Soul Jazz & the Eastern Son


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New music OTW. More updates TBA. Stay tuned!

The Rebalancing of Powers: From ‘Brexit’ to Babel?


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There is a disconnect between national policy and international relations.

The decision to leave the EU by the UK, or “Brexit”, is a symbol of that disconnect.

But in order to understand the origins of this decision, it is important to highlight the UK’s tradition of reluctance and hesitation towards the EU since its inception.

By nature, the UK, like America, prefers to play a conservative role in international affairs, dabbling in just enough to get the benefit, but not enough to bear the burden.

But the armed crises in the Middle East have created a storm in UK & EU politics, with the migration crisis being the crux of the problem.

Evidently, the UK prefers to leave such matters in the hands of its European counterparts, which is ironic because the UK is America’s closest ally in Europe – both countries are directly responsible for destabilizing the Middle East in the first place, under the premise of liberalization. This is where the disconnect begins.

At least half of the UK truly feels undermined by the concentration of power, underrepresented and almost collectivized by being part of the EU.

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But is the decision to leave the EU a right-wing populist scheme exploiting frustrations of the ordinary Brit? In South America, both right and left wing populism have failed to their more centered opponents. The US is still determining its fate.

Has this decision created a more or less secure world? Is this decision likely to produce positive or negative results in the UK’s social, economic and political fabric? How will this impact the rest of Europe? What will happen to the migrants?

It is in fact the people who have decided, through referendum, to leave the EU. Despite a targeted and well-developed “leave” campaign, the decision is also inspired by  general discontent towards the EU in Britain. But the facts and rhetoric surrounding the campaign reveals “Brexit” is more about xenophobia & Islamophobia than it is about sovereignty.

The majority of those who voted to leave the EU were above the age of 40. The vast majority of those who voted against were in their 20s ad 30s.

Given that London just elected its first Muslim mayor, there is reason to believe that unfounded, prejudiced paranoias about migrants and Muslims have stoked fears and insecurities in society, just enough to feed into the allure of right-wing populism and fear.

UK MP Nigel Farage proclaimed victory, ushering the 23rd as the UK’s modern independence day. He went on to claim that such a victory was achieved without any blood spilled. But only last week, British MP Jo Cox was violently murdered by a right-wing extremist who shouted “Britain First” as he committed the murder. Has this been understated by the media? Compared to reporting on terrorism linked to one or more Muslims, it is difficult to say that the media is not biased.

Notable international relations theorist John Mearsheimer predicted the disintegration of the EU as a result of the current international political dynamic which has seen America as the world’s sole superpower since the dissolution of the USSR. That dissolution has almost removed the security incentive for unity, or balancing that brought the EU together in the first place. There appears to be a growing rift among NATO members, particularly between European states and the US on how to manage international affairs. The differences stem from foreign policy on the Middle East primarily. Is the UK’s decision to leave the EU an inching towards or away from subservience to US leadership? That depends on the direction US democracy goes. If the American people also give in to fear, Donald Trump might be the next US president. This suggests that the two of the world’s most influential powers, the UK and America, are juggling between the past and the future – traditions of colonialism, racism & global mischief – and the equally traditional struggle against those forces, political enfranchisement, and socio-economic equality.

Europe is drifting towards a center-left progressive “utopia” – something despised by the British traditional-mentality. The same could be said of the US. This is vindicated by the statistics surrounding the ‘Brexit’ vote which saw the majority of the “leave” supporters being over the age of 40.

Without delving deeply into history books, the average person might not know that much of the US’ post-WWI behavior was determined by the British, by prompting fear and insecurity about illusory global threats. In 1952, it was the British who convinced the US that movements for sovereignty in the Middle East were a threat. Initially the US had actually empathized with the struggles for independence in the Middle East. The UK convinced the US to overthrow a democratically elected leader in Iran, and the US agreed because of the paranoias injected by the UK about the so-called “communist menace”.

To some it may be surprising that racism, Islamophobia and fascism are creeping into US and UK politics. To others, perhaps more victimized by these forces, it is more dangerous than surprising. If the US decides to follow suit and elects Donald Trump, there is reason to believe that global tensions might intensify. Remember that European history is bloody. Wars between France, England, Germany were commonplace. The UK’s exit from the EU might disturb this legacy of peace and harmony in Europe which has endured since WWII. Furthermore, it might reintroduce fascism into the West – long thought gone and dead.

It isn’t hard to imagine what would happen if the US did in fact follow suit. Two blocs would eventually form in the global order – a rebalancing of powers if you will. The UK and the US would be together on one side; Russia, China & Iran on the other. India would likely play an indirect role, but ultimately throwing most of its support behind the latter bloc. The contrary would apply to the Gulf states in the Middle East, Israel and Pakistan, who would likely remain under the auspices of the UK & the US. Altogether this can be described as the modern world order. In this scenario, the EU disintegrates completely. The fault line will likely split between France & Germany – to no surprise, with much of eastern Europe balancing against the UK & the US. The war between fascism and collectivism ensues. The ideologies of capitalism and culture are at war – they are mutually exclusive. In reality, capitalism fully realized is fascist, and collectivism fully realized is communist – both authoritarian to some extent. But the latter is conditional and retaliatory. In a perfect world, neither would exist, and universal democracy could flourish without capitalism and communism. Till then, we must pick sides and lesser evils or resort to anarchism.

There is still hope for the world and America. Clinton is not our salvation – but in politics there are no angels; only lesser devils – or so it seems.

Kleptocracy on Capitol Hill?


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How could America be expected to promote democracy abroad while not practicing it for its own people?

Sure, there are principles of democracy here and there, perhaps most importantly in executive limits and free elections – but modern oligarchies have corrupted these institutions through socio-economic paralysis of the middle and lower class.

Particularly in the case of minority rights, the U.S. has exhibited non-democratic tendencies. This is more than problematic, considering the majority of the U.S. will be of minority background by 2050.

America is struggling to make a balance between capitalism on one hand and democracy on the other. Democratic movements are bending towards re-enfranchisement of minorities and the middle and lower classes. Can the US’ policies in other parts of the world, particularly in the Middle East but also in Central Asia, Africa and Latin America, be expected to align with democratic movements?

Remember that Karl Marx said he was not a marxist. He saw it as a perversion of his intent. What if so-called capitalist oligarchs in the West are cooperating with authoritarians in other parts of the world to suppress all genuinely democratic movements?

The lack of economic opportunity is related to the absence of equal representation in government in the US and in the Middle East. Immigrants and minorities, religious groups, women and the LBGT community, face discrimination and are underrepresented. Furthermore, they do not receive the same economic welfare from the US government provided to others, particularly minorities and immigrants. To blame this on anything but political underrepresentation is illusory.

The U.S. enables political mobilization – but decades of stagnation has halted progress. Whether or not America is a true democracy is being tested right now. And whether or not other parts of the world can understand the distinction between true democracy and populism, will determine their ability to overcome tyranny.

Orientalism in America – My experiences with American Academia


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My experiences with American academia have coalesced into quite a journey, full of both order & tumult.

But the point of me writing this entry is to focus on what I have come to discover as an unrelenting, institutionalized dogma which pervades the American academic culture, and discourages intellectualism, non-conformity and originality.

This is because academics seem to fear student freedom.

I’ve had my ideas shot down by esteemed professors, albeit in the South good professors are scarce – simply because they did not sit well with the perspective of the professor.

Other professors would commend and encourage the same exact research project shunned by others.

Furthermore I discovered how even American capitalism has infiltrated the academic system which is supposed to be public – with emphasis not on quality education, but rather, on profit motive.

But this culture is America’s and the West’s. Call it “Capitalism, Democracy, Liberalism, Protestantism, Christianity,” whatever

The political culture is backwards here, with many elements of morality being only nominal, applied to the privileged, mainly white, few.

I reject this phenomenon both as an Arab & English speaking, Syrian-Armenian immigrant and as a first-generation American.

In every sense, both academic, musical, in both my individual and collective spheres, morality, free will, and the anomaly that is human nature will triumph over any rationalized, dogmatic system that reduces universal principles to devious political schemes.

I am grateful that I have been able to, by some miracle, attend an institute of higher education, considering that I am still, after 20 years of residence in the state of Florida, still considered a temporary alien, without any permanent status in the US. Never mind the indignation, political, economic and social hardship this has created for me and my family – and millions upon millions of others who are in worse shape – the problem of “nominal justice” or “privileged justice” exists as much in third world countries, authoritarian regimes, as it does in America, where only 40 years ago, African-Americans could not vote.

Let us be frank with ourselves. Before we point our fingers elsewhere, let us look at ourselves in the mirror. Let us lead by example, if indeed, we wish to remain leaders of the world.

 

Does Foreign Aid Perpetuate Terrorism?


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The purpose of this article is to analyze the strengths, weaknesses as well as the overall implications of five separate research studies on the subject of foreign aid and its relationship to politics development. The general tendency based on the research suggests that foreign aid has a negative relationship with development, that is, the more foreign aid a country receives, the less likely they are to enact the reforms conducive to development. While there are some exceptions. It is argued that countries with effective financial management that receive large sums foreign aid are likely to exhibit stability and at least some levels of development and redistribution.

The body of this paper will be separated into five sections in which I summarize the main points of each article as well as the potential weaknesses of the research. After this segment, I follow up with a section about the theoretical and policy implications of these findings, and what this could mean for the world today, as well as in the future.

In Moss, Peterson and Walle’s article, the hypothesis is that large sustained aid flows fundamentally alter the relationship between citizenry and the government. The financial flow alters the incentive of the recipient government, and may undercut the very principles the aid seeks to promote: ownership, accountability and participation. States that raise a substantial amount of revenue from the international community are less inclined to usher reform or to cultivate public institutions, having a harmful effect on institutional development. The focus of this research is specifically on Sub-Saharan Africa. As the author’s cross-sectional time series indicates, countries that receive higher levels of foreign aid exhibit lower tax shares as percent of their GDP, meaning there is less incentive to invest in and cultivate public institutions when a significant percentage of the GNI is received in foreign aid. In sum, the literature and research suggest a negative relationship between foreign aid and political development. Perhaps the greatest weakness of this research is that it covers only a period of 17 years, making it more difficult to make far-reaching conclusions regarding the data. Furthermore, the authors could control for natural resource endowment as well as cultural relativity by considering the same measurements for non-African states with lower incomes. It would also be interesting to measure the the effect of foreign aid on countries with high levels of income per capita, which could help further contextualize the data on lower income countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Svenssons’s research in “Foreign Aid and Rent-Seeking” is rather interesting as it makes strong claims. Among other findings, Svensson argues that donors countries do not discriminate based on corruption levels, which means that foreign aid is given despite how corrupt the recipient may be. Svensson also finds that only in cases where a binding policy commitment is enacted can there be expected to be an increase in public spending. However, the data indicates that in most cases foreign aid perpetuates rent-seeking and reduces public spending. Furthermore, the data suggests that countries with competing social groups are likely to exhibit fluctuations in foreign aid. The research method was rather reliable, in that intervening variables such as infant mortality rate and arms imports so as to isolate the effects of foreign aid from the health and military dynamics of the subject states. Svens son’s control for ethnicity exposed the relative weakness of the coefficients of other variables, such as trade restrictions and protection from the international community. Of the four assumptions listed by the author, two particularly stood out. First, the assumption that that the larger the budget, the more likely a government is going to be corrupt. Perhaps stretching the boundaries of this study outside of Africa might provide a clearer indication of this assumption. What about countries with vast natural resource endowments? Are they less more or less likely to exhibit corruption? The second assumption that stood out was that donors at least partly care about the recipient’s welfare. The author suggests that much of the literature on this subject confirms the statement, however, I find it hard to believe that global hegemonies are more concerned with well-being of their recipients of foreign aid than perhaps the preservation of their own economic assets. Is it not surprising that countries which receive high levels of aid invest less in public institutions? Would this not be at the detriment of the recipient? That countries with tensions between social groups are likely to receive large swaths of foreign aid confirms this notion, in that global hegemonies are likely to provide aid if it secures their interests and prevents the threat of competing forces. How could this be regarded as “caring about the recipient’s welfare?” This leads directly into the next article.

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In their article “Aid, Policies & Growth”, the Burns & Dollar suggest foreign aid is often wielded as a tool for global hegemonies pursuing their own strategic interests. In other words, governments may receive aid — but not necessarily their people. Since the vast majority of countries that receive aid are underdeveloped or engulfed in conflict between competing social groups, the authors’ findings and assertions come as no surprise. How could it be assumed that donors care about their recipient’s well-being if the recipient state constantly receiving foreign aid is essentially in the hands of a small, political elite?  The research method is rather reliable as it includes a large sample size of 56 developing countries as well as wide-ranging time series covering two decades between 1970-1993. In terms of policy, the authors find that foreign aid has no effect in ensuring policy change, usually due to the donor’s lack of interest in policy-change. Rather, the donor is focused on its strategic interests. The positive outcome of foreign aid has been in the realm of income growth. How is it possible that state policy remains unaffected while incomes rise? Perhaps a common thread among the recipient states is a lack of natural resource endowment, making them more dependent on foreign aid. What could be said about the universality of democratic political development given that incomes rise despite a lack of institutional reform? That the budget for foreign aid is shrinking while policies tend to improve in poor countries, there is reason to believe there is a negative correlation between foreign aid and institutional development.

In their article, Easterly, Revise and Roodman seek to debunk some of the claims made by the previous article. The authors argue that the idea that foreign aid results in positive growth in countries with good financial management presumes that foreign aid causes growth and that countries with good policies should be the target of foreign aid donors. Their belief is that such conclusions were reached due to limited data availability.

The most crucial element of the data is in the time-series. By extending the period of analysis to from 1993 to 1997, the authors reduced confidence in the assertion that foreign aid causes growth. This is a significant finding as it parallels my concerns regarding the contexts of the research method. Furthermore, this study illuminates the dangers of presumptuous research methods in that minor alterations to the study produced completely different results, challenging previous literature.

In his article on the influence of non-tax revenue on political development and regime security, author Kevin Morrison illustrates that revenue accrued by governments from non-taxable revenues like from oil or foreign aid essentially secure regimes and their grasp on power. This in turn reduces the incentive for reform and public investment. The reliability of the data is quite strong, given that the time series stretches from 1973-1999. I wonder still, given that in the previous study where only three years were added therein altering the findings, if perhaps adding a few more years to this study would have the same effect. That 80 countries were tested, a relatively large sample size, is another indication of the strength of this research method. While the authors generally tend to control for the more common variable of ethnicity and natural resource endowment, perhaps controlling for other variables might affect the outcome of the study, variables such as religious homogeneity, security threats, cultural relativity and historical evolution. How do we know that the religious dynamic, or the threat of religious militants, or perhaps the mere cultural differences of a region are not responsible for the level of redistribution and political development within a respective country?

The common thread among these articles is that there is a negative relationship between foreign aid and political development. That is, the more foreign aid a government receives, the less likely it is to implement the changes that foreign aid was intended to induce. For the most part the research methods were rather reliable, however contextualizing the data by measuring it against non-African states, as well as broadening the time-series spectrum, could provided more accurate indications of the relationship between foreign aid and development. While there are some cases of incomes rising as a result of foreign aid, generally, as indicated in “Aid, Policies and Growth”, as the global budget for foreign aid shrinks, better policies continue to blossom in poor countries where foreign aid may have once paralyzed institutional development and public investment. Further studies indicate that rises in growth via income are poor indicators of the positive impact of foreign aid on political development, especially when the research covers a more broad time-series. Perhaps future studies could focus on trying to gather data that covers a wider time range. Furthermore, researchers could create ways to control for the aforementioned variables of religious homogeneity, stability (via the stability index), terrorist threats and cultural relativity.

The implications of these findings are far-reaching. They suggest that the motives of foreign aid donors have been rather inconsistent with their principles, and that they have in fact perpetuated corruption. It is not surprising that global hegemonies seek their own strategic interests. What is more surprising is the threats to international security this dynamic could cause. As donors funnel foreign aid to authoritarian regimes, especially those that govern countries with tensions between social groups, it forces analysts to wonder whether there is a correlation between these provisions, which prop up and support oppressive and divisive regimes, and the rise of insurgent military movements in the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries.

Perhaps looking at countries on a case by case could show other country specific qualities such as resource endowment, geography, economics, culture, and history. These are more qualitative in nature, underscoring my emphasis on the presence of prejudgments in the scholarly tradition.

A 3:2 ratio that long prevailed in the overall levels of U.S. aid to Israel and Egypt was applied to the reduction in economic aid ($60 million reduction for Israel and $40 million reduction for Egypt), but Egypt did not receive an increase in military assistance. Thus, Congress reduced ESF aid to Egypt from $815 million in FY1998 to $411 million in FY2008 (Sharp 2015).

New America


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Its been more than 150 years since we were blessed with the gifted authorship of American transcendental author Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Emerson, Thoreau and their school of transcendentalists represented the first school of America spiritual individualism without attachments to any organized religion. Furthermore, their emphasis on the Overlord, or rather, the existence of a spiritual supreme being, or God, resonated with the American tradition of monotheism, evidenced by the constitution. It furtehrmore resonated with the secular community in that it placed less emphasis on superstitions and dogmatic narratives.

The point of this is to emphasize the individualist foundation of America.

My greatest infatuation with America as a first generation immigrant was with Thomas Jefferson. His theories which echoed social libearlism, secularism, education and rational deism, appealed immsenly to me.

I also came upon other theories of individualism like Ayn Rand, which are much more extreme. Ayn Rand, like other philosophers, unfortunately confuses her brand of individualism. It is in fact a theory of racist privilege. Rand was a zionist who depended largely on welfare and aid from the israeli government.

Ideas like socialism and fascism are both becoming popular in america. definitions for these terms are changing day by day because of lower educational levels among constituents. Youtube video comments are becoming the hotbed of american education.

Since the assassination of JFK, we have witnessed America fall into a trap of populism. You are either a neoconservative or a neoconservative; democrat or republican, you support foreign invasions. Both parties are populist. Both parties seek to appeal to the ideological fanaticism of constituents, which is the product of ignorance (passive) and arrogance (active). the republicans appeal to the mass-minded religious nuts; the democrats appeal to the animal loving, overly environmentally paranoid, Wall Street hipsters.

Both social groups, the democratic left wing and the republican right wing constituencies share one thing – economic insecurity. This makes them vulnerable to the forces of collective-group-think and propaganda.

Americans are pawns of a grand puppet scheme strung together by a coalition of religious fanatics who can’t let go a historical grudge and bitter past, ideological fanatics who can’t separate their delusions from their imagination, corporate-cults that can’t survive without income exploitation, and politicians who are the business on this grand stage, selling us their “business models” — though poorly designed. But if the constituency is too dumb to notice, why not?

Economic insecurity has been exacerbated in America, though it always existed. The struggle between America’s colonial past and its desire to form a national identity is evident in the early conflict between those who wished to extend the tradition of capitalist exploitation, and those who wished to balance open markets with a strong state capable of regulating abuses by political and economic elites. This conflict was waged between the federalists and the anti-federalists. Slavery would come into question very late in this conversation of power-sharing and power-limits, to the misfortune of the African-American population, whose grievances remain largely unaddressed even today, 40 years after the civil rights era, and the deaths of both Malcolm and Martin. Today’s Jim Crow is police brutality.

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Back to the subject. Economic insecurity. Why? The colonialists won. America was founded on colonialism, so it is only right that capitalism, that is, the benefits of exploitation, took precedence over the need to form a national identity and cater to the welfare of the general American public, in the list of priorities of the American elite.

Today, this struggle continues. But the conflict is more ambiguous, because the manipulative tactics have become more devious and difficult to detect. The masses are in a trance. The individual is dead.

Is this the fate of democracy? The struggle between democracy and republicanism ensues.

The American constituency has grown less patient than ever, and has become more vulnerable to mass-media, propaganda and ideological inconsistency than ever before. Perhaps this is a reflection of America’s desperate attempt to colonize and control other parts of the world, especially in the Middle East, Latin America, Central and Southeast Asia. The government has utilized all mechanisms available to manufacture consent for war and arbitrary conflict to secure the elites grasp of power, and to preserve the current political system in place, in the words of Noam Chomsky.

What is that political system?

The majoritarian system of democracy divided us and portrays ideologies as competing against one another. Instead there needs to be a recognition that majoritarianism can often trump the rights of individuals, political, social or economic. What is more important, that majority rules, or that individual rights are preserved? The extent of individual rights are hotly debated, but this is often a tactic too. It should be simple. But politicians want to justify poverty and institutional disenfranchisement so they encourage tensions, racism, and xenophobia. They strip us of our rights to tax funds, and to self-investment. A poor constituency cannot have power. Perhaps that is what the elite desires.

Is majoritarianism the problem? No, the problem is our cultural values have begun to diminish. If they didn’t then the majority would rule in favor of righteous policies, not ones that encourage war and unrest, domestically and abroad.

America is learning to heal from its past, but the scars run deep. The individual still exists, but he is striving perhaps more than ever, to secure his place in the world.

What we are demanding, is a New America.