January 14, 2011


This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

Der Spiegel:

Greece wants to erect a fence on its border with Turkey to stop illegal immigrants from crossing into the EU. But the ruthless people traffickers in Turkey will do whatever it takes to get those dreaming of a better life into Europe — no matter what the danger to the immigrants.

When the bus for Athens pulled away, the area outside the Filakio detention camp looked like it had been the scene of a mass panic. Sandals, sweaters and backpacks were scattered all around after being jettisoned in great haste.

Just moments before, Galal Hani and the other refugees from the Greek camp had stood shivering in the mud in freezing temperatures trying to make themselves look presentable in their clean jeans, sneakers and suede jackets. Now they are on their way to a new life.

Hani, a 30-year-old Hani Moroccan, describes how he got here. He says he took a budget flight from Casablanca to Istanbul. From there, he took a bus to the northwestern Turkish city of Edirne. And, from there, he walked cross-country across the border and into Greece. Having now been released from the Filakio refugee camp, he intends to travel via Athens to Italy, where his ex-girlfriend and their child are reportedly already waiting for him. He claims he lost his ID papers while traveling. All he has now is a letter from the transit camp.

This free pass to nowhere is his official notification that he is a “deported” refugee who has 30 days to leave Greek territory. And that’s precisely what Hani intends to do. But rather than following the authorities’ instructions and returning to Morocco, he intends to travel to Western Europe — as do most economic migrants who arrive in Greece.

Greece’s Guantanamo

Filakio lies in northeastern Greece, close to the borders with Turkey and Bulgaria. It is currently Europe’s most notorious transit camp for refugees. Filakio’s seven dormitories were originally intended to house up to 372 people. But a guard reports that there are currently twice as many people at the center, adding: “Welcome to Greece’s Guantanamo!”

At the base of fence made of two coils of barbed wire, a pool of stinking sewage has formed. Behind the fence, overflowing trash cans are surrounded by dozens of open plastic bags and loose bundles of clothes. Rats scurry across the courtyard. Police officers now only enter the buildings wearing medical masks, and the camp’s few visitors are bombarded with complaints by its temporary inhabitants.

The camp spans an area of 1,500 square meters (16,000 square feet). There’s one dormitory for women, one for minors and five for men. Each holds eight showers and eight toilets. Three times a day, food is brought into the camp. But when almost 800 refugees are crammed into it — and, on particularly bad days, there are even more — the conditions in Filakio become unbearable. People have to squeeze into the long rows of bunk beds, and many end up sleeping on the floor. The toilets are often blocked, and there are puddles in the corridors.

‘A State of War’

Still, Filakio only drew international attention when news emerged that Greece was planning to erect a fence to seal off its border with neighboring Turkey. The fence will run along an approximately 12-kilometer (7-mile) stretch of countryside that refugees from the far corners of the world know as the gateway to the EU. Owing to a bend in the Maritsa River — which the Turks call Meriç and the Greeks Evros — this is the only spot where the northern border of Turkey touches Greece on dry land. From here, would-be immigrants can enter “fortress Europe” without even getting their feet wet.

Greece now intends to shut this back door. Last year, Greek authorities recorded some 27,000 illegal border crossings in this small area alone. No one knows how many people really came across, but the true figure is undoubtedly far higher. Another 12,000 people traversed the Maritsa at other, less convenient places — whether by swimming, wading, boat or even walking across the frozen river.

At present, nine out of every 10 illegal immigrants entering the EU comes via Greece. Most of them arrive in the region that Georgios Salamangas, the police chief of the nearby city of Orestiada, is responsible for. “We’re in a state of war,” Salamangas says. Since controls have been tightened throughout the Mediterranean — from Gibraltar to the Aegean — more and more refugees are opting for the land route running east to west.

Salamangas also says he’s noticed a major change since Turkey waived its visa requirements for inhabitants of North African countries. In addition to Afghans, Iraqis and Palestinians, a significant share of the refugees now come from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. “We didn’t use to get them,” he says.

The mustachioed Greek police chief is at pains to show that he cares about the well-being of the refugees in his region. He says he helped recover 16 bodies from the Maritsa in June, bodies of would-be illegal immigrants who had drowned in the raging river.

The Mystery Corpse

The Maritsa flows down into the Sea of Marmara. The border runs along the center — separating Greece from Turkey, the Occident from the Orient, Euroland from hinterland.

On Jan. 5, a woman’s body was pulled out of the river on the Turkish side. She had dark skin, was about 170 centimeters (5′ 8″) tall and wore her hair in Rasta-style dreadlocks. “Probably Somali,” a doctor says. It’s not the first time he’s seen such victims.

The woman’s body has been brought to a hospital in Edirne. Lying in the hospital’s back courtyard, it appears to have been in the water for some time, and her facial features are already hard to make out. Eventually, her lifeless body is put into a white plastic bag and taken to a tiled room.

According to Frontex, the EU body responsible for external border security, more than 40 people washed up dead on the Greek side of the Maritsa in 2010. There are no comparable figures for the Turkish side, only brief reports in the daily newspapers: Eighteen bodies were found in the first few days of 2010, four dead — presumably Palestinians — were recovered in April, and another one washed up near the village of Elçili in September.

Read it all.

Foreign Policy:

This year will almost certainly see the birth of a new country named Southern Sudan. It might also witness the creation of an independent Palestine, as Palestinian leaders push for unilateral recognition of their national sovereignty within their country’s 1967 borders. And within a couple of years, a sovereign Kurdistan might emerge from a still-brittle Iraq. We could be entering a new period of mass state birth: Imagine an independent South Ossetia, Somaliland, and Darfur too. The trend is nothing new, but it’s picking up steam again. The most recent sovereign entrant was in 2008, when Kosovo emerged from the breakup of Yugoslavia; nine years earlier, in 1999, it was East Timor gaining independence from Indonesia.

Because of this wave of self-determination culminating in sovereignty, there are today more autonomous political units in the world than at any time since the Middle Ages of a millennium ago. Within a few decades, we could easily have 300 states in the world. Moreover, we are gradually returning to the medieval world of thousands of multilayered communities ranging from the supranational European Union to the magnetic city-states of the Persian Gulf to the indigenous communities of the Inuit of Canada and Greenland.

This instability is the cartographic expression of an underlying geopolitical phenomenon afflicting much of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia: post-colonial entropy. Except for a few, rare cases, many of the colonies that gained their independence a half-century ago have since experienced unmanageable population growth, predatory and corrupt dictatorship, crumbling infrastructure and institutions, and ethnic or sectarian polarization.

Whether or not Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan, or the Democratic Republic of the Congo technically qualify as “failed states,” their fates are sealed by their colonial inheritance. Indeed, it’s often their borders that are the deepest cause of their conflicts. Many of these national borders are in desperate need of adjustment, and the rest of the world should show more flexibility in allowing them to do so. Europe messed it up the first time, but now the West can support the right regional bodies to adjudicate these new borders — helping others help themselves in the process.

By this logic, today’s hot spots such as Iraq and Afghanistan are not simply “America’s Wars.” Rather, they are to some extent the unexploded ordinance left over from old European wars, with their fuses lit on slow release. Indeed, the United States had nothing to do with the Sykes-Picot and other agreements that parceled the Levant into French- and British-allied monarchies, or the Congress of Berlin, which drew suspiciously straight lines on Africa’s map. Some of these haphazard agreements created oversized or artificial agglomerations like Sudan, which threw together heretofore independent groups of Arabs, Africans, Christians, and Muslims into a country one-fourth the size of the United States but lacking any common national ethos or adequate distribution of resources to sustain commitment to unity. Others did the opposite, like the British officer Henry Mortimer Durand, whose infamous line divided the Pashtun nation between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This growing cartographic stress is not just America’s challenge. All the world’s influential powers and diplomats should seize a new moral high ground by agreeing to prudently apply in such cases Woodrow Wilson’s support for self-determination of peoples. This would be a marked improvement over today’s ad hoc system of backing disreputable allies, assembling unworkable coalitions, or simply hoping for tidy dissolutions. Reasserting the principle of self-determination would allow for the sort of true statesmanship lacking on today’s global stage.

In Sudan, the United States has certainly placed itself on the right side of this trend. It has been a key architect of the internationally sanctioned referendum that will likely result in Southern Sudan’s independence, making clear that the eventual split is not a U.S.-led conspiracy to hack apart the Arab-Muslim world. Such a legitimate process has given cover to China to reorient its policy as well, balancing its staunch support for the regime of Omar Hassan al-Bashir in Khartoum with upgraded relations with the Southern government in Juba, which has in return promised to honor the China National Petroleum Corp.’s contracts. (Sixty percent of Sudan’s oil exports currently go to China.)…

Read it all.

The Atlantic:

F. Scott Fitzgerald was right when he declared the rich different from you and me. But today’s super-rich are also different from yesterday’s: more hardworking and meritocratic, but less connected to the nations that granted them opportunity—and the countrymen they are leaving ever further behind.

IF YOU HAPPENED to be watching NBC on the first Sunday morning in August last summer, you would have seen something curious. There, on the set of Meet the Press, the host, David Gregory, was interviewing a guest who made a forceful case that the U.S. economy had become “very distorted.” In the wake of the recession, this guest explained, high-income individuals, large banks, and major corporations had experienced a “significant recovery”; the rest of the economy, by contrast—including small businesses and “a very significant amount of the labor force”—was stuck and still struggling. What we were seeing, he argued, was not a single economy at all, but rather “fundamentally two separate types of economy,” increasingly distinct and divergent.

This diagnosis, though alarming, was hardly unique: drawing attention to the divide between the wealthy and everyone else has long been standard fare on the left. (The idea of “two Americas” was a central theme of John Edwards’s 2004 and 2008 presidential runs.) What made the argument striking in this instance was that it was being offered by none other than the former five-term Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan: iconic libertarian, preeminent defender of the free market, and (at least until recently) the nation’s foremost devotee of Ayn Rand. When the high priest of capitalism himself is declaring the growth in economic inequality a national crisis, something has gone very, very wrong.

This widening gap between the rich and non-rich has been evident for years. In a 2005 report to investors, for instance, three analysts at Citigroup advised that “the World is dividing into two blocs—the Plutonomy and the rest”:

In a plutonomy there is no such animal as “the U.S. consumer” or “the UK consumer”, or indeed the “Russian consumer”. There are rich consumers, few in number, but disproportionate in the gigantic slice of income and consumption they take. There are the rest, the “non-rich”, the multitudinous many, but only accounting for surprisingly small bites of the national pie.

Before the recession, it was relatively easy to ignore this concentration of wealth among an elite few. The wondrous inventions of the modern economy—Google, Amazon, the iPhone—broadly improved the lives of middle-class consumers, even as they made a tiny subset of entrepreneurs hugely wealthy. And the less-wondrous inventions—particularly the explosion of subprime credit—helped mask the rise of income inequality for many of those whose earnings were stagnant.

But the financial crisis and its long, dismal aftermath have changed all that. A multibillion-dollar bailout and Wall Street’s swift, subsequent reinstatement of gargantuan bonuses have inspired a narrative of parasitic bankers and other elites rigging the game for their own benefit. And this, in turn, has led to wider—and not unreasonable—fears that we are living in not merely a plutonomy, but a plutocracy, in which the rich display outsize political influence, narrowly self-interested motives, and a casual indifference to anyone outside their own rarefied economic bubble.

Through my work as a business journalist, I’ve spent the better part of the past decade shadowing the new super-rich: attending the same exclusive conferences in Europe; conducting interviews over cappuccinos on Martha’s Vineyard or in Silicon Valley meeting rooms; observing high-powered dinner parties in Manhattan. Some of what I’ve learned is entirely predictable: the rich are, as F. Scott Fitzgerald famously noted, different from you and me.

What is more relevant to our times, though, is that the rich of today are also different from the rich of yesterday. Our light-speed, globally connected economy has led to the rise of a new super-elite that consists, to a notable degree, of first- and second-generation wealth. Its members are hardworking, highly educated, jet-setting meritocrats who feel they are the deserving winners of a tough, worldwide economic competition—and many of them, as a result, have an ambivalent attitude toward those of us who didn’t succeed so spectacularly. Perhaps most noteworthy, they are becoming a transglobal community of peers who have more in common with one another than with their countrymen back home. Whether they maintain primary residences in New York or Hong Kong, Moscow or Mumbai, today’s super-rich are increasingly a nation unto themselves…

Read it all.

The Intersection

January 14, 2011

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

The Safety

January 14, 2011

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.


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