- Defending Political Liberty in an Administered World Barry Stocker, NOL
- The legacy of autocratic rule in China Mark Koyama, NOL
- Role of a Citizen in Hegemonic Authoritarianism Shree Agnihotri, NOL
- From the Comments: Ottoman autocracy, Turkish liberty Barry Stocker, NOL
Two things today (4/17/20). First, there is a vast misunderstanding of the World Health Organization around the US. (WHO) It’s been promoted unwittingly by the President’s own seeming ignorance.
WHO operates on two different gears. In times of crisis, like now, it’s usually found wanting. That’s because the top of its hierarchy takes over at such times and the top is composed of political appointees. Their appointment is the object of backroom negotiations between various Third World tyrants, China, and others, included the US, who are usually distracted. The current head is an Ethiopian communist. How did that happen?
Most of the time, the work of WHO is performed by professionals with no strong or visible political inclinations. With them, WHO managed to practically eliminate the scourge of small-pox, to reduce greatly the reach and danger of malaria. WHO has also been the main force behind campaigns of vaccination, including in areas where strong resistance exists. (No, I don’t mean loopy Santa Cruz, where I live; I was thinking more of Pakistan.) The pennies WHO costs me personally each year are undoubtedly one of the best investments I have ever made, its recent missteps notwithstanding.
I think, and I hope, that the president’s suspension of the major American contributions to WHO is only a pleasantly devious way to get the head of its head.
Second topic. For what it’s worth, here are the two things that triggered me to make the C-virus second fiddle in the concert in my mind. First was, the prohibition on surfing in Santa Cruz. Now, I am a water man but I never surfed and my surfing days would be quite behind me anyway. That prohibition demonstrated the sheer irrationality presiding over such decisions. And the panic among officials. Alternatively, as several FB friends have pointed out, the prohibition might have been a hypocritical way to keep “outsiders” out of Santa Cruz. That would have been a gross abuse of power: Punish me for the evil others might do which the authorities probably don’t have the right to repress anyway. (Go ahead, speak it aloud.)
The other thing that turned my head around was the growing impression that governments at the state and local levels were demonstrating a royal contempt for civil rights. The prohibition of surfing in my town was a first signal. (See above.) Then I began to realize that denials of civil rights were happening all over this great country. This very morning, Rush Limbaugh played a recording of the governor of New Jersey declaring that questions about civil rights were “above his pay grade,” a governor of a large state. (And his political affiliation is…?)
What worked most into the deep recesses of my lazy mind were the mention of several prohibitions of religious gatherings in different parts of the country. Yes, they sounded reasonable, sort of, in health terms. And, yes I am an atheist (even though I actually am in a foxhole). But look, the First Amendment does not say, ” …except when there is a risk of sickness.” And, if you disagree you should openly ask for a suspension of the Constitution and let those who ask for and implement it eventually pay the political price.
There can be no unspoken exceptions to the constitutional democratic order. Can there be?
All the power in both the County and the City of Santa Cruz (where I live) now resides in the hands of a County health official. Yesterday, she just closed all parks and all beaches in the county for at least a week. She had the courtesy to post a long letter explaining her reasons.
The letter contains this gem: “…too many of us were visiting the beach for leisure rather than recreation.”
I just can’t figure out the distinction. I am sure I don’t know when I am enjoying leisure from when I am recreating.
Now, I have been using the English language daily for about fifty-five years; it’s my working language; I write in it; I read at least a book a week in that language. Nevertheless, I don’t get the distinction. I even tried the old trick of translating the relevant phrase into my native language, French, like this:
Trop nombreux etaient ceux, entre nous qui se rendaient a la plage pour y jouir de leurs loisirs plutot que dans un but de recreation.
Still don’t know what the difference is!
The problem with George Orwell, the poor man’s libertarian theoretician, is that he keeps cropping up not matter how hard I try to shut him out of my mind. Way to go George! You were on to something.
Addendum the next day: I almost forgot. The county of Santa Cruz also explicitly forbade surfing (SURFING). Now, surfers hate even gliding past one another. They don’t congregate. They are sometimes suspected of attempting murder to get more space on the waves.
Two explanations come to mind for this strange interdiction. First, this is a devious way to stop many young people from nearby, very populated Silicon Valley to come over to Santa Cruz and enjoy their forced vacation on the waves. Or, second, this is an unconscious expression of the puritanism that always accompanies petty tyranny: Times are hard; you may not enjoy yourself, period!
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was awarded the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. He is the 12th winner from Africa. The Nobel Committee stated that Abiy had been awarded the Nobel for his efforts towards resolving the border conflict with Eritrea (in September 2018, Abiy and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki signed a peace deal in Jeddah).
A border war in the years between 1998 and 2000 had resulted in the deaths of 100,000 people, and was responsible for the displacement of over one million people and the splintering of many families. The agreement has helped in reducing tensions between both countries and has led to a number of other important steps; it has paved the way for air connectivity (Ethiopian Airlines resumed its flight from Addis Abbaba to Asmara, the capital of Eritrea after two decades), resumption of communications between both countries (telephone lines had been disconnected in 1998), reduction of military hostilities, and most importantly reuniting of families.
While reacting to the Nobel Committee’s decision, the Ethiopian Prime Minister said that this reward was not merely for Ethiopia, but the whole of Africa, and hoped that leaders in the region would work towards peace-building.
Said the Ethiopian PM:
…It is a prize given to Africa, given to Ethiopia, and I can imagine how the rest of Africa’s leaders will take it positively to work on the peace-building process in our continent.
It would be pertinent to point out that, in recent years, the outside world has begun to take note of Ethiopia for its economic progress – in spite of numerous political challenges.
In recent years — almost a decade — the country’s economic growth has been a whopping 10% according to International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates. In 2018, Ethiopia’s growth was estimated at well over 8% (8.5), and was the fastest growing economy in Africa. One of the key factors for Ethiopia’s impressive economic performance has been the shift from the agricultural sector to the industry & service sector and favourable demographics.
Reforms introduced by Abiy Ahmed: Political Sphere
Abiy’s election has generated immense hope, as he has seemed genuine in his commitment to political and economic reforms. During his tenure, a number of political prisoners have been released. There is also a reasonable amount of press freedom. There have been no arrests of journalists ever since he has taken over (2018 was the first year since 2004 when not a single journalist was arrested).
Abiy’s reforms – both political and economic – are significant because in many countries which have made economic progress, leaders have exhibited authoritarian tendencies. In many countries with economic promise, leaders have also failed to bite the bullet, as far as big bang economic reforms are concerned. Abiy, on the other hand, has reiterated his commitment to reforms.
Reforms introduced by Abiy Ahmed: Economic Sphere
In September 2019, Abiy unveiled his vision for economic reform titled ‘Home-Grown Economic Reform,’ which focuses on drawing greater public sector participation, reducing debts, and enhancing foreign exchange reserves. While speaking on the occasion of the launch of the roll out of his government’s agenda, Abiy emphasized on the fact that this approach is holistic: pro-job, pro-growth, and pro-inclusivity.
Privatization of a number of state run enterprises, such as Ethiopian Airlines, Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation, and the sole telecom provider, EthioTelecom, has also been high on the agenda of Abiy ever since he has taken over.
This is not to say that all is well in Ethiopia. In June 2019, Ethiopia faced two attacks, one in the Amhara regional capital of Bahir Dar and the other in the federal capital of Addis Ababa. While Abiy has made efforts towards reducing acrimony in the country’s polity, there are still numerous ethnic divisions, and a large number of political players are seeking to cash in on these schisms.
Expectations from Abiy are sky high, and the country faces numerous debts. While his agenda for reforms is well-intentioned, and does represent a significant break from the past, it is rather ambitious and it remains to be seen whether stakeholders involved in the implementation will be in sync with the PM.
Africa no longer the Dark Continent
For very long, many Western commentators have consistently adopted a patronizing approach towards Africa. The Nobel Award to the Ethiopian PM comes at an interesting time. At a time when the whole world is becoming insular, 54 African countries have signed the AfCTA (African Continental Free Trade Area) agreement. AfCTA. This is the world’s largest free trade agreement since the World Trade Organisation).
AfCTA is a crucial step towards strengthening intra-regional trade linkages and overall connectivity. AfCTA has the potential of connecting over 1 billion people, creating a bloc worth over an estimated $3 billion and pushing intra-Africa trade by up to 15-25% by 2040 (as of 2018, intra-regional trade was less than 20%).
It would be pertinent to point out that the Ethiopian PM has on repeated occasions reiterated his commitment to Pan-Africanism, and has been one of the most fervent backers of AfCTA.
Africa is also being viewed as the world’s next manufacturing hub (China has already moved in a big way, though of course many countries are looking to other alternatives). Political stability and investor-friendly policies of course are imperative.
One hopes that other leaders in Africa follow Abiy’s footsteps in focusing on economic and political changes which could pave the way for sustainable growth and prosperity.
For long the world’s attention has been driven by a Western narrative, but in recent years Africa along with Asia has begun to draw attention due to high economic growth rates. If Africa can get its act together, and growth in countries like Bangladesh and Vietnam is sustained, we could witness the rise of new Non-Western groupings (consisting of developing countries from different regions). Such groupings will not be driven by geopolitical compulsions, geographic proximity, or sheer size, but by economic consideration and could play a pivotal role in shaping a new narrative, while promoting globalization, connectivity and free trade.
Fifty-five years ago, in 1964, Brazilian president João Goulart was overthrown and substituted by Castelo Branco, a military president. Until 1985 the country was governed by military presidents. To this day people are still debating the coup (some even denying that there was a coup), much because the victims and perpetrators are still commanding the debate. In light of that, I’d like to offer some thoughts about 1964 here.
In 1789, only thirteen years after the American Revolution, a small group of Brazilian discontents planned an independent attempt in the region of Minas Gerais. The movement failed miserably, leaving one infamous victim, Tiradentes, who would much later be considered the patron of Brazilian independence. In the following years Brazil saw many other revolts and independence attempts, but in 1808 a significant change of events took over the country: instead of fighting in Europe a war against Napoleon he believed he could not win, Dom João VI, the Portuguese prince-regent, decided to move his capital from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro. However, some years later Dom João had to choose between staying in Brazil or losing his crown. He decided to go back to Portugal. His son, Dom Pedro I, remained in Brazil as a new prince-regent. Legend has it that, when embarking back to Europe, João turned to Pedro and said, “make the independence of this country before someone else does.”
And he did: on September 7, 1822, Dom Pedro I proclaimed Brazil’s independence and became the country’s first emperor. His son, Dom Pedro II, would succeed him in 1840 and rule until 1889 when the monarchy was overthrown, and the republic established. Now, just imagine if the king or prince of England or Spain proclaimed himself emperor of America. Well, that’s what happened in Brazil. It seems to me that people forget how absurd this scenario really was.
Fast-forward: Dom Pedro I followed his father’s steps in 1831. He had to choose between staying in Brazil or jeopardizing his family’s position in Europe. He went back to Portugal but left his son to become emperor in Brazil. Because Dom Pedro II was still only four years old, that wouldn’t happen until almost a decade later. And so, the 1830s were a very turmoiled time in Brazilian history. The country was ruled by several regents and was about to be torn apart. This favored speeding up Dom Pedro II’s coronation. Although he was only 14 years old, his rise to power helped to heal several wounds and bring a union to Brazil. The country’s subsequent history, at least until the proclamation of the republic in 1889, was lived under the shadow of the 1830s. To a high degree the Brazilian elites were afraid that without a strong central power, represented by the emperor, the country would fall apart, much like Hispanic America. On top of that, Brazilian economy was majorly dependent on African slaves, and the same elites were afraid that the Haitian Revolution of 1803 would be emulated in their country in the absence of a strong centralized government.
These are in my view the basics of Brazilian history in the 19th century. To prevent regional fragmentation (as in Hispanic America) or a slave revolution (as in Haiti) a very strong and centralized government was established. Liberal on the surface, but very far from that in reality. I don’t question that in the absence of this choice Brazilian history might have been quite different. However, I think that it is important to notice that Brazilian political history didn’t have a very democratic beginning.
As I already mentioned, the monarchy in Brazil ended in 1889. Dom Pedro II suffered a textbook coup d’état: some economic elites colluded with the military (mostly the army) and took over the power. The first forty years of Brazilian republic were notoriously oligarchic, ruled mostly by the coffee elites of the states of São Paulo and Minas Gerais. These elites, however, tasted their own medicine when, in 1930, Getúlio Vargas took over power by force. He would be the country’s dictator until 1945.
Vargas deserves special attention, both because of his long time in power and his enduring influence. On many occasions, he has been classified as a fascist, or something close to that. Populist is also a label that has been associated with him. I prefer to label him as “getulist”. To be sure, Vargas had some resemblance to fascists in Europe and populists in Latin America, but I understand that this is mainly so because all these governments share in their anti-liberalism, centralization of power and tendency to extreme violence.
Vargas peacefully stepped down from power in 1945, only to come back (democratically elected!) in 1951. He committed suicide in 1954. The whole period of 1945-1964 was lived under his shadow. Many tried to be his successor. Juscelino Kubitsheck, president from 1956 to 1961, began his political career as Vargas’ protégé and remained faithful to the mentor until Getúlio’s death. Leonel Brizola, governor of Rio Grande do Sul (1959-1963) – Vargas’ home state – also tried to continue Getúlio’s legacy. Even more so did Brizola’s brother in law, João Goulart, president from 1961 until the 1964 coup.
Even more than Juscelino Kubitsheck, João Goulart began his political career as a protégé of Getúlio Vargas, but never achieved the political brilliance of his mentor. Jango, as he was called, was not a communist by any means. Very much like Vargas, his ideology was a confused mix of positivism, laborism, populism and any other -isms. Very pragmatic. However, above all, Jango was a fool. He was unable to understand that the World had changed. What was successful for Vargas in the 1930s could not be reproduced in the 1960s. Because of that, amid the Cold War scenario he was mistaken for a communist by some. Others, more pointedly, realized that he was too oblivion to the communist threat Brazil was facing.
Communists had been trying to come to power in Brazil (rarely democratically) since the 1920s. The Cold War only intensified this threat. After the Cuban Revolution of 1959 many feared that Brazil would be the next domino to fall.
And this is in short, the scenario in which the military came to power in Brazil in 1964. As late Brazilian economist Roberto Campos very lucidly pointed, democracy was sadly not an option for Brazil in 1964. The country had to choose between a right-wing or a left-wing dictatorship. I believe they chose correctly. The communists took power in Cuba in 1959. They are still there. The military seized control in Brazil in 1964. They pacifically laid over power 21 years after and never tried to come back. I am not saying that a right-wing dictatorship is a good solution against leftism. Anyone who reads this here is reading his prejudices solely. What I am saying is that Brazil sadly has little democratic tradition and had even less 55 years ago. Therefore, we should not be surprised that the military took over power in 1964. Surprisingly would be if things happened in any other way. I don’t celebrate the military government of 1964-1985. Just the opposite: as with so many things in Brazilian history (or in life!) it is not something to celebrate. Just to accept and live with it.
- The extraterrestrial next door Adam Hadhazy, Space.com
- Reporting reports: colonial medical institutions Jonathan Saha, Colonizing Animals
- The best way to defeat totalitarianism? Treat it as a joke Anna Aslanyan, Spectator
- Bureaucrats in the Defense Department: An ethnography Jonathan Wong, War on the Rocks
- Zombie history: a bleak vision of the past and present Sophie Pinkham, the Nation
- Pakistan’s elections and the precarious future of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Andrew Small, War on the Rocks
- Populism in less developed countries is somewhat different Pranab Bardham, 3 Quarks Daily
- The BRICS hit the wall Guy Sorman, City Journal
- How sanctions feed authoritarianism Peter Beinart, the Atlantic
- Four ways of looking at a constitution Stephen Cox, Liberty Unbound
- Mining minerals in outer space: Luxembourg leads the way Justin Calderon, BBC
- Europe’s dependence on the US was all part of the plan Claire Berlinski, Politico