Thursday, August 28, 2014

Globalisation - is it a good thing?

So, with the tragedy in West Africa (Ebola infections) being made worse by governments without a risk management strategy of any sort-- all three initial countries barely struggling to keep peace between different factions--  the exacerbation caused by effects of globalisation can be seen.
Attempts to cordon off reputed affected areas are being met with resistance as fears about regular food supplies in urban areas and other goods and services in the more rural areas are quite rightly being raised-- official responses seem very ad hoc and would not inspire confidence in the populations that the people in charge have their well-being at heart.  Add the declining international transportation services to those areas to the  mix with dwindling non-local supplies and no wonder the people are inclined to riot!  Rather reminiscent of Italian city states during the plague.
So where are the smart asses who devised the grand plan that countries should not be self-sufficient and instead  join the global rat race? And what suggestions do they have for desperate people without even means of basic protective barriers? Even more worrisome is that the majority of population in the worse hit country (Liberia) are illiterate and the most effective communication means is by radio and as knowledgeable people in the front-line decline there are not many others to take up the slack. Typical - destroy the local capability to create a band of elites to tie into the global system then stand back and wash your hands of the situation when it all gets out of control!

29.9.14: 'Though far from over, the crisis has demonstrated how ill-equipped the multilateral system is to cope with global public health emergencies, particularly in the world’s weak and failing states. In an increasingly globalized world, it is illusory and hazardous to imagine that fragile states can cope with such emergencies on their own, cordoned off from the rest of the world.'

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

How Do You Go About Fixing Things?

Well -- thanks to the generosity of the people at American universities, I have been amusing myself watching MOOCs and other You Tube videos. I took a double take at a University of Berkeley one which was talking about surveillance... without knowing where cases are... what action can we take?

This is sooo applicable to Guyana: one always gets a feeling that something devious is afoot with all  the cloak and dagger stuff - statistics are not published on a regular basis and some official is second-guessing why you want one.  For instance, I have noted that there are increasing anecdotes about a form of dengue fever in the Eastern part of Guyana - some call it Chikungunya virus but in the absence of a Lab in Berbice -- it could be another form of dengue as the symptoms are alarmingly the same: high fever for about a week, severe aches in the joints-- to the extent that mobility is affected and lasting several weeks, general lassitude. There were odd cases back in May which then snowballed to practically everyone in Berbice knowing someone who had it-- worse hit seem the villages in central Corentyne.  The outpatient clinics at the Public facilities are filled to overflowing and as I commented - the private doctors are raking in the profits by charging for some kind of pain-killing injection at $5000 (U$25) a pop whose effects do not even last a day - in fact their clinics are so busy the quacks have taken up the slack and even the pharmacies are selling the injection directly for $3000.  In the meantime-- not a word from the Ministry of Health -- who usually swing straight into denial mode and protestations of having a system in place!
I personally find it appalling that the people up there are uninformed about the type of mosquito to avoid--  the daytime ones-- particularly the ones with white bands and that the local councils are not pro-active in clearing sources of standing water.  I have seen a few informative newspaper ads in one of the local papers but I feel it is a lazy approach. Here is one recent (private) reporting on the problem:     but as someone commented it is a shame to have to pay to read about a national Disaster in the making!           On the other hand, my dealing with the Ministry of Health some years back, was that they had spent their budget roughly 6 months in advance so clearly have no money to do anything while the Government is finding millions of dollars to give a favoured few to 'celebrate' the freeing of the slave population back in the 1800s -- wise move people!
So first move is a dispassionate analysis of what is wrong/seems to be the problem....

Post Script: Ebola was first brought to the attention of 'authorities' by a doctor in Guinea who noticed that three patients had died of cholera-like symptoms-- unlike Guyana, his superior forwarded the information until it reached the Ministry of Health

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Brave New World...

... and definitely a head-scratcher for an Ethics Committee:

Making the rounds on FB, an Australian couple sought to have a Thai woman make their babies for them. First question - is it right to exploit poor women's wombs in this fashion? I have just started Paul Farmer's "Pathologies of Power" and only at the introduction -- this strikes me as exactly wrong-- because of gross inequality and what's termed structural violence the 'choice' by the Thai or any poor woman to earn money is limited. And in the whole of Australia-- they couldn't find anyone- then could this be a morally incorrect thing to do ?

Turns out of the eggs that were fertilized and successfully implanted, fraternal twins resulted-- one boy and one girl.  Apparently in the contract's fine-print, the surrogate signs to agree to an abortion on request - again-- is this right that another person/s decide on what happens to a  socially-disadvantaged person's body?  At the 4 month check, it was discovered that the boy baby had Down's syndrome and the Aussie parents requested an abortion -- how wonderful is medical science to be able to kill one child in the womb and not affect the other? I strangely have no problem with parents choosing to abort a fetus if they think they would not have the time and money to spend on the child when born-- however at 4 months, I feel it borders on cruelty to abort a viable fetus in addition to making the procedure more dangerous for the mother/person carrying the child - apparently at such a late stage it involves, for a single child- the docs cut up pieces including crushing the skull and pulling through a dilated cervix... I am guessing in this case they would inject some poisonous substance to kill off the 'bad' fetus  but wondering how it would not affect his sister?  (Clamp the placenta, then inject something poisonous then cut,crush and extract?)  Anyhow apart from the medical mystery, the Thai woman refused. On delivering the twins, the parents swooped in and carried off the girl! The boy was detected to have problems with his heart.  Should they be liable for his upkeep and subsequent medical bills as one presumes the Thai woman is pretty poor?

Also, this all has seemingly happened under the radar of the Thai and Aussi officials. Is this right?

Friday, August 1, 2014

Multilateral Diplomacy for Small States

by Rudy Insanally

After the 'storm in a teacup' response to one of the Ministers' publicity stunts, I thought I would take down this book from the shelf and actually get around to reading it.

After finishing the introduction, it didn't bode too well as those countries who dominated the world after WWII and took plum positions, for example in the Security Council of the UN, are most reluctant to widen the playing field and acknowledge changing world situations - like the Asian tigers,BRICS countries and a peaceful united Germany.
I liked the smart cover that had a built-in bookmark but although he mentioned the book was unplanned in the sense that he had to look through and reconstruct his old speeches, I thought some dates might have been useful to get an idea of the timing of events - there wasn't even the year of publishing in the front!
Ch 1 noted growing inequalities within and between countries and the helplessness of the UN to address these problems due to lack of funds and political will. Many initiatives have failed and the two main Agendas have been distilled to:  the one for Development and the other for Peace. That's where Cheddi Jagan's New Global Human Order is mentioned as one giving broad suggestions on how both Development and Peace may be achieved by finding 'common ground on which future international cooperation  can be solidly founded, and to provide a comprehensive and holistic framework for development.'  Interestingly the writer notes that 'democracy often means not greater people participation and consensus, but the rule of the powerful and its manipulation of the majority.  Democracy is increasingly a cloak for government by oligarchy...' 

Ch 2 begins to put dates in some of the speeches and basically notes that the UN peace-keeping role would be strengthened if all countries gave up financing their armies and paid to a central fund-- for some reason scenes from the Star Wars sequels kept popping up in my head - whether it would at all be possible to persuade countries to give up their armies-- however that would free up a lot of money and resources to fund a central Peace-Keeping force. My take - It would make sense to have an overall coordinating body now that crimes are becoming trans-national eg. drug-smuggling and have sub-regional bodies with various branches having autonomy. How THAT would work is questionable seeing that Guyana is unable to haul in the local Drug-Lords who one assumes are under the control of larger organisations? However, the writer notes that instability undermines States which have then have the ability to affect economies - he then notes the pros and cons of nationalism vs internationalism, that while sovereignty should be respected - if gross inequality results it ought to be subjected to the imperatives for global good. The question then asked was how can trustworthy procedures be found? How can consensus be found? I began to see why the UN seem 'stuck' at times.

Ch 3 commented on the upheavals around the world and the need for the UN to gets its Agenda for peace rolling; the author again makes the point that this is closely aligned with the Agenda for Development as persistent economic marginalization leads to instability and conflict. Maintenance of peace seems to fall under the mandate of the Security council, but I was surprised to learn that rape and using children in conflict is not considered a criminal act?  Why ever not? Looks like a case for strengthening the International Court of Justice also with everyone agreeing to abide by its ruling.

Ch 4 dealt with problems that small states, in particular, face with even getting started after post-colonization, especially when the developed countries hold hold all the financing trump cards - many times being unable to fulfil their pledges or deliberately withholding - in fact the suggestion was made several times that an NGO suggested that in addition to recipient countries being made to jump through hoops to prove that they are using the money as intended; those countries not fulfilling their donation promises should be 'named and shamed' - the Nordic countries and Netherlands being the only regular subscribers who do not default.

Ch 5 writes about the importance of ensuring every human being get basic human rights, the establishment of the International Criminal Court being important to ensure the Rule of Law.(I was surprised to learn our neighbour T&T had made the original suggestion!) Interestingly although elections are cited as being important instruments for ascertaining popular will and facilitating democratic governments;  more important is the structures in place for the people to internalizing this process-- meaning participatory government. Education playing a vital part in promoting social cohesion, along with health and housing and halting social disintegration. He notes that newer post-colonial countries need help in establishing these and that there also ought to be democratization between countries and also between the UN and the Bretton Woods institutions to prevent duplication of efforts. He also called for more moral responsibility in international relations.  Here also he mentioned the Charter of the UN - 'enshrining the fundamental principles of human behaviour by which... succeeding generations might be spared the scourge of war'.

Ch 6  points out that the developed countries 'developed' with blatant disregard for the environment both in their countries and those they colonised and they ought to bear that in mind when linking development finance to new forms of restrictions.  I couldn't quite agree with his assertion that cutting down one greenheart tree encourages on average 5 saplings to grow- as it takes about 100 yrs for a tree to reach maturity  and also there are no figures to show how Guyana practises sustainable development apart from dodgy Government ministers mouthing off with untransparent figures.

Ch 7 talks about the implication of globalization for small states and about three pages later notes the reason why it is likely to fail( my take not the author's): 'the conduct of international relations depends on the full respect for the principle of the sovereign of equality of states'. Sadly it looks as if small states will continue to be screwed. The author however is optimistic that establishing a task force the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ECOSOC) 'to find ways and means to promote policy outcomes and institutional capacity building measures that will link the outcomes of the series fo inter-related international conferences already head.' He envisages that the G-77, which in fact has over 100 members, and China would support efforts to strengthen the General Assembly in the discharge of its Charter responsibilities to provide international economic and social cooperation. In Ch 8 he reiterates that a global common good of a fair international financial system would ensure a strong macroeconomic regime and establish appropriate policies and surveillance to ensure stability.  It would be interesting to note who benefits from an an unstable system and what degree of influence they have on the international stage?

Ch 8 I found most interesting as it dealt with reform of the UN and how those countries enjoying the privileges they gave themselves after WWII in 1945 are reluctant to acknowledge the changing world situation which gives them an unfair advantage in many fields.  Then I thought back to the American Ambassador concerned about democracy in Guyana-- that those entrenched in a position to reap the perks while the rest of the country degenerates and fights among themselves for the crumbs; his earnest wish that one person /one vote would count and reflect the true wishes of the people to ensure a more equitable distribution of the wealth (if any) and laughed out loud because THAT is exactly what the USA is NOT doing on the world stage as regards the UN -  clearly a case of 'the kettle calling the pot black' but in the US's case worse as they do not pay their dues (now in Guyana that would mean you cannot vote-- mmm-- we better than the UN who still allow the US to veto action that would curb their aggressive allies like Israel) in addition to imposing their poor foreign policies on the rest of the world! Nice example of democracy ya'll.

Ch 9 deals with problems that Small States face with the end of the Cold War period and the emergence of stronger northern alliances. He suggested more South-South co-operations and indeed the BRICS countries this week announced that they would support an new bank - maybe more responsive to developing country needs as the Bretton Woods Institutions seem resistant to change and primarily interested in preserving the status quo - nothing like competition to stimulate change! The emergence of the TIMP countries represent a new group maybe frustrated with the foot-dragging going on at the UN.It does appear that in unity there is strength but it it would mean a certain maturity to put away petty jealousies, also clear definitions of guidelines.. he noted that distrust of the other's motive was the main kicker to unity  (that I can attest to as it seems to me most friendly societies over here very quickly degenerate into vehicles for people's egos and their personal promotion or the members join in name only and one is forced to confront the awfulness of other people!)
He ends with some good suggestions but assumes that the intelligent people are in a position to make decisions when, in fact, the Law of the Jungle rules and the most cunning elbow their way to the top and promptly see those who are needed as threats to their status quo.