Sunday, May 30, 2004
Is poverty an injustice or a misfortune?

The misfortune of being born poor becomes an injustice if the government does not attempt to remedy this situation when it can. The question of disadvantaged birth is already incorporated into many welfare systems. But these systems are often not available to citizens of the third world. Instead, many if not most people in the “first world” will simply consider themselves fortunate and argue that it is a misfortune to be born into more precarious conditions. Likewise, even those in the upper classes in third world nations many times prefer to contend themselves with marveling at their own “fortune” and be thankful that they were not born into the misfortunate that most of their compatriots endure daily. Most of the people born in these countries do not have any chance for upward mobility, and must simply accept their condition. The misfortune of those born into lower positions becomes an injustice as those who can do nothing to help them.
What surprises me the most is that even a Pakistani was killed -- after all, Pakistan is known for breaking with India mostly along Muslim-Hindu lines.

"Saudi siege ends after Briton's body dragged"
"At least nine Saudis and seven foreigners have been killed.

A statement purportedly from Saudi-born Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network was posted on Islamist Internet sites claiming responsibility for the attack, the third on foreigners in less than a month in the birthplace of Islam.

An American, a Briton, an Egyptian, two Filipinos, an Indian and a Pakistani were killed in the initial attack, along with two Saudis and seven security force members, the security sources said."
Saturday, May 29, 2004
Coug has a pagewith several links to incidents of reported torture currently taking place
"India's new government 'committed'"
Friday, May 28, 2004
For those of you who may have been wondering, the lack of posts in the past couple of weeks were due to the fact that I was travelling. But now I'm back, and back to blogging...

It's hard to believe the economy is getting better. Sure, Bush & Co. are quite busy advertising what we all know simply isn't true. But the global recession doesn't seem to be getting any better, and it goes far beyond US gas prices -- probably the main concern of most Americans right now.

Unemployment soars, especially in the third world. In Sao Paulo alone, 20% of the population is either unemployed orunable to find work. Recession also reaches the first world, and Europe is taking a hit. Inflation rates have reached a two year high. This is significant because the whole of the EU tries to keep strict regulations on inflation so that the individual countries can each keep relatively comparable and compatible economies. Especially with the recent enlargement, further recession could create tension among the 25 member states
Friday, May 14, 2004
In an original post I agreed with the fact that sixty+ universities are complaining to the White House about its strict isolationist policy towards other countries, and how that is hurting universities in the US.

Yet I believe I may have failed to justify my claim. I think I have grown used to a liberal audience, and have begun to make the mistake of assuming that my readers will share the foundational claims behind the issues I discuss. I may have started to focus more on the "how" of what's happening, and less on "why" it is significant from a liberal perspective -- that last part being assumed. Thankfully, the diversity of opinion even among us liberals is still enought to keep me challenged to defend my position at all times...

So, following a reply from Michael, I decided to go more in depth about why having international student and cultural exchanges is consistent and necessary with a liberal position...I'll admit my personal bias upfront: having been a foreign student many times, I can't possibly think that cutting back on international students is a good thing. Nonetheless, there is still a lot to be said from a less personal point of view.

If it weren't for the opportunities for students to go abroad, cultural exchanges (already rare) would be nearly non-existent. Moreover, most students born in third world countries would never even get a chance to get a better education. Some countries, like Colombia, hardly even offer Master's programs at all. That said, were it not for the brain flow coming from Europe during WWII, some of the greatest "progress" the US has made would not have happened.

These foreign students are often made to pay 3x to 4x (10x in Canada, as tuition there is highly subsidized to local students) the amount of tuition of other students, and as competition is fierce these are often the brightest minds of their own countries (though not in all cases, as you can see yours truly got in anyways). It is a known fact that it is a lot harder to enter a university as an international student than as a local one (thanks to quotas, international students have the entire world as competition, whereas local students have more of a chance of getting in). Visa and money requirements are already too strict, ensuring only the upper-middle class gets to travel. If anything, the US and other first world countries need to ease these requirements, as the university group is demanding. Its currently strict position is not only hurting the university life of the US, it is diminishing the already too narrow possibilities for cultural exchanges.

There is also another side to it. I have to admit that in many ways I'm a renegade centrist. Not the irrational, fundamentalist rightwing kind, but the right-of-center in economics kind. I started out extremely liberal, then travelling around made me both consider the opposite point of view, and return to my original one with more conviction as a result of experience.

Spending time in Quebec, one of the most socialist places in the world, and seeing some of the administrative shortcomings of that system made me start to think that perhaps the economic conservatives had it right (pun intended). Then I travelled more -- and suddenly I started to realize what it's like to really put yourself in the shoes of people who are born without any benefits at all. I started to realize that behind the principle of right-of-center economics (along with xenophobia, of which I was never guilty) is a profound apathy for anyone else's condition. I started to realize that poverty is not only a misfortune -- it is an injustice, as long as we perpetuate it by caring only about the size of our tv screen.

I now admire the Canadian system, and fully understand just why Canadians defend their healthcare so much. In fact, I've even noticed a pattern among the kinds of destinations my friends pick when they do exchanges or travel -- the conservatives usually go to Europe and try to avoid the third world entirely (unless it's to stay in some secluded resort where the only natives they encounter are service staff)!!

Europe itself has started to recognize the benefits of cultural exchanges (although it has in many ways restricted itself to pan-European programs only). The EU has created many programs like Erasmus (anyone seen the French movie L'Auberge Espagnole?) to promote student travel and exchange, precisely out of the belief that these exchanges can lead to more of a high-quality, standardized level of education, and to a greater respect and understanding for other cultures (European, in this case). I think if anything the US should be encouraging more of its students to study abroad -- if only in one year exchanges -- to end the isolationism of which it is so often accused.

So shouldn't the US be saddened indeed at losing international graduate students? What do you guys think?
Thursday, May 13, 2004
Applications from international students to US graduate programs is down 32 percent this year. This comes at a time of economic recess, when the opposite trend is usually expected. As the economy goes into recession, young professionals return to universities for more advanced degrees. So why are international students shunning US schools, preventing a "brain flow" (as opposed to a brain drain) into the US? The recent changes in US visa requirements and restrictions are exaggerated, to say the least. In a letter from over 60 universities and colleges to the White House, university professors are requesting the US to ease those restrictions.

Financial Times story:

"A broad coalition of American academics warned on Wednesday of a crisis in research and scholarship caused by tighter controls on visas for foreigners.

The 25 organisations, claiming to represent about 95 per cent of the US research community, say urgent reform is needed if their institutions are to remain a favoured destination for the world's brightest international students and researchers.

In a letter to the White House, FBI and state and homeland security departments, they warn: "The US cannot hope to maintain its present scientific and economic leadership positi on if it becomes isolated from the rest of the world." The signatories include organisations representing 60 universities and more than 20 leading scientific bodies.

The Bush administration has signalled it is prepared to reconsider aspects of visa policies. Colin Powell, secretary of state, said on Wednesday that if the US lost foreign students and other scholars because of the delays, "we risk losing their goodwill and that is a priceless thing to lose".

The academics urge the adoption of six reforms to cut bureaucracy created by security checks, which they say has created "the misperception that the US does not welcome international students, scholars and scientists". They say about 14,000 visa applications were flagged for special review in 2002 - up from 1,000 in 2000, before the new rules were enacted.

Foreign applications to US graduate schools have declined 32 per cent this year."
Monday, May 10, 2004
Via Coug

"Several hundred foreign students at Norwegian universities are being monitored by the Norwegian Police Security Service (PST). The PST claims they must have intelligence on students that gain knowledge that could be used to develop weapons of mass destruction, student newspaper Studvest reports.

In Bergen alone over 500 foreign students are registered by the PST. The lists pertain to students from nations outside of the Schengen area and North America.

Students from countries run by totalitarian regimes or from nations that had not ratified treaties against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are of special interest."
Want to understand better why the latest European offer is significant? Checkthis post on the WTO rulings.
Two weeks ago the World Trade Organization ruled in favour of Brazil against US subsidies of agricultural products. This was a landmark decision where for the first time a third world nation successfully challenged a first world country.

Now, Europe has offered to eliminate its agricultural export subsidies. Europe has been one of the most obstinant opponents to the end of subsidization, leaving many third world countries angered that they had to comply with rules that first world countries did not. So there is hope...

Financial Times:

The European Union will on Monday offer to eliminate its agricultural export subsidies and soften its demands for controversial new trade rules in an attempt to revive progress in the Doha world-trade round.

The offer, in a letter to trade ministers from all 148 World Trade Organisation members, is intended to show that the EU is committed to pushing ahead with the stalled round and is willing to take a more flexible stance.

Signed by Pascal Lamy, EU trade commissioner, and Franz Fischler, agriculture commissioner, the letter comes before important meetings of trade ministers in Paris this week, at which renewed efforts will be made to agree by July a negotiating framework for the round.

Sunday, May 09, 2004
Sorry I've been away from blogging, won't happen again (I hope).

I confess I got a little discouraged when key events like the EU enlargement and the WTO ruling against US subsidies didn't even merit an article in most leftists blogs, let alone a mention...I felt like I was trying to fight a thunderstorm alone by trying to spread the world. But that, after all, is the purpose of the New World Blogger -- to bring attention to issues that are not appropriately discussed and covered in the mainstream media, even the mainstream blogosphere.

Meanwhile, I'll leave you with the newest sign that the US really is going insane (if we're not there already) -- the newest reality show, I nearly died. Here contestants get to fake their own death and watch their relatives' reactions as they jump out of the coffin. Lovely. Just when you thought the world couldn't get more absurd.
Friday, May 07, 2004
But he doesn't step downFull story here
Wednesday, May 05, 2004
"George W. Bush and his military commanders humbled themselves before the Arab world on Wednesday, addressing what the president called the “abhorrent” US treatment of some Iraqi prisoners.

Mr Bush stopped short of apologising, but promised that those people responsible for humiliating and torturing Iraqi prisoners "will be brought to justice".

For a president notoriously averse to admitting mistakes and an administration generally reluctant to apologise, the concerted appearances of Mr Bush and the US military leadership before the Arab and US media marked an unprecedented display of contrition."
Sunday, May 02, 2004
Due to the lack of coverage on this topic in North American blogs, the NWB has decided to post a special about EU enlargement.

European Union enlargement -- what is it? what is the history behind it? why is it significant? All your FAQs answered....


Q: How has the European Union changed since its creation?

A: Since its original establishment as the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1952, the European Union has seen four (five as of yesterday) enlargements, the abolition of all trade tariffs and barriers, the establishment of a Single Market, and the adoption of a single currency, the euro.

Q: Why is the EU significant?

A: Many areas of high politics have been increasingly put under the supranational scope in the EU.
It is indisputable that in its progression from the original ECSC to its present form, the European Union has grown considerably in both the scope and influence it holds over member states. Member states have been advancing towards a project of integration, giving up areas of national sovereignty to the European Union to achieve greater cooperation. In fact, the growing impact of the European Union has been so significant, the term “Europeanization” has been coined to refer to this phenomenon.

Q: How has international politics been affected by the EU?

A: Previously European foreign policy cooperation had been restricted to the European Political Cooperation (EPC) council, a broad institution established in the 1970 Luxembourg Report where “European Community (EC) member states sought to consult one another on foreign policy issues and, where possible, to co-ordinate respective national positions.” Since the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, the plan for a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) has been launched. While member states still retained sovereignty under the new CFSP, since Maastricht increased cooperation has been established than had previously occurred under the ECP.
However, as the European Union’s official words on the topic explain, “the Union has made less progress in forging a common foreign and security policy over the years than in creating a single market and a single currency.”

Q: Why can't people just agree about what the EU is?

A: The thing is, the EU has been interpreted in several ways. With perhaps what was notable foresight, Ernst B. Haas wrote in 1961 that “The established nation-state is in full retreat in Europe.” Haas’ interpretations were to spark a controversy still in place today about the extent to which European states retain their sovereignty in the face of increasingly influential supranational, European institutions. Nonetheless, while it can no longer be regarded simply as an intergovernmental organization, the extent to which the European Union has succeeded in developing its own authority and autonomy is highly contentious.

As a response to this controversy, several schools of thought have offered different interpretations of the foundation and influence of this institution. These have focused along two axes of debate, mainly realism vs. functionalism, and intergovernmentalism vs. supranationalism. Accredited as the founder of the Functionalist school, Haas had argued as early as 1958 that European governments were increasingly taking part in a process whereby cooperation supplanted competition and heeded the “invisible hand” of integration. Since then, various theorists have come forth attempting to explain and predict the phenomenon of European integration that is taking place.

Q: What is happening right now?

A: As of May 1, 2004, the Eu now has 25 rather than 15 member states. This is a very big deal because the impact of this could have major economic and political consequences not only for the region but for the world.

Q: Where can I find out more?

A: The main European Union site,, has a wealth of information on the topic.
Saturday, May 01, 2004
It seems all of the US one-time strong allies are slowly backing away. First Germany criticizes the US for the war. Then, Spain decides to pull out its troops. Now, Korea shows a strong preference for China rather than the US. Who is next? What else before a change of foreign policy will finally happen?

Financial Times story:

"More than 63 per cent of South Korea's ruling party lawmakers believe China is a more important diplomatic and economic partner than the US, showing Seoul's 50-year alliance with Washington is threatened by Beijing.

The poll came as fresh data showed China was extending its lead over the US as the top destination for South Korean exports and investment.

Lawmakers of the pro- government Uri party revealed their attitudes in an internal survey, conducted two weeks after the left-leaning party won control of South Korea's National Assembly. Uri's election victory was viewed as a shift in power from South Korea's pro-American establishment towards a younger generation of leaders who are less loyal to the US.

Any shift in Seoul's allegiance would alter the balance of power in north-east Asia, because the US military presence on the Korean peninsula is an important counterweight to Chinese influence in the region.

The US decision last year to relocate its troops from positions along the border with North Korea to more southerly locations has increased the sense of disengagement between the allies - although Washington insists it has no plans to withdraw completely."
Here is the
President George W. Bush on Friday denounced the brutal treatment of detainees in Iraq as he sought to contain a growing international outcry at the conduct of coalition troops. "I shared a deep disgust that those prisoners were treated the way they were treated," he said. "Their treatment does not reflect the nature of the American people."
The images of torture and mistreatment, aired by CBS on Wednesday and later seen around the world, drew strong condemnation in Europe and across the Arab world.

Somehow I cannot bring myself to comment.