Jose Mujica: The world's 'poorest' president.
How damn cool is this guy!
Here are ten reasons to love him - by Medea Banjamin
President José Mujica of Uruguay, a 78-year-old former Marxist guerrilla who spent 14 years in prison, mostly in solitary confinement, recently visited the United States to meet with President Obama and speak at a variety of venues. He told Obama that Americans should smoke less and learn more languages. He lectured a roomful of businessmen at the US Chamber of Commerce about the benefits of redistributing wealth and raising workers’ salaries. He told students at American University that there are no “just wars.” Whatever the audience, he spoke extemporaneously and with such brutal honesty that it was hard not to love the guy. Here are 10 reasons you, too, should love President Mujica.
1. He lives simply and rejects the perks of the presidency. Mujica has refused to live at the Presidential Palace or have a motorcade. He lives in a one-bedroom house on his wife’s farm and drives a 1987 Volkswagen. “There have been years when I would have been happy just to have a mattress,” said Mujica, referring to his time in prison. He donates over 90% of his $12,000/month salary to charity so he makes the same as the average citizen in Uruguay. When called “the poorest president in the world,” Mujica says he is not poor. “A poor person is not someone who has little but one who needs infinitely more, and more and more. I don’t live in poverty, I live in simplicity. There’s very little that I need to live.”
2. He supported the nation’s groundbreaking legalization of marijuana. “In no part of the world has repression of drug consumption brought results. It’s time to try something different,” Mujica said. So this year, Uruguay became the first country in the world to regulate the legal production, sale, and consumption of marijuana. The law allows individuals to grow a certain amount each year and the government controls the price of marijuana sold at pharmacies. The law requires consumers, sellers, and distributors to be licensed by the government. Uruguay’s experience aims to take the market away from the ruthless drug traffickers and treat drug addiction as a public health issue. Their experiment will have reverberations worldwide.
3. In August 2013, Mujica signed the bill making Uruguay the second nation in Latin America (after Argentina) to legalize gay marriage. He said that legalizing gay marriage is simply recognizing reality. “Not to legalize it would be unnecessary torture for some people,” he said. In recent years, Uruguay has also moved to allow adoption by gay couples and openly gay people to serve in the armed forces.
4. He’s not afraid to confront corporate abuses, as evidenced by the epic struggle his government is waging against the American tobacco giant Philip Morris. A former smoker, Mujica says that tobacco is a killer that needs to be brought under control. But Philip Morris is suing Uruguay for $25 million at the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes because of the country’s tough smoking laws that prohibit smoking in enclosed public spaces and require warning labels, including graphic images of the health effects. Uruguay is the first Latin American country and the fifth nation worldwide to implement a ban on smoking in enclosed public places. Philip Morris, the largest cigarette manufacturer in the United States, has huge global business interests (and a well-paid army of lawyers). Uruguay’s battle against the tobacco Goliath will also have global repercussions.
5. He supported the legalization of abortion in Uruguay (his predecessor had vetoed the bill). The law is very limited, compared to laws in the US and Europe. It allows abortions within the first 12 weeks of the pregnancy and requires women to meet with a panel of doctors and social workers on the risks and possible effects of an abortion. But this law is the most liberal abortion law in socially conservative, Catholic Latin America and is clearly a step in the right direction for women’s reproductive rights.
6. He’s an environmentalist trying to limit needless consumption. At the Rio+20 Summit in 2012, he criticized the model of development pushed by affluent societies. “We can almost recycle everything now. If we lived within our means – by being prudent – the 7 billion people in the world could have everything they needed. Global politics should be moving in that direction,” he said. He also recently rejected a joint energy project with Brazil that would have provided his country with cheap coal energy because of his concern for the environment.
7. He has focusing on redistributing his nation’s wealth, claiming that his administration has reduced poverty from 37% to 11%. “Businesses just want to increase their profits; it’s up to the government to make sure they distribute enough of those profits so workers have the money to buy the goods they produce,” he told businessmen at the US Chamber of Commerce. “It’s no mystery–the less poverty, the more commerce. The most important investment we can make is in human resources.” His government’s redistributive policies include setting prices for essential commodities such as milk and providing free computers and education for every child.
8. He has offered to take detainees cleared for release from Guantanamo. Mujica has called the detention center at Guantanamo Bay a “disgrace” and insisted that Uruguay take responsibility to help close the facility. The proposal is unpopular in Uruguay, but Mujica, who was a political prisoner for 14 years, said he is “doing this for humanity.”
9. He is opposed to war and militarism. “The world spends $2 billion a minute on military spending,” he exclaimed in horror to the students at American University. “I used to think there were just, noble wars, but I don’t think that anymore,” said the former armed guerrilla. “Now I think the only solution is negotiations. The worst negotiation is better than the best war, and the only way to insure peace is to cultivate tolerance.”
10. He has an adorable three-legged dog, Manuela! Manuela lost a foot when Mujica accidentally ran over it with a tractor. Since then, Mujica and Manuela have been almost inseparable.
Mujica’s influence goes far beyond that of the leader of a tiny country of only 3 million people. In a world hungry for alternatives, the innovations that he and his colleagues are championing have put Uruguay on the map as one of the world’s most exciting experiments in creative, progressive governance.
Norway, Sweden, and Portugal seem to be especially doing really well producing renewable energy for consumption. That's because their governments have invested heavily in developing solar, wind and hydro power.
For example, in January 2014, 91% of the monthly needed Portuguese electricity consumption was generated by renewable sources, although the real figure stands at 78%, as 14% was exported .
And in Australia we have a government who has just cut ALL funding to renewable energy development and research, and who, instead, has increased financial incentives for the fossil fuel and mining industry.
The Prime Minister Abbott would rather spend $12.4 billion on useless fighter jets, than invest for clean energy for the future, for our children.
This is disgraceful and so embarrassingly backward-thinking it leaves me (almost) speechless.
The Politics Of Carbon And The Price Of Doing What's Right
By Peter Burdon
If there's no room in politics anymore for principled positions, then things are going to get very, very hot. Dr Peter Burdon explains.
Many readers will remember the moment in December 2009 when two liberal senators defied the newly elected opposition leader Tony Abbott and crossed the floor to vote with the Rudd government in favour of a cap-and-trade system of emissions trading (the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme).
This offered the Australian Greens an historic opportunity to provide Australia with a price on carbon. But instead, they voted with the opposition, Independent Senator Nick Xenophon, and Family First Senator Steve Fielding to vote down the scheme.
Five years on, a lot has changed in the political landscape. Most recently the repeal of the Gillard government’s Clean Energy Future Bill and a slew of political biographies has sparked renewed interest in the dramatic events of December 2009.
Former climate change minister, Greg Combet captures a popular sentiment about the Australian Greens in his recent biography The Fights of My Life:
In an act of political lunacy and environmental vandalism, the Greens voted with the opposition in the Senate to kill the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.
According to this view, the Greens are “excessively pure”, “divorced from the real world” and do not respect the “necessity of compromise” in contemporary politics.
Moreover, commentators like Phillip Chubb have argued that the Greens made a “major blunder” and that had carbon pricing been realised in 2009 “it would almost certainly have been a feature of the Australian economy and society for good.”
There is considerable merit to Chubb’s analysis. For example, had the CPRS been introduced in 2009 the Australian people would have had five years of lived experience of a price on carbon. This experience would have taken the sting out of Abbott’s scare campaign, and claims that a carbon price would cause unimaginable price rises, destroy the Australian economy and wipe regional towns off the map.
Yet the way Combet and others frame the defeat of the CPRS obscures, in important ways, the strategic failures of the Rudd government. These include indecisiveness, failure to consult with stakeholders (including the Greens and the Union movement) and the critical failure to press their signature climate policy through a double dissolution election.
More importantly, while many commentators have been quick to place blame on the Greens, few have properly considered the role and value of principled decision making in politics today.
I am not talking here about moral absolutism – the kind which Paul Kelly and his colleagues at the Australian decry. Rather I am referring to the courage to fight for a principle because one believes it to be right and just. This does not negate the role of compromise and pragmatism in politics. But at some point, authentic leaders must draw a line in the sand and hold their ground.
Neither Bob Brown nor Christine Milne regrets their decision to join with the opposition to defeat the CPRS. Speaking at the National Press Club in September 2013 Senator Milne defended her party’s decision:
If we had had the CPRS in place now, the carbon price would be less than $1, there would be no mechanism for increasing the target and we would be stuck with a completely ineffectual scheme…
While I don’t advocate “crystal ball” politics it is important to understand fully what drove the Greens to take (what can only be described as) a drastic step and join the Coalition to vote down a price on carbon.
In December 2008, Rudd announced that the CPRS target would be an unconditional 5 per cent and a conditional 15 per cent reduction in emissions below 2000 levels. Remarkably, the policy did not contain a mechanism for raising the target above 15 per cent and gifted billions of dollars in subsidies to heavy polluters.
Moreover, Bob Brown notes in his recent biography Optimism that
The Rudd Formula could not later be lifted without massive taxpayer compensation to the worst polluters.
It was easy for scientists and environmentalists to demonstrate the gross inadequacy of the CPRS targets. In a recent interview, Penny Wong, the climate change minister under Rudd, conceded the validity of these criticisms:
I probably should have put 25 per cent on the table in the white paper. That was an option and I probably should have pushed for that.
In May 2009, Rudd and Wong promised the Southern Cross Climate Coalition (consisting of groups like the Australian Conservation Foundation, World Wildlife Fund, Climate Institute and the Australian Council of Trade Unions) that an extra unconditional target of 25 per cent would apply “if the world agrees to an ambitious global deal to stabilise levels of CO2 equivalent to 450 parts per million or lower by mid century.”
Lawyers like promises like this – full of caveats. But remarkably the SCCC agreed to the government’s inadequate and compromised proposal. The Greens decision to vote down the CPRS put them at odds with traditional allies and was a rare moment of conviction and authenticity in contemporary politics.
Moreover, as Clive Hamilton suggested:
The barrage of attacks on the Greens for that decision reflects outrage at the party’s refusal to go along with the power structure, to play the game whose rules are set by the established order.
It should be obvious to anyone seriously engaged in climate politics that it is ties between the fossil fuel industry and Government and the advocacy of the “greenhouse mafia” that has stood in the way of progressive climate policy in this country (and indeed around the world). A historical narrative that blames the Greens for the failures in Australian climate policy simply diverts our attention from the real source of the problem.
There is, I hope, still room for ethics and principled decision making in Australian politics. That experienced commentators like Combet could describe the Greens as environmental vandals simply demonstrates how Orwellian the dominant conversation has become.
Indeed, if it is “political lunacy” to draw a line in the sand and fight for policies that confront the full facts of climate science then, I submit, that our future depends on us all getting a little bit crazy.
Watch this and weep, my friends.
Forgive me for saying so, but how can a people who have survived the holocaust turn around within one generation and do this to another people?
It is beyond belief and so absolutely despicable.
I think the international community will pay for allowing this inhumanity to go unchecked ...more than we can imagine.
"Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness – and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe...
Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
Khuza’a, Gaza: Some men held a child in each arm, those who could raised their hands in the air in surrender. Others had white flags, while four of the strongest carried elderly relatives on their shoulders.
But as the extended Abu Rujaila family – a terrified group of 30 children, 30 women and 25 men – made their hesitant way towards the Israeli tanks stationed at the entrance to their village, they say the soldiers opened fire.
The group had already counted 17 bodies on the street and it was as they met a larger gathering of around 3000 residents also trying to flee that at least 35 people were shot and many seriously injured.
The decision to flee their homes in the centre of the southern Gazan village of Khuza’a on July 25 was an agonising one, says 38-year-old Tamer Abu Rujaila.
They had endured three days of furious bombardment from Israel’s military in which many of the houses around them had been systematically destroyed.
From July 22 to July 25, their lives had been, quite literally, torn to shreds as they remained trapped in the firestorm of air strikes, tank and artillery shelling.
At least 14 members of Tamer Abu Rujalia's family were killed in the fighting over the past month. Photo: Ruth Pollard
At least 14 members of the family were killed, Tamer says.
An Israeli F-16 had dropped a bomb on the house next door to Tamer’s, killing his uncle Helmi, his son Abbas, 21 and daughter Nahad, 22.
Local residents and rescue workers are still searching for Helmi’s body, while another cousin, 25-year-old Mahmoud, was only just pulled from the rubble hours before Fairfax Media arrived. His brother, 21-year-old Mohamed, had been found five days earlier.
But no matter how bad the bombardment, Tamer, his wife Maysaa Sulaiman Abu Rujaila, 27, and their four children were convinced they would be killed if they tried to escape.
Then Israel fired a large mine-clearing charge into the cluster of houses in Tamer’s street and the force of the blast convinced him that they must take the chance and evacuate.
“I felt it would be certain death if we stayed,” he says. “We tried to contact the Red Cross but they did not respond, so we decided to hold white flags and walk out.”
A Palestinian man cycles past the ruins of Khuza'a in the southern Gaza Strip. Photo: Reuters
Major Arye Shalicar from the Israel Defence Forces said: "At this point it is very hard to check each single allegation but we have a major-general who is about to look into each single incident during the operation and is going to put together a report.
"We have time and again proven that we do everything in our power to not hurt civilians even though they were deliberately put into the front lines by Hamas. We have called, we have warned through the radio, SMS, flyers, leaflets and even knocking on the roof [firing a small warning missile which hits the building's roof] to make sure that no civilian is going to be hurt."
The children did not want to leave, Tamer says, especially his eight-year-old son Ahmad, who had already sustained shrapnel injuries and was terrified.
What did he say to Ahmad to make him evacuate?
Tamer’s eyes fill with tears: “Nothing I said would change his mind, so I took him in my arms and carried him out.”
The injured fell around them, those who were still standing were separated into small groups and searched by the IDF soldiers.
Eventually they made it to the relative safety of Abassan village, but that too was short-lived – Tamer’s uncle Ismail Abu Rujaila, 52, was killed in an air strike soon after – and they moved on to a UN school in Khan Younis.
Others were not so lucky.
Khuza’a, with a population of around 10,000, was the scene of some of the fiercest fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups during the IDF’s ground invasion of Gaza. A quiet, farming community lying on the eastern edge of the city of Khan Younis, it is in sight of the Israeli border.
And while Israeli forces issued general warnings to Khuza’a residents to leave the area before July 21, many were too scared, or infirm, to flee.
“The failure of civilians to abide by warnings does not make them lawful targets of attack,” says Human Rights Watch Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson, “and deliberately attacking them is a war crime.”
Human Rights Watch, along with local groups such as al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, are investigating several incidents between July 23 and 25 when, local residents said, Israeli forces opened fire on civilians trying to flee Khuza’a. There were no Palestinian fighters present at the time and no firefights were taking place, the witnesses said.
Another family – the Najjar family – has reported that the first man to leave the house on the orders of Israeli soldiers, Shadid al-Najjar, was shot in the jaw, Human Rights Watch said.
In yet another incident, also on July 23, Israeli soldiers fired on a group of civilians who had been told to leave their home in Khuza’a, killing Mohammed al-Najjar, a witness said.
Like most residents, the Abu Rujaila family only returned to Khuza'a on Tuesday, as the latest 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire began. In some streets it seems there is not a house left standing, with many four-storey apartment blocks almost blown underground with the force of the blasts.
The found their houses ransacked by Israeli soldiers who appeared to have occupied them for days after their evacuation. A local clinic that provided psychosocial support for Palestinian children was also torn apart, with Hebrew graffiti visible on several walls throughout the centre.
As Fairfax Media left the village, hundreds of residents were searching through the rubble of their houses, some were sitting in shock outside, while a bulldozer was kicking up sand and dust, still searching for the body Helmi Abu Rujaila – another civilian casualty in a war in which at least 1886 Palestinians have died, including 432 children.
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/world/claims-israeli-soldiers-shot-fleeing-civilians-20140807-101ahr.html#ixzz3B5fwG2Jo
This is a wonderful article by Waleed Ali - one of my personal heroes - about the awful situation in Australia for refugees, being held indefinitely in a detention centre in Manus island. This policy makes me so ashamed to be Australian.
And I'm not alone:
The whole point of detention for asylum seekers is horror, whether it is acknowledged or not
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/the-whole-point-of-detention-for-asylum-seekers-is-horror-whether-it-is-acknowledged-or-not-20140220-333yw.html#ixzz3C7uK0YkQ
Sorry, but we don't get to be outraged at this. The fact that a person is dead, that another has been shot or that yet another has a fractured skull doesn't change anything.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison is undoubtedly right when he describes this violent episode on Manus Island as a ''terrible tragedy''. In fact, he's more right than he knows. Tragedy, in the Greek sense, unfolds as an inevitability. The very thing that makes the tragic hero so tragic is that his fate is sealed, his demise is clear, but he continues to take every step that leads him there. And in the case of Manus Island, that is exactly where we are.
We don't get to be outraged because this violence, with its brutal, deadly consequences, is inherent. We chose it, even if we've refused at every stage to acknowledge that. It is the very logic of our asylum seeker policy - which is built on the sole rationality of deterrence - to create horror. We're banking on it.
So now, let us make this calculus finally explicit: whatever these people are fleeing, whatever circumstance makes them think they'd be better off chancing death on boats hardly worthy of that description, we must offer them something worse. That something is Papua New Guinea.
The worse it is, the more effective it is destined to be, and the more it fulfils the philosophical intentions of the policy. This tragedy is not any kind of evidence of policy failure. It is, in fact, the very best form of deterrence. This is what it looks like when the policy works.
For now, we're busily piecing together exactly what happened. Hence the immediate calls for an inquiry. We assemble the facts as a necessary ritual, but it's ultimately an irrelevance. If it turns out that these asylum seekers were set upon by the PNG police or by locals, what difference will it really make? It will merely have demonstrated what we have long known: that PNG is a highly dangerous, deeply unliveable country, racked by lawlessness and violence. The capital, Port Moresby, is routinely listed among the least liveable cities on the planet. Last year, The Economist had it third-worst, besting only Damascus and Dhaka, and therefore ranking below most of the cities these detainees have fled. And that's the reason the policy of transferring boat people to PNG is meant to work: because we're pointedly not offering these people protection if they're found to be refugees.
And if the detainees are found to have triggered the violence? No doubt such a finding would be useful fodder for those determined to present them as villains, undeserving of our sympathy or protection. That, after all, is the narrative that surrounds asylum seekers whenever this sort of thing happens. But that only highlights an essential fact: this sort of thing keeps happening.
Labor, unable to criticise the policy that has delivered us this death because it is theirs, can only present this as some kind of managerial problem; as evidence that the Abbott government is mismanaging the centre. But riotous violence happened repeatedly on its watch, in Nauru and Villawood, as in Baxter and Woomera previously. Onshore, offshore, it didn't matter. Labor's objections - even in this utterly lame, limp form - are political and disingenuous.
When social behaviour repeats itself like this, we have two explanations open to us. One is that this is a coincidence of sorts: that it is nothing more than the misbehaviour of immoral individuals gaming the system, and that these individuals merely happen to pop up repeatedly.
This is very much the explanation favoured by officialdom - from both major parties - who immediately declare these rioters to have failed any decent character test, having revealed themselves as criminally inclined.
The other explanation is that there is something about the circumstances of detainees that generates this behaviour. Put any group of people through this wringer, and they will eventually respond with riotous protest. Such behaviour, then, is not a function of the defective personalities of individuals, but the inevitable human reaction to inhuman treatment: that the violence we've witnessed over and over is simply a product of the system.
Naturally, officials cannot abide this. Certainly, they are keen on talking about our ''system'', and preserving its integrity. But they present it as entirely passive; as a set of rules and processes that facilitate orderly management, rather than something active in its own right. As far as politicians are concerned, our systems don't have consequences.
This, of course, is bollocks. But it's bipartisan bollocks, so for most relevant purposes it masquerades as truth.
That's why we're blind to it. We respond to a detainee killed, but seem far less moved by the several to have committed suicide, as though they are somehow less dead.
Through it all we maintain the heroic ability to exonerate ourselves through the fiction that we played no part in their misery, or that those who riot are immorally cynical. But the cynicism is ours. Even the briefest sampling of commercial talkback radio this week revealed a streak within us that sees a detainee's death merely as comeuppance. The political truth is that there is almost nothing any government could do that the electorate would deem too brutal, which is precisely how we got here.
A poll last month had 60 per cent of us urging the Abbott government to ''increase the severity'' of our policies towards asylum seekers. That's not a pragmatic policy judgment. We find something cathartic about this official form of violence.
The truth is we've never really come to terms with why it is people get on boats, and why it is that, faced with hopeless inaction once they're detained, they protest. In fact, our public conversation isn't even terribly interested in knowing. That's why, when we do finally discover the facts of Manus, they will mean nothing.
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/the-whole-point-of-detention-for-asylum-seekers-is-horror-whether-it-is-acknowledged-or-not-20140220-333yw.html#ixzz3C7u15f5V