Daily Digest - October 10: Feminists Leading the Charge in Global Development

Oct 10, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

Please note: There will not be a new Daily Digest on Monday, October 13, in observance of Indigenous People's Day. The Daily Digest will return on Tuesday, October 14.

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Please note: There will not be a new Daily Digest on Monday, October 13, in observance of Indigenous People's Day. The Daily Digest will return on Tuesday, October 14.

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Connected Feminism Shows A Muscular Commitment To Change - And Civil Rights (Forbes)

Tom Watson reflects on the Women and Girls Rising conference, praising it for demonstrating the power of feminism in the development world today.

Change in Derivatives Doesn’t Resolve Question of Safe Harbors (NYT)

Stephen J. Lubben says that a change in bankruptcy laws so that other investors can be pulled into proceedings when one goes bankrupt doesn't go far enough.

  • Roosevelt Take: Lubben wrote a chapter in An Unfinished Mission, the Roosevelt Institute and Americans for Financial Reform's report on the questions that remain in financial reform post-Dodd-Frank.

After Huge Tax Incentive Package, Boeing Still Ships Jobs out of Washington (WaPo)

Boeing's tax incentive package was the largest any state had ever offered any one company, writes Reid Wilson, but that has not prevented Boeing from relocating a few thousand jobs.

  • Roosevelt Take: Washington's Boeing workers are largely unionized, and Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch praised them for rejecting a contract that harmed newer and younger workers last year.

From Lagging 'Job Creation' to Lower Charity Giving, the Wealthy Give Less Back to Society (The Guardian)

Suzanne McGee questions why the wealthiest Americans give the lowest percentage of their income to charity, when presumably they have enough funds to do more.

Voter ID Laws Cut Turnout By Blacks, Young (HuffPo)

Alan Fram reports on a new study by the Government Accountability Office, which shows steep drops in turnout in states with new voter ID laws.

Supreme Court Blocks Wisconsin's Voter ID Law (USA Today)

With this emergency stay and a related decision by a district court judge in Texas, some of the most restrictive voter ID laws will not be in effect this November, says Richard Wolf.

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Daily Digest - October 7: How Wall Street Wins When Cities Are in Debt

Oct 7, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Is Wall Street Making a Killing Off Cities’ Debt? (Next City)

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Is Wall Street Making a Killing Off Cities’ Debt? (Next City)

In an illustrated essay, Susie Cagle shows how Wall Street profits off swap deals tied to cities' municipal bonds. Roosevelt Institute Fellow Saqib Bhatti explains pension obligation bonds.

Will the UN’s New Development Goals Downplay the Need for Gender Equality? (The Nation)

Barbara Crossette questions if reproductive rights will be given sufficient emphasis, drawing on the Roosevelt Institute's Women and Girls Rising Conference for female leaders' opinions.

Tax Cuts Uber Alles (Slate)

Jamelle Bouie explains why Paul Ryan needs a pretty unreliable mathematical model, known as dynamic scoring, to sell his proposed tax cuts as good for the economy.

Embrace the Irony (New Yorker)

Lawrence Lessig is attempting to destroy big money's influence in politics. All he needs, writes Evans Osnos, is for 50 billionaires to fund his SuperPAC.

Wages Should be Growing Faster, But They’re Not. Here’s Why. (WaPo)

Jared Bernstein suggests that raising wages is no longer part of American employers' model, and that wages won't increase until the labor market is much tighter.

SRC Cancels Teachers' Contract (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Kristen Graham and Martha Woodall report on the Philadelphia School Reform Commission's unexpected decision to unilaterally cancel the teachers' union contract.

New on Next New Deal

At NextGen IL Conference, Young People Set the Agenda for Their State

As attendees of the conference, the Campus Network's Midwestern Regional Team found themselves in a policy space where the goals and agenda were shaped entirely by their peers.

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Daily Digest - September 16: It's Time to Rethink the Purpose of Corporations

Sep 16, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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The Overpaid CEO (Democracy)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Holmberg and Mark Schmitt argue that exorbitant executive pay cannot be addressed without reconceptualizing a corporation as more than just an agent of its shareholders.

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The Overpaid CEO (Democracy)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Holmberg and Mark Schmitt argue that exorbitant executive pay cannot be addressed without reconceptualizing a corporation as more than just an agent of its shareholders.

Independence Has Costs and Benefits (The Scotsman)

Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz argues that Scotland should base its decision about independence on values rather than short-run economic gains or losses.

The Myth That Sold the Financial Bailout (AJAM)

Letting the investment banks collapse wouldn't have caused a second Great Depression, says Dean Baker. Between the FDIC and stimulus deals, the economy would still have recovered.

Why Pensions Went Away: A Theory (WSJ)

Lauren Weber looks at a new study on pensions, which suggests that the increase in influential investors who buy large blocks of stocks is tied to dropped pension plans.

Income Inequality is Hurting State Tax Revenue, Report Says (WaPo)

A new study from Standard & Poors shows the impact of inequality on state budgets, writes Josh Boak. S&P says that changing state tax codes won't be enough to solve this problem.

What the Poverty Rate Tells Us About the Overall Economy (NYT)

Jared Bernstein expects that the 2013 data will show that the poverty rate has continued to hold steady around 15 percent, because the recovery hasn't reached low-income households.

Scott Walker Wants To Fight Feds Over Welfare Drug Tests (HuffPo)

Federal law does not allow drug testing for food stamps or unemployment insurance, but Arthur Delaney reports that the Wisconsin governor wants to push back on that rule.

Unseen Toll: Wages of Millions Seized to Pay Past Debts (ProPublica)

Paul Kiel looks at the rise of wage garnishment for consumer debts, a system that has few protections for debtors and causes great financial hardship, since up to 25 percent of a paycheck can be taken.

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Daily Digest - September 15: Violence Against Women is Still a Threat, Abroad and at Home

Sep 15, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Hillary Clinton Seeks End to Gender Violence by Terrorist Groups (CBS News)

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Hillary Clinton Seeks End to Gender Violence by Terrorist Groups (CBS News)

Clinton also spoke about issues of violence against women in the U.S., reports Hannah Fraser-Chanpong, reiterating her stance that domestic violence requires criminal, not cultural, responses.

White House Photo Ops, Old School (NYT)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow David Woolner says the new Ken Burns film The Roosevelts: An Intimate History highlights the interconnectedness of the lives of Theodore, Franklin, and Eleanor.

Shareholders Say, ‘Show Me The Money’ (In These Times)

David Sirota explains the fight over corporate political spending disclosures. A proposed Securities and Exchange Commission rule has significant public support – and plenty of corporate pushback.

  • Roosevelt Take: Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Holmberg looks at the costs and benefits of mandating corporate political spending disclosure.

Workers Go on Strike at Hammond Automotive Seats Plant (Chicago Tribune)

The workers are "tired of being treated like fast-food industry employees," writes Alexandra Chachkevitch. They are asking for the elimination of a salary cap instituted during the financial crisis.

Workers in Maine Buy Out Their Jobs, Set an Example for the Nation (Truthout)

Rob Brown, Noemi Giszpenc, and Brian Van Slyke explain why the creation of the Island Employee Cooperative in Deer Isle, Maine is a particularly groundbreaking achievement.

New on Next New Deal

How Much are Local Civil Asset Forfeiture Abuses Driven By the Feds? A Reply to Libertarians

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal counters libertarian arguments, showing that the profit motive is bottom-up: asset forfeiture in non-Federal cases is driven by local policy.

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Daily Digest - July 17: Are We Building a Sustainable Future?

Jul 17, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Why This One UN Report on Sustainable Development is Different from the Rest (UN Dispatch)

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Why This One UN Report on Sustainable Development is Different from the Rest (UN Dispatch)

Campus Network Senior Fellow for Defense and Diplomacy Nehemiah Rolle says the Global Sustainable Development Report incorporates a broad array of both science and policy data.

Will a Fox, Time Warner Deal Be Approved? (Bloomberg TV)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Crawford says the Federal Communications Commission has an interest in regulating these big mergers to protect the future of U.S. communications.

Imagining Economic Policy Focused on Women (Real News Network)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Rob Johnson points to minimum wage, work sharing, and paid family leave as key policies for improving women's opportunities and thus the economy as a whole.

Punish the Executives, Not Just the Banks (New Yorker)

The short-term incentives for individuals on Wall Street continue to encourage risky and destructive business practices, writes James Surowiecki, which is why bank settlements aren't effecting change.

America’s Unrequited Corporate Love Affair (MSNBC)

Timothy Noah says the trend toward reincorporating abroad to avoid U.S. taxes is only part of a larger negative shift in the relationship between American corporations and the state.

Hobby Lobby's Harvest: A Religious Exemption for LGBT Discrimination? (LA Times)

Michael Hiltzik looks to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to explain why President Obama should not allow a religious exemption in his executive order barring discrimination against LBGT workers.

New on Next New Deal

Fighting Bad Science in the Senate

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Andrea Flynn says that even when they won't pass, strongly pro-choice bills like the Women's Health Protection Act are a means of fighting anti-choice falsehoods.

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What the History of the World Wars Can Tell Us About the Deeper Struggles at Work in Iraq

Jun 19, 2014David B. Woolner

Spreading democracy abroad requires more than military power, as history has shown from the two World Wars.

The very philosophy of the Axis powers is based on a profound contempt for the human race. If, in the formation of our future policy, we were guided by the same cynical contempt, then we should be surrendering to the philosophy of our enemies, and our victory would turn to defeat.

Spreading democracy abroad requires more than military power, as history has shown from the two World Wars.

The very philosophy of the Axis powers is based on a profound contempt for the human race. If, in the formation of our future policy, we were guided by the same cynical contempt, then we should be surrendering to the philosophy of our enemies, and our victory would turn to defeat.

The issue of this war is the basic issue between those who believe in mankind and those who do not—the ancient issue between those who put their faith in the people and those who put their faith in dictators and tyrants. There have always been those who did not believe in the people, who attempted to block their forward movement across history, to force them back to servility and suffering and silence.—Franklin D. Roosevelt 1943

As Franklin Roosevelt realized all too well, victory in the Second World War required much more than military power; it also involved the defeat of the extremist ideology of fascism that brought death and destruction to millions. Viewed from this perspective, the six-year struggle between 1939 and 1945 was as much a battle of ideas as it was a military conflict, and throughout the long years of fighting, FDR put as much effort into winning the peace as he did into winning the war.

Moreover, this determination did not just occur overnight. It came from a deep understanding of history and long years of experience, including the experience of having lived through America’s first major engagement as a global power—our entrance into the First World War, a move which President Wilson claimed was driven by America’s desire “to make the world safe for democracy.”  

The tragic events unfolding in Iraq today are not all that dissimilar to what took place in the 1930s and 40s. Once again we face an extremist ideology that is bent on conquest and has little respect for human life. Once again we face an adversary that rejects the core set of values that stand at the root of Western civilization, including freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

To counter this threat, senior American policy-makers often speak—as former Vice President Dick Cheney did yesterday in an editorial in the Wall Street Journal—of the need to defend and secure America’s “freedom,” in part through the promotion of “freedom” abroad.

In recent years, the best and most dynamic example of this modern-day attempt “to make the world safe for democracy” can be seen in the 2003 invasion of Iraq—a war of choice which was launched under the false assumption that the “Iraqi people” would respond to “freedom” in a manner similar to what happened in Japan and Germany after the Second World War. Hence, American strategy in this exercise in regime change was based on the idea that the people of Iraq would embrace democracy and Western values—forgetting of course that Iraq—unlike Germany or westernized Japan in 1945—was most emphatically not part of the West and that most of the Iraqi people had very little experience or interest in building a modern pluralistic state.

All of this points to a fundamental flaw that existed—and still exists—in the thinking of those like Vice President Cheney who base America’s security on the promotion of what some recent analysts have termed “hard Wilsonianism”—the idea that the in the post Cold War world the United States can use its overwhelming military superiority to enforce a liberal international order.

It is true that what is happening in Iraq and Syria is a major international crisis. It is also true—as Vice President Cheney and others have argued—that America’s withdrawal from Iraq at the end of 2011 has helped precipitate this crisis. What is largely missing from the current debate over Iraq and Syria—as well as the equally dangerous crisis in Ukraine—is the overwhelming need for American policy-makers and the American public to pay greater attention to the religious and ideological forces at work in these crises and the one tool perhaps more than any other that can help us avoid these sorts of catastrophes in the future: the study of history.

A rudimentary understanding of Iraq’s history, for example, would have made clear that Iraq was carved out of the remnants of the Ottoman Empire in a secret treaty between the British and the French at the height of the First World War, and that modern Iraq is really three nations, one Sunni, one Shia and one Kurdish, held together in its initial years by the British Empire and for the rest of the 20th century by the brutal hand of dictators like Saddam Hussein.

In his criticism of the decision to withdraw all of America’s combat forces from Iraq, Vice President Cheney accused President Obama of being “willfully blind to the impact of his policies.” The recent history of Iraq indicates that President Bush and his advisors are equally guilty of this sin, if not more so. A deeper understanding of Iraqi as well as American history would have indicated to them that “wishful thinking about our adversaries,” as Vice President Cheney put it, is indeed “folly,” the sort of folly that led us to launch the 2003 invasion with far too few troops, based on the fatal assumption that U.S. forces would be universally welcomed in this deeply divided, semi-artificial state. Viewed from this perspective, the Bush administration’s decision to not only take out Saddam Hussein but also destroy—with a minimum of American force—Iraq’s bureaucracy and army borders on criminal negligence. For as we now know, the latter two moves, especially disbanding the Iraqi Army, were a grave mistake, releasing tens of thousands of armed men—mostly Sunni armed men, who were convinced they had little or no future in a Shia-dominated Iraq—into the general population. The result was near civil war and the need for a major surge of American troops, all of which made a mockery of President Bush’s claim on May 1, 2003 that “major combat operations in Iraq” had ended.

Even if one believes that the toppling of Saddam Hussein was necessary, a closer reading of history might have led to a much more responsible and well-thought-out strategy: one that took cognizance of the deep ethnic and religious divisions within Iraq; understood—as General MacArthur and President Truman did when they ordered the Japanese Army to keep order in Japan until American occupation troops arrived—that the uncontrolled disbanding of a nation’s armed forces is a recipe for disaster; and recognized—as FDR did—that the development of Western-style democracy involves much more than the highly over-used and over-rated concept of “freedom” or the right to vote. It also requires tolerance, a respect for the rule of law, and a willingness to build the necessary institutions that make up a modern democratic state.

In a little-known comment near the end of the tumultuous 1920s—the decade which brought us a brutal civil war in Russia and a great deal of nationalist upheaval in Eastern Europe, including Ukraine—British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin reflected that what was really required in the wake of the First World War was not so much the determination “to make the world safe for democracy,” as President Wilson argued, but rather the determination “to make democracy safe for the world.”

Franklin Roosevelt understood this. He recognized that it was the ideology of fascism—inspired in part by the frustrations of the First World War—that brought us the Second World War and all its concomitant horrors, including the Holocaust. As such, to win the military struggle—made so much easier today by the advent of technologies like the predator drone—was not enough. We also had to bring an end to the ideology of fascism, and to accomplish this we had to offer the people of the world not just “freedom” in the narrow sense of the word, but a much more expansive and all-inclusive concept, a definition of freedom that included, as FDR so eloquently put it, freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. These four concepts together, along with the creation of such institutions as the United Nations and America’s willingness to embrace multilateralism, gave us the credibility to lead the world in the decades that followed. In this sense, FDR also learned from history, for having lived through the First World War and the failed peace that followed, he understood that our ultimate task was not so much to “make the world safe for democracy,” but rather “to make democracy safe for the world.” It is this lesson above all else that we need to embrace today if we are to entertain any hope of bringing an end to the crises in Iraq and Syria. 

David B. Woolner is a Senior Fellow and Hyde Park Resident Historian for the Roosevelt Institute. 

 

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Daily Digest - June 16: Oakland's Minimum Wage Workers Could Win in November

Jun 16, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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New Study Shows Who Wins if Oakland Hikes Minimum Wage (San Francisco Business Times)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our Monday through Friday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

New Study Shows Who Wins if Oakland Hikes Minimum Wage (San Francisco Business Times)

Eric Young reports on a study coauthored by Roosevelt Institute Fellow Annette Bernhardt, which shows 48,000 workers could benefit if Oakland approves a $12.25 minimum wage.

GOP Doesn’t Waste Time Blaming Obama for Iraq (Melissa Harris-Perry)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren says Republicans are using current events in Iraq to attempt to shift responsibility for the war off of President Bush and onto Democrats.

A Civilized Critic of Savage Behavior - Robert Johnson on Reality Asserts Itself (Real News Network)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Robert Johnson explains how his critique of the financial sector developed as Wall Street's political power grew and risk was shifted onto the public.

The Many Pipelines That Pump Up Our Wealth (Truth-Out)

Citing William Lazonick's new Roosevelt Institute white paper and two other studies on corporate pay practices, Sam Pizzigati sees a need for serious policy shifts to fight inequality.

  • Roosevelt Take: Lazonick's paper focuses on stock buybacks, which inflate the value of CEOs' stock-based performance pay.

Bank Account Screening Tool Is Scrutinized as Excessive (NYT)

Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Michael Corkery report on the New York Attorney General's efforts to ensure that a private bank database does not improperly deny banking access.

Starbucks Will Pay Full College Tuition For Thousands Of Its Workers (Business Insider)

Many Starbucks employees will be eligible for full tuition coverage for online studies at Arizona State University, writes Rob Wile. For low-wage service jobs, that's a very rare perk.

Hell on Wheels (TNR)

David Dayen looks at how current workplace conditions incentivize truckers to bend the rules and drive through fatigue while the industry lobbies against any work-hour regulation.

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Negotiating With Iran Should be the United States’ Foreign Policy Priority

May 12, 2014Jacqueline Van de Velde

If the United States wants to maintain influence in the conflicted Middle East and legitimacy in the international arena, it's time to open up to diplomatic relationships with Iran.

If the United States wants to maintain influence in the conflicted Middle East and legitimacy in the international arena, it's time to open up to diplomatic relationships with Iran.

With many states in the Middle East still politically torn, economically disadvantaged, and serving as hotbeds of extremism in the wake of the Arab Spring, Iran has come to play the surprising role of a stable power player in an extremely unstable region. Iran’s influence in regional politics is undeniable: it is a power player in the Syrian crisis, maintains a close relationship with Russia, and serves as the ideological opposite to Saudi Arabia in the Middle East peace process. Despite sharing a vested interest in the same crises and regional developments, the United States and Iran have myriad differences. Iran has yet to recognize Israel’s statehood, has provided sponsorship to terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah, and, of most concern, has uranium mines and enrichment capabilities that place Iran near “breakout capability” (having enough highly enriched uranium to fuel a nuclear weapon).

The election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who campaigned on and was elected on a platform of attempting to warm diplomatic relations with the United States, opened the first avenue since 1980 for Iran and the United States to attempt direct diplomatic negotiations.

Such interaction, centering on resolving the Iranian Nuclear Deal, ending the conflict in Syria, and lessening violent extremism in the Middle East, has placed both states in an unstable situation. Negotiations have forced Iran to work with the country that supported Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war, and forced the United States to work with the country that held their diplomats hostage in 1979. The United States has been forced to recognize and treat Iran as a significant, sovereign state with its own legitimate interests, rather than as a violent and extremist rogue nation. At the same time, Iran has been forced to seek out negotiations with the United States to kickstart their sputtering economy. Negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program, attended by Iran, the United States, Britain, France, China, Germany, and Russia, have been remarkably successful. The group, which reached an interim agreement in November, meets again on May 13 to draft the text of a permanent resolution.

Despite the progress, the United States has failed to treat Iran as an equal negotiator in all aspects of the international diplomatic arena. For example, on January 20, the United Nations, under pressure from the United States, withdrew Iran’s invitation to the Geneva II peace talks, designed to craft a sustainable solution to the Syrian conflict. The pattern of withheld diplomacy was repeated on April 11, when the United States announced that it would block Iran’s selection of Hamid Aboutalebi as its representative to the United Nations. President Obama then signed a law passed by Congress that blocks any individual found to have engaged in espionage or terrorist activity from entering the United States. Aboutalebi, who reportedly served as a translator during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, would thus be barred from receiving a visa to take up his position at United Nations headquarters in New York under U.S. law. Frustrations over this affront to Aboutalebi, who is seen as a moderate and highly experienced diplomat within Iran, have led Iranian lawmakers to accuse the United States of “bullying.” While the United States has maintained calm decorum within discussions of nuclear disarmament, it has continually undercut Iran’s authority and displaced it from the table within international negotiations. In spite of concerted efforts, public interviews, and measured responses to the insults, the two countries’ negotiations and interactions seem to be stretched thin.

History and differences aside, reestablishing relations with Iran is one of the greatest foreign policy challenges of President Obama’s final term as president. Retaining peace through the nuclear discussions with Iran is crucial to ensuring that Iran does not progress to breakout capability, which has the potential to spark a regional arms race, cause oil prices to rise, or provoke an Israeli attack.  With the United States withdrawing from Afghanistan and absent from Iraq – two states which border Iran – it is critical to engage Iran so that the stability of the region is maintained. Finally, as Saudi Arabia and the United States drift apart ideologically, as Russia and the United States engage in diplomatic struggles over the future of Ukraine, as Europe tries to free itself from energy dependence on Russia, and as the international community struggles over the future of Syria, Iran becomes a critical “balancing power.”

The United States stands to lose a foothold in the Syrian conflict, influence in the Middle East, and perceived legitimacy in international politics if it does not actively work with Iran. This is not the moment for reflecting on the past; rather, our foreign policy makers need to be looking to the future. The consequences of not engaging with Iran are severe, and the risk of failure isn’t worth the attention we receive from flexing our muscles on the international stage. 

Jacqueline Van de Velde is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's Senior Fellow for Defense and Diplomacy and a senior at the University of Georgia.

Photo via ThinkStock.

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Venezuela: The Crisis We Fuel With Our Apathy

Feb 28, 2014Leslie Bull

When the mainstream media ignores crises abroad, the crisis doesn’t stop or disappear, and that lack of attention can shift a situation from bad to worse.

When the mainstream media ignores crises abroad, the crisis doesn’t stop or disappear, and that lack of attention can shift a situation from bad to worse.

Given the recent revolutionary events in Ukraine, it is understandable that much of American media attention on foreign politics is concentrated on that country, and that country alone. But it is important to remember that our myopic focus on just one world event at a time comes with a price: sometimes the other crises in the world that go ignored are actually made even worse because of it. We sometimes forget the power that just paying attention to a crisis can have – without it, those perpetrating the crimes can rest assured that the international community’s eye is elsewhere, and can behave with impunity. In the case of the current unrest in Venezuela, the price of that apathy might just be my friend’s life.

That friend is Carlos Vecchio, National Political Coordinator of the Venezuelan opposition party Voluntad Popular (VP). I met Carlos when he came to Yale University just a few months ago to start his term as a Yale World Fellow. While he was here, he spoke passionately about his tireless efforts to promote democracy in Venezuela; his enthusiasm and depth of knowledge were infectious. As a recent college grad, I was by far the youngest and least experienced of the staff on the program and he always made time for me and treated me with respect and kindness. He reached across campus to students, faculty and other Fellows – many of whom have rallied around him in this time of crisis – with his pure love of his country and genuine respect for democratic ideals. And now, just two months after returning to Venezuela, he is facing a warrant for his arrest.

Venezuela is in the midst of game-changing anti-government protests by students and opposition party supporters (many led by Voluntad Popular members), calling for improved security, an end to shortages of basic goods, and better freedom of speech. The Venezuelan government has responded with a violent crackdown on protestors, raids on VP’s political offices, and persecution of VP leaders, including Carlos. Following the detention of top VP leader Leopoldo López, who was taken into custody on February 18, Carlos now serves as the de facto leader of the VP party, making him a likely government target. Carlos’ safety is in serious jeopardy, and he is currently in hiding with limited access to communication. Unlike López, he is not an internationally recognized figure, so media outlets outside of Venezuela have yet to report on his situation. Amnesty International has released an alert specifically naming Carlos as a government target, but his relative anonymity will allow government forces the space and ability to do whatever they please without fear of international repercussion. 

This is the real, human result of what may seem like harmless apathy on our part. Leaders who want to stifle political opposition and media freedom through extreme or violent means are free to do so, and those working to effect positive democratic change are sacrificed because we can’t be bothered to pay attention. As Francisco Toro, of the blog Caracas Chronicles, put it best:

“Venezuela’s domestic media blackout is joined by a parallel international blackout, one born not of censorship but of disinterest and inertia. It’s hard to express the sense of helplessness you get looking through these pages and finding nothing. Venezuela burns; nobody cares.”

We cannot continue to choose our apathy over people like Carlos, who are putting their lives on the line for the sake of a functioning democracy. Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has spoken out about Carlos’ persecution, and a few news outlets are picking up the story, but there is a long way to go if we are to ensure Carlos’ safety. Please share Carlos’ story far and wide, urge your representatives to speak out as well, and help us show the Venezuelan government that someone is paying attention.

Leslie Bull is a former Senior Fellow for Defense and Diplomacy with the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network. She is currently a Woodbridge Fellow at the Office of International Affairs and the World Fellows Program at Yale University. All opinions expressed herein are her own, and not those of Yale University or its administration.

Photo via Flickr.

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Rethinking Diplomacy: Why Iran Should Have a Seat at the Table on Syria

Jan 21, 2014Jacqueline Van de Velde

As the Geneva II talks on Syria begin, Iran's absence at the negotiating table reveals the problems in attempting to reach an agreement if the actors involved in this crisis aren’t invited to help end it.

As the Geneva II talks on Syria begin, Iran's absence at the negotiating table reveals the problems in attempting to reach an agreement if the actors involved in this crisis aren’t invited to help end it.

The situation in Syria has grown increasingly desperate, though the decrease in news coverage might lead you to believe otherwise. Over the past few months, the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) an al-Qaeda linked group of violent extremists, has gained control of much of the north and the borders between Turkey and Syria. ISIS has begun kidnapping journalists and holding them hostage for ransom. Dozens are still in captivity, leaving reporters to scrounge for news along Syria’s borders or risk imprisonment, torture, or worse.

The news is grim: the Syrian crisis has now raged on for nearly three years. It has killed over 130,000 people, created an estimated 2.4 million refugees and 6.5 million internally displaced peoples (IDPs), and made over half of the Syrian population dependent on aid. Many IDPs in rebel-controlled areas are unable to receive aid. Schools are closed, leaving a generation without its education. ISIS has recently imposed sweeping restrictions on individuals, killing children for heresy, banning music, and forbidding images of people. Prospects are bleak.

As I wrote about three months ago, the international community is still hoping for a diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis. On Wednesday, January 22, the international community will gather together at the Geneva II talks to discuss achieving peace in Syria. The talks are the brainchild of the United States and Russia, as an attempt to map out a transition plan to end the Syrian crisis. They are also invitation-only.

The talks are the follow-up to the Geneva I talks, held on June 30, 2012, at which participants agreed on the Geneva Communique and an Action Plan which calls for a “Syrian-led political process leading to a transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people;” requests multi-party elections free of sectarian, ethnic, or religious discrimination; and mandates the creation of a neutral transitioning body that can “include members of the present government and the opposition and other groups and shall be formed on the basis of mutual consent.” All parties present at Geneva I agreed to and signed on to this plan.

However, the negotiation attendees threaten to undermine the previous talks. One of the main actors at the talks is the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), an umbrella organization of dozens of rebel groups that oppose Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The SNC is in disarray. Since many representatives in the SNC are now forced to live in exile in Europe, some Syrians have claimed that the group is out of touch and does not accurately represent their viewpoint. Even persuading the SNC to attend was complicated; many of its member groups have refused to take part in the negotiations.

If the Syrian people do not view the SNC as a valid actor, there is no guarantee that the people will accept or agree to implement any treaties that are agreed upon at the conference.  The United States needs to begin negotiations and discussions with groups who are actually, actively involved in the Syrian conflict and are viewed by the Syrian people as legitimate representatives.

Surprisingly, the country that has been pushing for inclusivity has been Russia. During the lead-up to the Geneva II talks, Russia began to stress that the absence of Iran from the negotiating table was a failure. And it is. Iran is a country critically involved in the Syrian crisis: a firm backer of the Assad regime and an active agent in sending aid and troops to the conflict. Negotiating without Iran at the table is ignoring one of the largest players  in the conflict. It’s also a regional snub, as Iran’s rival, Saudi Arabia, is invited to participate in the negotiations.

On Sunday, January 19, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon invited Iran and 9 other states to participate in the Geneva II talks. Iran followed by announcing on Monday, January 20, that it would not accept “any preconditions” for attending the talks, such as accepting the Action Plan crafted at the Geneva I talks. The Secretary-General withdrew the invitation on the same day.

Alienating such a critical regional power will not benefit the Syrian people and may harm recent U.S. moves towards peace. The Syrian conflict was created precisely because large regional powers meddled in Syria; it needs to have these same powers’ support to fully be resolved. Snubbing Iran may also serve to undermine the critically important nuclear agreement that is just now going into effect in the international community.

Diplomacy is not gathering like-minded individuals at a table to reaffirm their beliefs; it is gathering states from various regions and with differing opinions and working together to find a solution. Until the international community can gather all – or at least more – of the actors who are involved in Syria, any agreement, road map, or action plan that is reached at Geneva II will be seen as illegitimate in the eyes of the Syrians and will lack the consent of several major actors who will continue to pursue their own strategies.

The Syrian people deserve better. 

Jacqueline Van de Velde is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's Senior Fellow for Defense and Diplomacy and a senior at the University of Georgia.

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