Friday, December 24, 2010

Johann Hari's People of 2010

. Friday, December 24, 2010

I don't have my own, so I'll just comment on his. It's a pretty short list, but then it's been a pretty bad year:

Under-Appreciated Person One: Bradley Manning. While we were all fixated on Julian Assange, the story of the young American soldier who actually leaked the classified documents passed almost unnoticed. ...

Here’s what really happened. Manning signed up when he was just 18 believing him would be protecting and defending his country and the cause of freedom. He soon found himself sent to Iraq, where he was ordered to round up and hand over Iraqi civilians to America’s new Iraqi allies, who he could see were then torturing them with electrical drills and other implements. ...

Manning had to choose between being complicit in these atrocities, or not. At the age of 21, he made a brave choice – to put human rights before his own interests. He found the classified military documents revealing the US was covering up the deaths of 15,000 Iraqis and had a de facto policy of allowing the Iraqis they had installed in power to carry out torture – and he decided he had a moral obligation to show them to the American people. ...

Under-Appreciated Person Two: Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. The only African leader who appears with any regularity on our TV screens is the snarling psychopath Robert Mugabe, spreading his message of dysfunction and despair. We rarely hear about his polar opposite. In 2005, the women of Liberia strapped their babies to their backs and moved en masse to elect Africa’s first ever elected female President. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was a 62 year old grandmother who had been thrown in prison by the country’s dictators simply for demanding democracy. She emerged blinking into a country trashed by 14 years of civil war and pillaged by dictators – but she said she would, at last, ensure the Liberian state obeyed the will of its people.

In the face of a chorus of cynics, she did it. She restored electricity for the first time since 1992. She got the number of children in school up by 40 percent. She introduced prison terms for rapists for the first time. Now she is running for re-election in a fully open and contested ballot. ...

Under-appreciated Person Three: Senator Bernie Sanders. In 2010, the hijacking of American democracy by corporations and the super-rich became almost complete. ...

But one American politician, more than any other, showed there can still be a different, democratic way of doing politics in America. Bernie Sanders was elected as the independent socialist senator for Vermont with 65 percent of the vote in 2006, in a fight against the richest man in the state. ...

He won over even very conservative parts of his state to a self-described socialist agenda ... This is what democracy looks like. ...

Under-Appreciated People Four: The Saudi Arabian women who are fighting back. Women like Wajeha Al-Huwaider are struggling against a tyranny that bans them from driving, showing their face in public, or even getting medical treatment without permission from their male “guardian”. The streets are policed by black-clad men who enforce sharia law and whip women who express any free will. Saudi women are being treated just as horrifically as Iranian women – but because their oppressors are our governments’ allies, rather than our governments’ enemies, you hear almost nothing about them. Al-Huwaider points out that her sisters are fighting back and being beaten and whipped for it, and asks: “Why isn't the cry of these millions of women heard, and why isn't it answered by anyone, anywhere in the world?”

Under-Appreciated People Five: The real N’avi. The people of Kalahandi, India, saw the film Avatar and recognized it as their story. The land they had lived in peacefully for thousands of years – and they considered sacred – was being destroyed and pillaged for by a Western bauxite mining corporation called Vedanta, whose majority owner lives in luxury in Mayfair. The local protesters were terrorized – for example, in one case documented by Amnesty International, they were abducted by local gunmen and tortured. But they didn’t give up. They appealed for international solidarity, so Vedanta meetings in London were besieged by people dressed as N’avi. The Indian government finally responded to co-ordinated democratic pressure and agreed the corporation had acted “in total contempt of the law.”

I'll respond thus:

1. Bradley Manning could have resigned in protest. He could have gotten himself dishonorably discharged. He could have made a public fuss about why he was refusing to obey orders. He did not. He acted in secret and in illegal ways, and engaged in acts that were immature and probably counter-productive. Somewhat ironically, he may have even strengthened the U.S. security state and intelligence apparatus. All of these things have been covered in great detail elsewhere, so i don't feel the need to chase down links. Suffice to say, Manning's actions were silly, stupid, and most likely at cross-purposes to his desired ends.

His treatment since his arrest has been absolutely horrendous, I agree. I wish it wasn't the case, and I don't think it should be so. But when you sign up for the military you give up your constitutional rights. He knew that. The U.S. government is itching to make an example out of him and I think that's wrong and excessive... but (as far as I can see) he has no legal claim. WTF was he thinking? I feel sorry for him on a personal level, but he did something that was very stupid, very illegal, and very dangerous. In my opinion, that does not make a hero.

Would the world be better if there were more Bradley Mannings? Well, has the world improved as a result of the first one?

2. I've heard of Johnson-Sirleaf, but know little about her. Everything I've heard has been good. Sadly, it wouldn't take much to be a major improvement over the past. The U.S. has a shameful record of neglect of Liberia, its cousin country. Hopefully that can be remedied in the future.

3. I love Bernie Sanders, even though I'm not from Vermont nor am I a socialist. I just appreciate when people argue honestly rather than disingenuously, even if/when I disagree with them. And every day I find the libertarian slice of my brain matching up more and more with the Marxist slice of my brain... they meet when statists and capitalists collude, where regulatory capture becomes real and oppressive. There's been a lot of that sort of collusion over the past two-three years, and it worries me. I'm glad Sanders is around to call "shenanigans" on the whole thing, and if the Tea Party had any intellectual sense they'd line up as his allies, not his enemies, on many issues. I might not agree with him on the solutions -- in fact, I definitely wouldn't -- but I'm glad he's pointing to the problems. Nobody else is.

4. Strong regards to the Saudi women who seek emancipation and those who support them. This is the (global) cause I embrace above any other. Unfortunately, beyond offering solidarity I'm not sure what can be done from this end. So for now I offer meager solidarity, and welcome other suggestions.

5. I have not seen Avatar (on purpose) and I know nothing about the people of Kalahandi. I will say that I support the rule of law and the correction of negative externalities, and oppose corporate bullying. I do not care about "sacred" sites, and generally think that foreign capital can (and should be!) be used to help under-developed regions improve their standards of living. So I support protections against corporate abuses that violate the law, but I worry that this will be a Pyrrhic victory: win the battle (no corporate oppression), lose the war (no capital inflow).


Johann Hari's People of 2010




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