Parliment and this has angered many people who see Ghannouchi as a carry-over of the Ben Ali regime.

- It now appears that the Speaker of Parliment Mebazaa and constitutional successor has assumed temporary control and will be calling for legally mandated elections in 60 days.

- A few questions remain in my mind.
1. Just how much did Bin Ali & Family abscond with ? The recent revelations of the extent of corruption in the former presidency may have been the tipping point in the public mood but has anyone been able to quantify that ?
2. If the former President indeed plans to stay in Saudi Arabia, what funds will he & his family be living on ? Saudi is not an inexpensive place to live and while their hospitality is legendary, it does have it's limits.
3. Apparently France has already blocked several some financial transactions linked to Bin Ali but surely there are other accounts. What will become of those funds and will the various banks repatriate the funds to Tunisia's new government or did Ali escape with his life & his fortune ?
4. In light of reports of continued looting (some police apparently participating) and violence and a lack of civil control, when will things calm down enough for the country to "take a collective breath" ? 
5. How quickly will the World's leaders extend a helping hand (I hope only as requested) and recognize the new reality of Tunisia and it's people's demand for freedom ?
6. What impact will this event have on other regional "sore spots" ? There's already been demonstrations in Egypt, Jordan and who knows where else ? As Churchill put it "This is not the end, not the beginning of the end, but maybe the end of the beginning" (or something like that)

I guess time will tell. Now for the real news by the people on the ground, click below.


Tunisia's Ben Ali flees amid unrest - Africa - Al Jazeera English

Friday, 14 January 2011

Tunisia - The Social Revolution Live

Just a quick note.

I just spent the better part of the afternoon engrossed with Twitter watching the fall of the Tunisian government, the last minute escape by the resigned President and his country-hopping attempt to find someplace that would let him in.

Initial reports had him fleeing on a plane to France who in their ever so snotty way replied "Non!". Probably due to fears of unrest in their already agitated Tunisian immigrant communities. Next up were rumours that he was headed to Dubai. Now Dubai was an odd choice considering the fact that the now ex-President apparently was not on the best of terms with the government there but then again, his wife was supposedly in the region already thereby lending some credence to this rumour.

A few people on Twitter tried in vain to follow the his aircraft based on a leaked tail number / callsign but the info provided was incorrect in the end so it was speculation time again. Saudi, UAE, Dubai who knows. Finally reports came in that his plane had landed in Sardinia but no reports of whether he was on it.

Meanwhile, back in Tunis, the President disolved government before skipping town and the Prime Minister who's not next in line of succession claimed power. So more questions arose. Was this a military coup (unlikely), a palace coup (more likely) or just a 74 year old dictator gettin' while the gettin's good ?

Either way, a few things are for certain. In Tunis and across Tunisia there are reports of gunfire and looting. The looting isn't a good thing and the gunfire, let's just hope that it's celebratory and not the military and regime remnants taking potshots at the civilians in revenge.

This whole experience has left me mentally "winded" and thrilled. As I mentioned in a Twitter post, I was "watching news happen" thanks to the live Twitter reporting of people like Alan Fisher and Oliver Varney from Al Jazeera. Surprised that I didn't read more from the likes of CNN / BBC et. al. but then again, Tunisia isn't a ratings magnet.

This was my first experience with watching the power, the immediacy and the inclusiveness of social media at work. People from the world over were chiming in with comments, the two news men and their teams (the must've had great people working with them) keeping us up to date with the facts on the ground and info from various sources. People sending encouragement and others watching/reading along as events unfolded.

This may be a bit of a leap but considering how quickly info was streaming amongst the tweets, from on-site witnesses to us observers, I can easily understand it when people refer to this event as the first "Social Media Revolution". Is it precedent setting ? I don't know, I'm not a sage but I can say that this has emboldened quite a few people and both governments and media outlets better start paying attention.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

What can you get for $1 around the World?

  • Chester, England: US$1 (63 pence) gets me half a loaf of bread. As for Philippines, one of the best things you can get with $1 is a big bag of sweets to keep in your backpack, to hand out to kids.
  • Vienna: a dollar would buy you a freshly baked Kornspitz (a kind of bread roll), but wouldn’t be enough for a salty pickle from a street market or a short-distance public transport ticket. However, with the change from that Kornspitz, you can visit the museum of applied art (MAK) on a Saturday since it’s free of charge.
  • Tenerife, Canary Islands: it will get you a good cup of coffee in the capital, Santa Cruz, but in the tourist areas of the South you will be lucky if it gets you half a cup.
  • South India: it will give a unlimited servings of rice with rasam, sambhar, curd, papad, 1 piece sweet on a banana leaf.
  • Cebu, Philippines: $1 can get 30-45 minutes of a glorious foot massage.
  • Nepal: you can get momo (ten units of dumpling) and a 250ml of coke.
  • Croatia: a big scoop of ice-cream.
  • The UK: 60 pence buys you about 3/4 litre of milk, half a litre of petrol/diesel for your car, 2 cigarettes (that’s two single ones, not a packet), 3 apples, 2 days supply of the Sun tabloid newspaper, a small portion of fries from Maccy D’s or a can of coke from my office vending machine.
  • Denmark: you can get a litre of milk, a ciabatta bun in the Godthaabsvej Bakery, a stamp for a postcard/letter with receiver in Denmark, a cucumber or maybe a chocolate bar. 1 dollar = 5,5 danish kroner.
  • Budapest: 1 scoop of ice cream/4 small apples/1 plain hamburger at McDonald’s/1 postcard/1 daily newspaper/30 minutes parking in the downtown area.
  • Canada: Nothing! Haha. Blame it on Canadian taxes.
  • Faroe Islands: A pack of chewing gum, 2 apples at the supermarket, some candy probably, hardly anything.
  • Vietnam: you can buy either 1 hat, 1 or 2 magazine(s), 1 DVD, 3 pairs of flip sandals, 5 instant noodle packages or snacks, 1 meal in some cheap food courts. ALOT, rite?
  • In middle Italy: a litre of cheap wine or 1kg Spaghetti or 6 bottles of mineral water and just about one tablet of Ibruprofen which you might need if you drank the cheap vino!!!
  • Chiang Mai: The question is, what can’t you get in Chiang Mai for US$1? Street food doesn’t usually cost more than that. I even get a cooked to order vegetarian lunch delivered to my office everyday for that price.
  • Bogotá, Colombia: A cup of coffee and 2 fresh baked cookies. Or an arepa with some spicy home made aji salsa!
  • Seoul: one subway or bus ticket and a mask pack for your skin.
  • Egypt: you could buy a koshary plate which is an Egyptian dish which basically includes spaghetti, rice, lentil and fried onions on the top. Another choice would be about ten Fool (beans) sandwiches maybe even some falafel or in other parts of Cairo just a donut.
  • India: ‎1USD = around 50 Indian Rupees which can get you a hearty meal of boiled rice, dal, vegetables, pickles, chutney and papads in a Kolkata ‘basa’ …and it’s usually eat as much as you want!
  • Costa Rica: you can buy one papaya, one watermelon, one pineapple… and perhaps a cup of coffee of decent quality.
  • Los Angeles: one hour of street parking.
  • Paris: about 40% of an espresso at Starbucks.
  • Dubai: a dollar will get you a ‘Jabal Al Noor’ shawarma.
  • Portugal: 1 espresso coffee. Except if you are in the airport
  • Australia: a scratchy (lottery ticket) with the chance of getting enough cash together for your next trip.

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