” One must not judge everyone in the world by his qualities as a soldier: otherwise we should have no civilization.”
” One must not judge everyone in the world by his qualities as a soldier: otherwise we should have no civilization.”
America’s energy needs have outpaced the modern utility, but not because of a rise in demand. Since Thomas Edison built his first power plant on Pearl Street in Manhattan, utilities have existed in a relatively stagnant state of regulated monopolies and vertical integration. However, technological innovations, combined with market forces and public support for increased sustainability and efficiency are changing the electricity landscape. Lower costs of distributed generation, increased interest in demand side management (DSM) and government programs to incentivize certain technologies are increasingly impacting the utility industry. These changes come with financial risks for utilities like declining revenues, increasing costs, and a more uncertain long-term viability.
The current utility model is like a VHS trying to compete with Netflix. It is just not going to succeed. And realistically, it shouldn’t. According to the Energy Information Administration, in 2013, the energy demand in the US was two percent lower than it was in 2007 and the EIA predicts that demand will only grow by one percent a year over the next 20 years. This is mostly due to gains in efficiency, both in devices and in their users. This trend is not endemic to the US by any means but our utility system makes it all the more apparent that a new era of energy use is upon us.
Historically, the only real choice consumers have when it comes to electricity is whether or not to turn on their lights. The industry has been traditionally passive, but passivity itself is becoming obsolete in modern society. Consumers will no longer settle for complacency in where their power comes from and how it is produced. The current utility structure does not encourage energy efficiency because reduced energy use means reduced revenues and profits for utilities. Sunrun Solar’s vice president Bryan Miller put it well when he said, “Utilities pretending to be ratepayer advocates is like Cookie Monster pretending to be a slow food advocate.” Utilities make money by investing in construction of traditional generation and raising rates to pay for it. The consumer pays the price, literally, for the utilities’ unwillingness to invest in a modern future.
It is not only the structure of the utility industry that should be concerning. Grid infrastructure has always been built as a long-term investment, but at this point America’s grid is old enough to be a great-great grandfather. The grid’s failing health is becoming more apparent and troubling. In April of last year, snipers opened fire on a PG&E substation in California in what the Wall Street Journal called “the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred”. Electric grid officials scrambled to reroute power and avoid a blackout, but it took workers 27 days to get the substation back up and running. The US and EU have experienced massive blackouts due to grid error in the past, as anyone who was living in the Northeast in 2003 will no doubt remember, and the potential for sabotage and attacks on the grid is a growing concern. A Federal Energy Regulatory Commission analysis found that if a “surprisingly small” number of substations were knocked out at once, it could destabilize the system enough to cause a sweeping blackout across the US. The ’03 blackout only lasted two days, but it affected tens of millions of people and caused billions of dollars of financial damage. If an outage were planned, targeted, and sustained, it could be a major threat to US security.
Beyond an act of energy terrorism, the grid is highly susceptible to storms, natural disasters, and other unpredictable forces. When Hurricane Sandy hit the New York City, the city was virtually dark south of 14th street, save for a small cluster of buildings powered by NYU’s natural gas-fired cogeneration plant, which isn’t dependant on the larger grid system. Revamping the grid by promoting technological innovation through distributed generation and microgrids would increase the security, durability, and viability of the electricity sector.
We don’t need to demand for the complete overthrow of all utilities, I’m not trying to raise the Occupy Con-Ed movement, but their outdated, consumer-averse business model has to go. With advancements in technology, policy, and consumer preferences, the electricity industry is steadily changing. Whether this change will sound the death knell for utilities or if it simply heralds their reinvention and adaptation is yet to be seen.
– Bridgette Burkholder is a Masters candidate at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs focusing on energy and environmental policy. Bridgette currently works as the Energy Coordinator for the NYU Office of Sustainability.
“It seems that Russians forgot the golden rule of economics that competitiveness of their country’s economy depends on stability and predictability, which guarantees best possible conditions for capital investment. Love to Russia alone is not sufficient motivator.”
Alexei Kudrin, former finance minister of Russian Federation
“Russia’s credit rating dropped to junk level” reads the headline of January 26’s Moscow Times. Amid falling oil prices and Western sanctions Standard & Poor’s cut Russia’s credit rating likely leading to even more capital flight in 2015. “The new year has just started and the economy already takes a new hit!” says my friend who reads the newspaper next to me. Like many Russians, my friend must brace himself for a very difficult year ahead.
Standard & Poor’s downgrade of Russia’s credit rating is hardly accidental. Last year alone more than $100 billion left Russia for foreign banks, as the ruble lost over 50% of its value against the dollar. The country’s economic and financial outlook is negative, as authorities struggle to keep the country out of recession. It was officially announced by Russia’s Finance Minister Alexei Ulyukaev that GDP is expected to contract by 3% in 2015. It is common knowledge in Russia that these statements from authorities always reflect the most positive. According to Moody’s credit rating website this figure is close to 5.5%.
The recent downgrade was triggered by many “wrongs” of Russian economic and political systems, which unarguably need urgent restructuring. An economic model that is based on a single commodity extraction is helplessly doomed. But the Russian economy has been this way for the past twenty years and stagnant growth with high inflation is not news. The most influential and immediate factor for the downgrade is the increased violence in Eastern Ukraine and the Kremlin’s unwillingness to stabilize the situation on the ground. In words of Alexei Kudrin who is an extraordinary former finance minister of Russia that left his position because of an open criticism towards the Kremlin,” the main problem for Russia’s economy is investors’ total lack of trust in foreign policy”. The evidence is mounting that we live in the new Cold War era and everyone is set to lose from political instability that always harbors economic paralysis.
However, in Russia, geopolitics has always had the upper hand over economy. Despite considerable damage of Western sanctions to its economy, Russia continued to covertly deploy troops and arms to Eastern Ukraine for months. Putin’s statement of Russia’s non-involvement in the conflict looks rather ridiculous in light of how impossible it is to buy T-72BC battle tanks and MRO-A rocket launchers in rural regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. The most recent push to create a coherent military force out of separatist military groups that are on Debaltseve offensive testifies to a Putin’s target to consolidate lands in Eastern Ukraine that will challenge Kiev authorities for years to come.
Whether one views the people living in Eastern Ukraine as separatists engaging in terrorist activity against Ukrainian sovereignty or representative of “the other” Ukraine who fight for their cultural and political identity, the Russian apology in defense of this war on grounds of ethnicity and historic justice for people of Novorossiya cannot be accepted. Novorossiya is an artificial creation of the Kremlin, which labeled these people as Russians and automatically denied them a civic choice of being a part of pro-Western Ukraine. Ukraine needs peace and probably a more moderate government, but Russia’s propaganda of separatism and political division hurt everyone from Kiev to Moscow. Most importantly, this proxy war blinded Russians from seeing the realities of their own living conditions.
During my prolonged conversations with many of my friends in Moscow one thing that became perfectly clear to me is that the anger of Russians regarding the worsening economic situation is not directed towards the Kremlin’s policies, but towards the West and its humiliating sanctions. The immediate response of Russian people to the pressure is not dialogue with the pressing side, but more distance and opposition against it. Authorities effectively channel this widespread public opinion and use it as a political tool to back up its current policies in Ukraine. This has become a self – generating closed circle. The West has to face it: so far sanctions not only have been unproductive in achieving change in Kremlin’s policies, but only intensified its’ anti-Western rhetoric!
How do we move from the current lose-lose scenario? First of all, we need to encourage support of opposition within Russia and establish the channels of contact with civil society groups there. If there is one thing that Mr. Putin fears, it is the outbreak of civil society activism in Moscow, just as spontaneous and powerful as it was in Kiev a year ago. There is enough (if not plentiful) potential for new and young business and political elite to be pro-democratic and liberal, but they need to see clear and uncompromisable support by the West. Most importantly, in no case in time should the West attempt to demonize Russian people. Inertia is the characteristic trait of the Russian state, but the change towards liberalization of Russian politics and society has started and it will be slow and painful, but is already irreversible. In such a set of conditions when Russians feel that they have to defend their motherland this process will be only delayed.
Russia is yet to face the full spectrum of challenges to restructure its economy and politics, but as the fantasy world of miracle economic recovery that is being played on state TV channels is shifting further from reality, people will question what is wrong with their society and politics. I firmly believe that this process has started and the country needs Western support to overcome its own demons more than ever today. If we are to break this vicious circle, we ought to do it together. But for now Russia could not be further from the West and my friend who was appalled by new economic troubles in Russian economy will have to get used living with them, until he finally starts to question the judgments of his government!
- Liubov Georges is a master’s candidate at NYU’s Center for Global Affairs
By Ivana Kvesic
On June 15th, TrustLaw released a global perception poll of academics, aid professionals, health workers, policy makers, journalists, and development specialists on what in their opinion would be the five most dangerous countries in the world for women. The poll was based upon the levels of discrimination, sexual violence, health, cultural/customary practices, non-sexual violence, and trafficking prevalent in countries across the globe.
The title of worst place in the world to be a woman according to TrustLaw’s global perception poll was given to Afghanistan based upon health, economic/discrimination, and non-sexual violence indicators. Indeed, Afghanistan suffers from massive gender inequality that typically transcends ethnic, socio-economic, and tribal lines and virtually makes the Afghan constitution a meaningless resource for women in obtaining and protecting their rights. The fact that Afghanistan managed to top this list raises several questions about the almost 10 years of international intervention and what lies ahead for Afghanistan and Afghan women with the future exodus of foreign troops.
Although TrustLaw’s poll is highly debated, what is important about this poll is the fact that it exists, that it is sparking global debate, and that it is putting the dangers women face on the international news radar. What remains to be seen is if this poll will spark more than just debate and result in much needed action.
To view TrustLaw’s danger poll please check out:
By CGA Scenarios
By Regina Joseph
This is the second in a series of posts leading up to the CGA Scenarios Initiative’s conference on Pakistan in 2020. As we examine Pakistan’s drivers of change–economic and political, internal and external–we’ll continue to update the blog with information on Pakistan’s current conditions, as well as variability for the next decade.
Pakistan’s political scene inhabits a certain dualism. While the churn of constantly morphing coalitions and political parties constitutes the most visible aspect of Pakistan’s federal parliamentary democracy, citizens and politicians alike know that real political power is concentrated in the hands of Pakistan’s military. The military has held power in Pakistan for more combined years than a civilian government, stalling political development in the name of security threats. Today, the civilian government defers to the military’s decisions on security related issues, and the military is thought to have wide control over Pakistan’s foreign policy orientation. Still, democracy has always been seen by Pakistanis as their natural political system, and military rulers have had to legitimate their positions through elections (though criticism abounds regarding the fairness of these votes).
While Pakistani politics is represented by a multitude of parties (over 18 at the time of the last elections in 2008), two dynastic family clans have dominated the government for more than two decades. The left-leaning Bhutto-Zardari clan leads the incumbent People’s Parliamentarian Party (PPP), with Asif Ali Zardari (the widower of slain former President Benazir Bhutto and a Shia muslim) currently serving as President. The right-leaning Sharif family clan is represented by the increasingly popular Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Group (PML-N), Pakistan’s largest opposition party and the domain of Nawaz Sharif—a former Prime Minister of Pakistan, a Sunni Muslim and crafty political survivor.
Despite sectarianism and deep mistrust between the two clans and their parties, the PPP and PML-N joined forces in a tenuous political coalition just prior to the 2008 elections, to counter then-president General Pervez Musharraf. However, the coalition between the two fell apart in March of 2011, amid accusations of Zardari corruption and PML-N’s strong resistance both to reforming the blasphemy laws and allowing a strong US presence in Pakistan (highlighted by the recent capture and release of alleged spy Raymond Davis). Observers of the political scene warily eye Nawaz Sharif’s ascendance over Zardari’s increasingly tenuous grasp on power, pipping Sharif and his PML-N party as the leading candidates for the upcoming election in 2013.
Perhaps no one eyes this development more warily than General Ashfaq Kayani, the Chief of Army Staff for Pakistan’s Army and the man deemed more powerful than the President. A former Director General of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, Kayani is generally perceived as highly competent and impervious to the political grappling that characterizes Pakistan’s political parties. Kayani has allegedly told US officials that he dislikes and does not respect Zardari, but also expressed larger anxiety over Sharif, whom he views with deep distrust. Kayani’s own star has suffered over his handling of the Raymond Davis case and a recent drone strike that called into question what many Pakistanis perceive as a too-cosy relationship between Kayani and the US.
As Pakistan edges closer to elections in 2013, the current political scene presents a multitude of potential scenarios, and considerable challenges to US foreign policy in South Asia:
–Should Sharif and the PML-N emerge from the opposition to become the winning party in 2013, their vocal repudiation of an American presence in Pakistan (and known support of Taliban and terrorist groups) could pose serious difficulties for the US, not only in term of the current conflict in Afghanistan, but also on a larger geopolitical level in South Asia, especially as it pertains to US ally India
–A Sharif-led government could lead to a confrontation with Kayani and the Pakistani army, either directly or indirectly—with no issue more potentially explosive than the current support that Kayani and the Army have provided to the US
– Saudi Arabia, a key financier and ally to Pakistan, may prefer military rule in Pakistan to a Zardari/PPP government—which they hold in high contempt—but they are also partial to a Sharif-led government (Nawaz Sharif ruled the PML in exile from Saudi Arabia). Given the current strains in the current US-Saudi relationship, Saudi support of an openly anti-US president in Pakistan could pose enormous obstacles for America
Pakistan’s political development will be a significant driver of change in the next decade. Both party politics and civil-military relations provide a wide range of variability for Pakistan’s future, and will interact with economic, security and identity developments to produce an end-state for Pakistan in 2020. What will shape the strengths or weaknesses of democratic institutiosn? How will party politics affect identity formation and contribute to economic stability or instability? Will the military’s influence wane over the next decade, or will security concerns drive a military takeover? Leave us a comment below and tell us how you see Pakistan’s political development to 2020.
By CGA Scenarios
By: Gordon Little and Katherine Kokkinos
This is the first in a series of posts leading up to the CGA Scenarios Initiative’s conference on Pakistan in 2020. As we examine Pakistan’s drivers of change–economic and political, internal and external–we’ll continue to update the blog with information on Pakistan’s current conditions, as well as variability for the next decade. For more information on the Scenarios Initiative, please visit www.cgascenarios.wordpress.com
There are 185 million or so people in Pakistan (most of them in rural areas), but economic disarray, terrorism and poor foreign relations are barriers to the peoples’ economic opportunity. The country’s problems are integrated with those of its region, so the fate of Pakistan both shapes and is shaped by its immediate surroundings. Understanding its predicaments is crucial to getting acquainted with US foreign policy challenges across South Asia.
According to Business Monitor International, “unless Pakistan’s security and core infrastructure situation dramatically improves, it is difficult to envisage a big pick up in international interest over the near term”. Indeed, the sharp rise in the number of incidents of terrorism is estimated at a cumulative loss to the economy of $43 billion since 2005. Lost exports, damaged physical infrastructure, diversion of budgetary resources to military and security-related spending, capital and human flight, and high inflation are just a few effects of the violence on Pakistan’s economy.
Experts note that poor economic conditions are conducive to terrorist recruitment strategies, but terrorism constrains economic growth. Pakistan (with help from allies) will have to find a way to break this cycle of violence and poverty. Recent US proposals, such as the Reconstruction Opportunity Zone legislation, do not address fundamental incompatibilities with domestic needs and are seen locally as more beneficial to the United States than the Pakistani people.
Pakistan also suffers from an energy crisis, where current electricity generation capacity meets less than 80% of demand, and where energy prices increased by 15% last year. A leading driver of this unsustainable incapacity is rampant circular debt. Circular debt occurs when there is an imbalance between cash inflows and outflows – in other words, problems in the cash inflow of one entity cascade down to other segments of the payments chain. In Pakistan’s case, end-consumer tariffs were insufficient to recover the rising costs of power generation. Because of fiscal constraints, the government was not fully compensating Pepco–Pakistan’s core distribution entity in the energy sector–against the resulting losses. So Pepco began borrowing from banks in 2006 to compensate for the non-receipt of tariff subsidies from the government. But Pepco cannot repay the loans without becoming profitable…and so the circle goes.
The cumulative effect of this energy crisis on Pakistan’s economy was 2% of GDP in 2009-10. Additional energy-related challenges include volatile international oil prices, which further pressure the cost structure in Pakistan’s power generation sector. Without reliable energy, how can businesses expand?
The competitiveness of Pakistani goods and services is also dwindling. Its share of world exports declined over the last decade from 0.16% in 2002 to 0.13% in 2008, largely due to the security situation within the country. Some analysts are hopeful about recent talks of increasing trade with India, Afghanistan and China. However, the scant investment that currently takes place may actually be harming Pakistani business opportunities. For instance, China has begun to invest in construction and nuclear plants in Pakistan, decreasing the competitiveness of Pakistani goods in these sectors on their home soil. By and large, foreign direct investment is on the decline: FDI in FY09 totaled $3.2 billion as compared with $1.8 billion in FY10–these figures represent a 45% decline.
Pakistan relies on foreign aid to cover budgetary gaps. The International Monetary Fund implemented a US$11.3 billion Standby Arrangement (SBA) in November of 2008, though it is set to expire later this year. Under the agreement, Pakistan must meet a range of requirements around restoring financial stability, providing social safety nets, and raising budgetary revenues through tax reforms, though the awful 2010 floods have made it difficult to meet these ambitions. If Pakistan cannot meet its requirements, the IMF could pull out of the agreement. Where will Pakistan get the funding it needs? Is foreign aid being productively spent when it can’t change core economic problems? Will foreign investment, such as that from China, be able to supplant it, and what would this mean for Pakistan’s economy?
Other structural economic challenges that confront Pakistan, which we will research further over the course of the project, include:
~high budget deficits (expected at 6% for the current fiscal year)
~low tax-to-GDP ratio (10% in 2010)
~low investment spending (about 15.7% in 2010, as compared with India at 36%)
~poor educational facilities and education sub-sector spending
~high government corruption
~high food prices
~low productivity and an overall decline in agricultural sector–Pakistan’s largest employing sector
We consider economics a major driver of change as we imagine possible scenarios for Pakistan in 2020. Without economic growth, many goals for Pakistan and the region cannot be realized. Where do you think Pakistan should focus its resources? Are there any solutions for Pakistan’s economic constraints? What can the world community do to help? Leave a comment below and tell us what you consider to be Pakistan’s economic obstacles and opportunities.
By Joe Gurowsky
Oil is yet again negatively affecting the global economy and as prices continue to escalate, the stability of the modest economic recovery is thought to be in jeopardy.
After 18 days of protests leading to Hosni Mubarak vacating his post of Egyptian president on February 11th and the uprising in Libya resulting in 100s of deaths at the hands of Moammar Gadhafi, questions have focused not only about the nations’ political and social futures, but also on oil markets (but barely news about food prices). Such a focus should highlight the need to be weaned off of the liquid.
Initially, The Egyptian Revolution of 2011 threw oil markets for a wild ride, launching Brent Crude over $100/barrel for the first time since 2008. However, when analyzing the data, the Suez Canal and the Suez-Mediterranean (Sumed) pipeline are not essential for oil transit, nor is Egypt an oil player.
In 2010, tankers transited the Suez averaging less than 1 million barrels per day (bpd). Also in 2010, the Sumed pipeline accounted for 1.15 million bpd of crude oil flows. Globally, close to 88 million bpd are supplied, Egypt produces 660,000 bpd and is a net importer. Furthermore, if the Suez or Sumed were closed, tankers could be directed around the Cape of Good Hope, adding time and cost to trips, but not an insurmountable obstacle with the expanded use of very large and ultra large crude carriers.
However, Libya, the first oil exporting nation to be engulfed in the political upheaval, has sent further shocks to oil markets. Brent Crude is near $120/barrel and is anticipated to continue to increase as the unrest persists. Energy companies working in Libya have evacuated staff members and halted some work. There is also uncertainty if Gadhafi will sabotage the wells or if rebels will cease shipments causing further market disruption. This price spike also partly reflects fear that the unrest could move to larger producers, again proving that markets will act first and think later.
Libya has the largest oil reserves in Africa, estimated to tally 44 billion barrels, which stretches from the Mediterranean into the Sahara. It is the 3rd largest exporter on the continent and 12th largest globally with 1.6 million bpd of light, sweet crude, 79% of which goes directly to Europe. To attempt to stabilize the new shortages, Saudi Arabia is discussing increasing oil supply to Europe or increasing its supply to Asia while West African oil is rerouted to Europe.
These breathing case studies lead to question what if the unrest does reach the House of Saud, where King Abdullah offered $36 billion in benefits to the population in hopes of staving off protests, or if the shipping channel through the Straight of Hormuz is closed off? Will oil jump to $150, $175, over $200/barrel and plant the seed to reverse the economic recovery?
While the effects of the uprisings are now beginning to eat into our wallets at the pump, it is important to remember the narrative should not be focused solely through the lens of the impact on oil. It should continue to spotlight the quest for the freedoms and dignity that people are demanding.
By Erin H
Lately the news has been adamantly following what’s been going on in Egypt, and rightfully so. The focus has especially been on social media and how mediums such as Facebook and Twitter enabled the organization of the movement and the out pour of grievances. However, as we recognize the importance of this occasion we mustn’t forget that there are millions of people that have no medium to air their grievances internationally. Ironically enough, some of these people are those that have literally made the social media movement possible by the sweat of their brow. I’m not referring to ‘The Social Network,’ I’m referring to inhumane, often unpaid labor associated with extraction of the minerals coltan and cassiterite which go into making the motherboards for computers, cell phones and the like. Attached here is an informative video that I encourage you to watch to become more aware of where the product you are typing on comes from: Grand Theft Congo- DRC.
I’m sure after watching something like that you are both disturbed and filled with questions. What can we do about these atrocities that our consumerism obviously help finance!? The clearest, and what I believe is the most immediate and self-disciplined answer, is curb our individual consumption. All to often in ‘developed’ countries that are distant from the toil, production, and environmental impact of our goods, we think it is okay to purchase recklessly because it ‘boosts the economy.’ This insatiable habit for consumption is not only likely to get us into serious trouble in the future as resources diminish, but is having deadly effects now, today, in countries across the globe. Take a look at this report on the effects of factories in Lesotho. Levi-Gap Factories Pollute Rivers and Damage Health in Lesotho.
We are not taking responsibility for the consequences of our actions. We want to open up markets and turn everyone into ‘effective consumers,’ yet we can not even mitigate the effects of our own actions. We blame the corporations and call for corporate social responsibility (CSR), when it is in fact our demand that fueled that irresponsibility in the first place. This is not to say that CSR is not crucial, it is, but the answer is two-fold and addressing and controlling our spending is also a necessary part. We can also pressure our officials, our corporations, our NGO’s, whoever will listen, to create a better system of product line accountability. Indeed efforts like this have already been put into motion, such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, http://eiti.org. But then we must use it! If the demand is there then supply will follow, we know this all too well. And if laws don’t come first let’s create a normative movement, entreating people to join PTEP: People for the Ethical Treatment of People!
Paul Farmer is famously quoted in Tracy Kidder’s book Mountains Beyond Mountains for saying “I love WL’s (white liberals), love ‘em to death. They’re on our side. But WL’s think all the world’s problems can be fixed without any cost to themselves. We (PIH) don’t believe that. There’s a lot to be said for sacrifice, remorse, even pity. It’s what separates us from roaches” (Kidder, 40). I recognize this is a very touchy subject, and it often makes people uncomfortable. My response to this… good! Maybe that discomfort will entice some sort of action, rather than compliance; and besides, this discomfort hardly begins to grasp the inhumanity our brothers and sisters in Lesotho and the DRC face.
By Dawn Turek
After 18 days of demonstrations and revolts by the Egyptian people, President Mubarak’s sudden departure to the swanky, sun-drenched seaside city of Sharm el-Sheikh (popular with European tourists and ex-pats) seems nearly anti-climatic, though certainly preferential to the increasing violent and vitriolic rhetoric during the last days of the revolt. While Mubarak searches for a new home (probably in a locale where he hopes to escape persecution by the International Criminal Court) and the celebrations continue in Egypt, the world watches with wary eyes to see how the military will handle the transition. Will it be a true democracy or merely a continuation of Mubarak’s policies under the guise of new leadership?
Amid Egypt’s uncertain future, the reverberations of this successful revolution ripple uneasily around the Middle East. Further, in the face of an unprecedented government lockdown on modern technology (i.e., the Internet and mobile phones) by the Egyptian government, innovative techies still managed to create “work-arounds,” thus enabling the outflow of citizen testimonials via Facebook, Twitter, and mobile photos/videos to capture the interest and pressure of the world. A new era definitely dawns: one in which globalized technology seemingly exceeds the power of any individual government. Empowered by Tunisia and Egypt’s victories, could 2011 be the Middle East’s version of Eastern Europe’s 1989?
Finally, in this wave of political uprising, how did the U.S. government “miss” such fervent local antipathy towards Mubarak’s regime? Especially in a post-9/11 world where Islamic fundamentalism has driven U.S. foreign policy? Could it be willful ignorance with a regard to maintaining the semi-stable status quo in the Middle East given American paranoia towards Islamic fundamentalism? Nicholas Kristof states:
“The truth is that the United States has been behind the curve not only in Tunisia and Egypt for the last few weeks, but in the entire Middle East for decades. We supported corrupt autocrats as long as they kept oil flowing and weren’t too aggressive toward Israel.”
“The Working Group on Egypt was formed a year ago…for the purpose of raising the alarm about Mubarak’s crumbling regime and pressing the administration to adopt a different approach…the longer the United States and the world wait to support democratic institutions and responsible political change in Egypt, the longer the public voice will be stifled and the harder it will be to reverse a dangerous trend.”
Alas, we have free advice from an NGO and a bunch ($708.2 billions of bunches for 2011in fact) o’ taxpayer dollars going towards our defense budget—yet we seem consistently surprised by world events. Perhaps the U.S. government should open it’s own Facebook and Twitter accounts to receive accurate and up-to-date intel wall-posts from foreign countries? “Iran sent you a message on Facebook…”
By Erica Mukherjee
Every state has created narratives which help its citizen to identify with national culture. These narratives are the foundation on which the state is built. Domestically, they are a useful political tool. Globally, recognizing national narratives can help one to understand the roots of different cultures.
These narratives are generally constructed from two sources. The first source draws from historical events. These events are simplified and often altered to highlight a moral value. For instance, Britain has created a narrative around the signing of the Magna Carta. This event has become a symbol of Britain’s inherent love of egalitarian liberty. In reality, the event was an attempt by Norman barons to supplant the monarchy with an oligarchy. It was over 600 years before a true democracy was established in Britain.
The other source of national narratives draws on common symbols and experiences. For many countries, the national flag is the embodiment of national pride. Holidays, such as Independence Day, also are common rallying points for patriotism. Objects in everyday life, such as food or transportation, are also utilized for their symbolic value. After all, what is more American than apple pie? Comparing both the narratives and the symbols on which they are based is vital for two countries forging a closer relationship, such as the United States and India. Both use a mode of transportation to create a national narrative, but with strikingly different storylines.
Life is a Highway
Despite rising oil prices and environmental concerns car ownership is still deemed necessary in the United States. The typical argument for the importance of car ownership focuses on the sheer size of the country. Urban planning and climate are also common examples of why Americans <i>need</i> cars. American policy remains focused on maintaining the automotive industry at the expense of mass transportation. Arguably, this is evidenced in the distribution of relief money during the recent economic crisis.
One of the real reasons why cars are necessary is because American has used the symbol of a convertible racing down an open highway as its definition of freedom. From the post-WWII era, cars have meant independence. Individuality, mobility, and self-discovery are all attached to the concept of an American car. Since Jack Kerouac’s On the Road cars have been associated with a rite of passage that is uniquely American. Nearly every American can tell you his personal narrative of earning a driver’s license.
American’s transportation narrative can be directly contrasted with India’s. It is currently popular to compare these two democracies and enumerate all the ways that they are influencing each other. Business, military, and political ties are growing. The Indian diaspora is making its mark on the US, while American media has found a home in India. All of these exchanges have not yet altered the symbolic narrative based on the Indian train.
Chal Chaiyya (Let’s Go)
While the Ambassador and Maruti cars have made their mark on Indian transportation, it is only when talking about train journeys that most Indians will wax nostalgic. Stories center on long train journeys where all the travelers in a compartment told stories and shared food long into the night. Famous movies, such as <i>Dil Se</i> focus on connections made on train platforms and in railway compartments. Train travel in India is a communal experience that is available to all its citizens, thanks to its graduated fare rates. Generally, those who can afford to travel in air conditioned compartments do so, but it is rare to find a college student who doesn’t have a story about the time his group of friends took the sleeper coach for holiday travel.
The narrative of India’s trains is about a communal experience. The narrative of American’s cars is about an individual journey. At this basic level one can see that there are fundamental differences between the orientations of these two cultures. Recognizing and celebrating these differences will help to smooth the path of cultural exchange. It is easy enough to eat chicken tikka masala or watch Hollywood movies. It is harder to understand America’s emphasis on the individual or India’s emphasis on the community. What may seem like nepotism to one is hiring trusted employees to the other. What may seem like selfishness to one is independence to the other. Recognizing and understanding national narratives can create more comprehensive international relationships.