Tuesday, July 20, 2010

To Buenos Aires

Leaving tomorrow for Montevideo and Buenos Aires, my first time back to Argentina since I visited with my brother in 2005. I’m really excited to be going back, as a lot has changed in the years since.

Clearly it will be significant to get to see all of my friends again in one of the great cities of the world, and my Spanish is light years above and beyond where it was the last time I went. But more than anything, the added perspective five years has given me, during which I’ve had a considerable amount of additional experience travelling and living abroad, graduated from university, more fully developed my own political worldview, and have gained a much deeper and richer understanding and knowledge of Latin American history and society, in particular with its relationship with the United States, ensures that this trip will be much different than the last.

Argentina was the first country outside the United States and Canada that I ever visited, and going there for a month after my high school graduation left a mark on me. Certainly, though I wasn’t completely aware of it at the time, the trip itself and the relationships forged with my friends down there had an impact on me insofar as stoking my interest in Latin America today. It was also one of my first real experiences truly seeing not just stark poverty up close, but also the severe gap between the haves and have-nots that is so endemic in Latin America and the global south. Witnessing not merely the meager material conditions that so many Argentineans endure, but also the contrast of their experience against that of the wealthier class, who often even share the same neighborhood block, was truly a jarring experience for this rather naïve 18-year-old at the time.

I wasn’t fully able to appreciate it at the time, but that experience had a lasting effect on me. And now that I will be going back amidst all of the changes going on not just in my own life but indeed in the world, I am at once looking backwards towards how Argentina became what it is today--towards the role that powerful economic and political forces from my own nation have played in Argentina’s demise, from support for the violent right-wing military dictatorship during the 70s to the economic devastation wrought by neoliberal economic institutions at the turn of the 21st Century--as well as looking forward to what the United States may well become (if it is not already there in many ways)—a powerful and proud nation weakened by its own arrogance and wrought with deleterious social and economic inequality and turbulence.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Don't get me started...

So in an ironic twist of fate, in a glitch that I'm blaming on this absurd Google Blogger system, I lost the post that I've been working on all night... Which, for the record, just confirms for me that I'm switching over to the open-source platform Wordpress ASAP... And serves as yet another reminder to ALWAYS back up what you write, and type it into Word before posting it!

So, considering that I've got my first class at the Congress tomorrow (yes, tomorrow I start teaching English at the Chilean Congress here in Valpo) in about 5 hours, I'm gonna try my best to be Zen about it and just close with the quote I came across tonight that I based my original post off of:
I get to look at things from the Midwesterner’s perspective. We’re stubborn, we’re loyal and we take our time making decisions and forming opinions. We like to have all the facts and plenty of time for study and contemplation. We don’t worry much about whether our decisions or opinions will be popular and we will defend them tenaciously.
(via that's how kids die, via Invisible Oranges on twitter)

And on that note, I'm out! (Still working on the piece that I've been working on for way too long though lol...)

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy 4th of July

Well yes, it's been a while... And while I'm finishing up the post that I've working on, essentially a reflection on my time away from writing regularly, I thought it'd be appropriate to go ahead and write something... And leave some "fireworks" of my own, the first being a sunrise in Valpo a few weeks ago, and the second being a sunset there as well.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Wednesday Night/Thursday Morning Links and Briefs

1.) With Obama signing his health care reform bill into law yesterday, having passed the House of Representatives this weekend (without the support of a single Republican in either chamber), much attention has accordingly been devoted to covering this matter. The New York Times has an interesting interactive piece that helps explain how the bill will affect "you," and Democratic Congressman John Larson outlines the ten immediate benefits of the health care bill that will come before the bill goes fully into effect in 2014.

Regarding the more "political" aspects of the bill and its process:

-Talking Points Memo discusses the next "step" to polish the bill via reconciliation in the Senate

-Nate Silver breaks down how and why the Democrats voted for the bill

-Ari Melber, whose previous interview with Marshall Ganz expressed a justifiably critical view of OFA and the administration, highlights the important role that the organizing program played throughout this process

-Political scientist Steven Taylor (in between his excellent reporting on the recent Colombian midterm elections where he was an electoral observer) has some interesting predictions and observations

-NPR has a great piece analyzing popular support for health care reform (and summing up in so many words why one should always be suspicous of polls, especially as they are trumpeted by a party whose leaders don't give a damn about public opinion)

-David Rothkopf at Foreign Policy takes a look at what the bill might mean for the USA's changing role in the world

-And finally, for those on both sides of the spectrum who still harbor suspicion for the health care reform bill, Ezra Klein reminds conservatives to recall the Right's fear-mongering amidst the passage of Medicare a generation ago, while left-wing critics of the health care reform can take at least some comfort in knowing that even Noam Chomsky, arguably the most important leftist intellectual of our time, would prefer to "hold his nose and vote for" the bill versus the consequences otherwise if given a chance.

2.) One also can't discuss the health care reform bill without mentioning all of the vitriol that it brought about from the reactionary right, not just from irate tea baggers but even Congresspeople themselves. Extremism from the right isn't by any means a new phenomenon in American politics, but this particular strand does need to be taken seriously as it not only continues to escalate its rhetoric and actions, but actually gain even greater influence within the contemporary conservative movement, poisoning the broader political discourse. And with progressive activists pressing Obama to make immigration reform the next domestic priority, as several hundred thousand demonstrators did this weekend in Washington even as a far smaller number of right-wing activists stole the show, one can be certain that things are only going to get a lot uglier...

3.) Wednesday marked the 30th anniversary of the slaying of Catholic arch-bishop and tireless human rights advocate Oscar Romero. Romero, a liberation theologian who spoke out on behalf of the poor and oppressed against the brutal El Salvadoran regime of the 70s and 80s that shared close ties to the United States, was murdered by a government-sponsored death squad as he delivered mass. In an unprecedented show of support, the current El Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes commemorated the occasion and asked for forgiveness on behalf of his state. Both Tim's El Salvador Blog and the Central American Politics blog have more on this event and the life and work of Oscar Romero and what he meant to the El Salvadoran people.

4.) Former Chilean Cabinet member José Miguel Insulza was elected to a second term as head of the Organization of American States. Running unopposed Insulza won easily, though he faces criticism from those on the right who seek harder stance towards Venezuela and Cuba, as well as a broader contigent of regional actors who seek greater independence from the US's overwhelming dominance in regional affairs. This comes on the heels of the recent Rio Summit where a new regional organization was proposed that would leave out both the United States and Canada in an attempt to better ensure autonomy amongst Latin American and Caribbean nations.

5.) Via "affirmative atheist" PZ Myers, philosopher Daniel Dennett has coauthored a fascinating new article about nonbelieving members of the clergy that is worth a read no matter your faith (or lack thereof).

6.) And of course, I've got to mention that my both my beloved Butler Bulldogs and Purdue Boilermakers are going on to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament. #5 seed Butler takes on #1 seed Syracuse tomorrow, while #4 seed Purdue takes on (the loathesome) #1 seed Duke on Friday. Meanwhile, Pat Forde at ESPN points out, this has gotta hurt extra for IU fans who watch not only as their in-state rivals advance but also a number of former players and recruits for other teams.

Regarding the tournament's off-the-court news, much ado has been made about Education Secretary Arne Duncan's (very problematic) proposal that schools with low graduation rates be barred from the tournament. However, an arguably more important story continues to be overlooked in college sports: many schools continue to use official apparel merchandisers who don't ensure that their uniforms and products are sweatshop-free. As a Butler grad I'm ashamed that my school is on that list, but I am encouraged that more and more schools, Purdue included (due to the remarkable efforts of students who went on a hunger strike to pressure the administration), are taking strides to ensure that the workers who create the clothing that represents their image are given a living wage and decent conditions.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Look to the North: US Health Care Reform and Seven Years of War in Iraq

There is much excitement back in the United States as the Democrats make the final push towards passing health care reform legislation in the House of Representatives. In just the past few days, several Democrats who previously voted against the original House bill have been persuaded to change their upcoming vote, solidifying the odds of a successful passage expected in the next few days. Included in this bloc of Democrats who will be voting for the bill are Ohio's Dennis Kucinich, a progressive champion and staunch proponent of universal care, and Indiana representative Brad Ellsworth, a conservative Democrat who will be running for Evan Bayh's soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat.

This is certainly a remarkable milestone in a legislative battle that has been waged for months for what has been the centerpiece of Obama's political agenda for the first half of his term. President Obama has expended significant political capital on this piece of legislation, and indeed it seems that he has staked his political fortune on its passage. Republicans, who ironically often represent lower-income districts (especially in the South) that will benefit most from the legislation, have been in lockstep in their voracious opposition to the bill, with the knowledge that its defeat would deal a massive blow not only to the Obama administration, but to possibility of further progressive reform in the United States. Their greatest contentions with the bill regard its cost, an estimated $940 billion over 10 years, and the fact that it runs contrary to their ideology of "free markets" and a minimal Federal government.

Amidst this context however, it's essential to note that today, March 19, marks the seventh anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War, a conflict that we are still deeply engaged in today. This war of aggression by the United States, predicated on lies and whose legality is questionable at best, has so far claimed the lives of more than 4300 American soldiers, hundreds of coalition fighters, an unknown number of private mercenaries, and, perhaps most appallingly, affected the entire population of Iraq, with hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civillians killed, injured, traumatized, and displaced.

As Representative Kucinich said in yesterday's interview on Democracy Now! on the health care legislation and its relationship to the Iraq War,

War has become ordinary. War has become like part of our daily lives. That’s a serious problem, because it means that we’ve accepted war. And we have to reject it. We have to reject it in all of its manifestations, which includes, you know, the spending to keep the war going, the support for the military contractors, the assassination policies that are involved, the unmanned aerial vehicles that are used to strike at people without anyone taking any real responsibility for the results of dead civilians.

Thus as the health care reform bill moves into its final stages, and especially as conservatives balk at the size of the bill, remember this key point: the United States, whose military budget accounts for more than 40% of the world total and is greater than the next 46 countries combined, will spend nearly the same amount in only one year of defense expenditures as the cost of this health care reform bill over 10 years.

Accordingly, the objections that this health care bill will worsen the deficit (even in the face of all evidence to the contrary), voiced by the same by the same people who have consistently supported the unabashed bloating of military expenditures abroad and opposed deficit-reducing tax increases on the wealthiest 0.28% of Americans, are nothing more than a red herring.

The health care reform bill currently on the table is, of course, not without fault. But contrary to the claims of conservatives and right-wing interests, the problem with the health care reform bill is that it doesn't go nearly far enough. Instead, the bill is in fact largely a capitulation to the corporate interests that back both the Republicans and Democrats. It doesn't even ensure health insurance for all of the roughly 45 million of Americans who lack it, let alone universal health care, threatens women's access to reproductive care, and doesn't provide a real alternative to a health care system dominated by corporate interests. Accordingly, there is a great amount of concern that this reform bill will merely perpetuate the status quo of a failed free market system, creating blowback in the form of outrage stemming from the bill's shortcomings and a strengthening the hand of the health care corporations that stymie real reform in the interest of the American people.

With that being said, this health care reform bill does mark the most significant domestic policy reform in the United States in a generation (which unfortunately speaks more about the failure of our political institutions than the strength of this bill...). It's strengths are significant, including legal protections against the worst exploitation by the health insurance industry, the expansion of community health clinics, and most importantly, health insurance for millions of Americans who currently lack it. As such, I stand with many of the most important advocacy organizations in the United States, including the American Medical Association and the AARP, the majority of the progressive community, and the millions of Americans who support this legislation.

But I also agree with The Nation magazine that "genuine reform begins, not ends, with passage of the current legislation." We cannot allow our political leaders to rest on the passage of this bill alone, which the majority will undoubtedly seek to do. Instead, the legislation must be seen as a step towards making this country work for all Americans, not just those of a certain socio-economic status. This includes not only reforming our health care system, but radically changing the values and actions of our political institutions from callously investing trillions of dollars to our military-industrial complex to satisfy imperial ambitions to investing in social and economic justice at home and abroad.

So, when you contact your representative to support the health care reform proposal, be sure to also tell them to put an end to our bloated defense spending, stop our military occupations abroad, and invest the money saved here at home.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Wednesday Night/Thursday Morning Links

In the spirit of maintaining a regular posting routine, here are some interesting links I've come across the past few days. I was originally planning to write a more extensive bit on the recent Colombian Senate election/preview of May's Presidential election (and its troubling characteristics...), but I'll try to save that for this weekend.

...That is, assuming of course I can pull myself away from the myriad college basketball games this weekend for the onset of March Madness, arguably my favorite time of year according to the sports calender.

1.) I found this report on Brazilian President Lula da Silva's alleged remarks on maintaining ties with his Iranian and Venezuelan counterparts Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez utterly fascinating, and I find it rather unfortunate it hasn't recieved more attention in the political press.- though not at all surprising considering the lazy (at best, "propagandistic" at worst) political "analysis" we find in the mainstream press. Is there any doubt whatsoever that Lula is, for better or worse, one of the most brilliant and interesting politicians on the international stage of our time? (Of course, the fact that he let this leak out might indicate otherwise, but I'm confident he knew what he was doing. Plus, he's at the end of his term anyway!) Seriously, what better example of international relations theory combined with sheer human drama could one ask for?

2.) Here's something else that's getting very little pub for as important as it is: serious indications that the US may be drastically curtailing its nuclear weapons programs, or at least the acknowledgement from people with influence in the Defense Department that it should. Yes, the facts we've been saying this for years (40 to be exact) and that we're still here 20 years after the end of the Cold War means I won't be holding my breath on this one. And a 90% reduction is still 10% short of what we should be striving for (not to mention the rest of the world's nuclear material and weapons, accounted for and not). But as a critical observer of US foreign policy and its role in the world, this seems like something for which to give credit where credit is due- but I also demand to see results.

3.) Finally, via Pitchfork, legendary British trip-hop group Massive Attack have a new music video that is a must-see, whether you like electronic music or not. More than just a standard music video for their new song "Saturday Come Slow," the 8 minute clip highlights the use of sound torture, like that employed by American interrogators at Guantánamo Prison and elsewhere, and its effects on human beings such as Ruhal Ahmed. Ahmed is a British citizen who was detained without trial or charges brought against him for over two years by the United States government while he was on his way to a wedding in Pakistan. A powerful counter to another certain video regarding torture and detainees in the "War on Terror..."

Monday, March 15, 2010

Blackout in Chile, and The Quake's Lesser-Publicized Victims

Last night, Chile was hit with a rolling blackout that affected nearly the entire country. From about 9 to 11:30 pm, most of the country, all the way from Region III in the north to Region XIV in the far south, was without electricity.

Though it was reported to have been unrelated to last month's powerful earthquake and the series of tremors that have followed in its wake, it was nevertheless a powerful reminder of the serious geographic and infrastructural challenges that Chile faces. Though the same can be said for Latin America as a whole, Chile's position straddling the thin peripice between the massive Andes mountain range and the Pacific Ocean for 2700 miles (4300km) with an average width of 109 miles (or 175 km, making it slimmer on average than my home state of Indiana) only amplify these problems. With only a handful of major electrical arteries to send energy up and down the country, problems in one part of the chain can affect the entire country, as was the case last night.

While having such extensive access to the ocean does have its upsides for international trade, the limits on what kind of internal infrastructure can be built has a serious effect hampering development within the country. Accordingly, it will be important to watch how the serious damage done to the nation's highways, railways, bridges and otherwise will affect the country's economic and social prosperity in the years to come.

Another interesting side note to last night's blackout: after power was restored in Santiago, we were able to listen to Radio Bio Bio in the car, which reported that President Piñera had quickly mobilized the police to take to the streets to prevent looting and other such activity. Clearly Piñera seeks to distinguish himself from former President Bachelet's slow response to mobilize the armed forces in the wake of the earthquake, but nevertheless I don't find an eagerness to use such force as a positive characteristic in a political leader. And with further blackouts to be expected, along with the other challenges of rebuilding to be faced, it will be important to see how this continues to play out...

One final important note tonight: I found this article from the BBC focusing on the plight of the indigenous Mapuche and other overlooked segments of society in the wake of the earthquake to be especially interesting and important. Just as we tend to focus on socio-economic challenges such as poverty and drug abuse in urban communities at the expense of attention paid to these same problems in rural areas, even though they are often even more serious considering the lack of available resources to assist, we must be sure not to overlook rural communities in the wake of disasters like the recent quake. This particular issue is also all the more relevent considering the recent heightening of tensions between the Mapuche community, which has long struggled for autonomy and self-determination, and the Chilean government. Just one more important storyline in the ongoing events here in Chile...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Out With The Old, In With The New (But The Tremors Haven´t Gone Anywhere!)

It's now official: Sebastián Piñera is the new President of the Republic of Chile. I was able to make my way down near the Congreso here in Valpo, where the inauguration ceremony took place and snap these photos of both outgoing President Michelle Bachelet and the new President Piñera. There was a good turnout of supporters for both Bachelet ("¡Gracias Presidenta! ¡La única!") and Piñera ("Piñera, amigo, El pueblo está contigo!").
The inauguration wasn't the only excitement going on either. While I was out and about (and amidst the inauguration), another earthquake, 6.9 on the richter scale, shook the earth about 3 hours south of here. A tsunami warning has been issued, and Piñera has already taken quick action to declare an emergency alert for Region VI where the epicenter was located. He will also be making his way down to Region VII later this afternoon to visit the hardest-hit parts of the country. And so begins the Sebastián Piñera chapter in modern Chilean history...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Wednesday Night Links

1.) Tomorrow's a big day down here in Chile, as President-elect Sebastián Piñera will be assuming office. Numerous heads of state from all over the continent (and even the Prince of Spain) arrived today and Valpo will be abuzz mañana as they will all be coming to the Congreso Nacional for the inauguration ceremony, despite the fact that parts of the city and neighboring Viña are without water. Earlier this afternoon I watched on tv as Colombian President Álvaro Uribe's jet landed, while Piñera and Bolivian president Evo Morales had a friendly soccer match. Only in Latin America, right?

2.) Despite leaving office on the dour note of the earthquake and the widely criticized governmental response, outgoing President Michelle Bachelet's popularity numbers are as high as ever, with an utterly astonishing 84% approval rating. Of course, as Greg Weeks points out, keep in mind the fact that the hardest-hit areas could not be reached by telephone...

3.) While the Chilean economy will certainly continue to suffer the social and economic effects of the earthquake (One of the headlines I saw the other day read "TURISMO EN EL SUELO"- Tourism [industry] on the floor), Piñera himself is sure to be pretty comfortable. In the latest rankings of the richest people in the world, the Chilean magnate jumped 260 spots up to number 437 on the list. Latin American tycoons were well represented this year, as Mexican Carlos Slim claimed the top spot by knocking off Bill Gates, and Brazilian mining head Eike Batista made the biggest financial gains.

4.) Regarding the other serious earthquake in this hemisphere in the past year, the indomitable Noam Chomsky on Haiti in Counterpunch.

4.) Back in the United States, Glenn Greenwald lays open the brutality employed by the US government while torturing suspected terrorists. The chilling facts of what our "democratic" government did and continues to defend calls to mind the title of a previous article Greenwald wrote on this subject: "What Every American Should Be Made to Know [About the IG Torture Report]."

5.) Johann Hari has an excellent article in The Nation regarding the "selling out" of major American environmental organizations to corporate interests, and especially some of the most dangerous pollutors in the world. He also appeared with Christine MacDonald, a former member of one of the most widely-criticized such organizations Conservation International, on Democracy Now! I found this to be particularly interesting as I spent several summers canvassing for a grassroots environment organization in Indiana called the Hoosier Environmental Council. The last summer I worked there our canvass and several policy people was cut in what was a very peculiar cost-cutting move for a members-based advocacy organization. Many of my colleagues and I believed that there were shadier motives at heart, and was a result of pressure from the more moderate aka "business-friendly" members of the board of directors...

6.) And back home in the Hoosier State, Indiana Governor (and 2012 Presidential hopeful? Ha!) Mitch "The Blade" Daniels and his private sector goon squad have come under intense criticism for inflating Indiana's job creation numbers by 40%. (The statistics look so much better when you make them up!) I guess cutting the jobs of social workers and replacing them with private call centers isn't merely cruel and legally objectionable, but a bad economic policy as well!

7.) Finally, I encourage you to check out "Exiled in the Land of the Free," a benefit album for Native American activist and US political prisoner Leonard Peltier that was originally supposed to be released in 1995, but was instead shelved. 15 years later, a sympathetic recording assistant came across the tracks and has put them on the internet for free. Even better than the music is the cause, which you can become familiarized with and take action upon on the link above, and which I was first introduced to while reading the liner notes in Rage Against the Machine cds in high school and doing my own personal research on COINTELPRO. And yes, even the United States is guilty of holding political prisoners and sheltering terrorists.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Some Thoughts On Our Lack of Control in the Digital Age

This weekend, for reasons still not fully explained to me, Google blocked access to my blog and my corresponding gmail account for suspicion of "violating the terms of the user agreement." After being locked out of my email account and denied access to any of my writings that I had posted, I was given an opportunity to challenge my suspension from Google's services. Needless to say, the matter was fortunately resolved after about a 12 hour time span- I recieved an automated email from Google saying that an error had been made and the issue had been resolved, though no further explanation was given.

While this may have been just a random mistake, it nevertheless was a disconcerting reminder of how little control we truly have over the modes of communication and the dissemination of information. It is widely-held liberal truism that the expansion of the internet and communication technology is an overwhelming "good" thing for us and our socio-political institutions. We are not only afforded more and better economic opportunities, but there are numerous benefits for us as social beings to connect and engage with one another and to be better informed and educated, which will in turn "open up" our societies and make them more democratic, or so we are told. This is a belief expounded by the likes of Thomas Friedman and many others in the media and communications industry, not to mention many of those who lead our political institutions, who all have a direct stake involved in propagating this idea.

Obviously, as someone who has his own blog and regularly spends hours each day on social media and internet news sites, I do have some sympathy in this regard. But of course, this matter is a bit more complicated than this rosy picture so often painted for us. Evgeny Morozov is an excellent blogger for Foreign Policy whose research is centered precisely on the issue of communications technology and politics, and both he and I share a more skeptical perspective on this matter. From his blog's About section he writes,
Even a cursory look at top technology issues facing us today -- from Internet censorship to online surveillance to cyberwarfare -- makes it clear that technology poses almost as many threats as opportunities. Most interestingly, we see authoritarian regimes gain proficiency with the Internet and actively turn it to their own advantage -- a phenomenon I dub the "spinternet". Even more disturbingly, many of these more sinister activities happen very quietly, while the public gets overly excited about edgier issues like cyber-spies.
Morozov does an excellent job highlighting how regimes like Russia not only subtly mislead and manipulate their populations with news media and the internet, but also actually channel and intensify already-existing nationalistic and authoritarian sentiments towards their own political ends. However I think he is at his best when dissecting what he calls "slacktivism"- the type of "digital activism" via Facebook, Twitter, and other social media that "make us feel very useful and important but have zero social impact." Slacktivism can also be seen as not only having little positive effect, but may actually serve to undermine more effective means of social action by making citizens less eager to take part in real (and more risky) expressions of direct action.

Of course, it's easy to highlight how conventional authoritarian regimes like China use the internet and social media to control their population, but alas, even so-called democracies including the United States and the United Kingdom are guilty of this as well. In the same year Western liberals hailed the so-called "twitter revolution" in Iran, an activist was arrested in Pittsburgh during the G-20 summit protests for using twitter to report on police activity. Furthermore, like Morozov I think we should be very skeptical of the US government's efforts to "help create supply of US ideas on the Internet" to better "brand" itself for both foreign and domestic populations, much like corporations do.

But what I'm most concerned about is the fact that as we are increasingly being pushed into the digital age, we have little to no real ownership, oversight, or control over these sources of media and communication that are taking an ever-more important role in our lives. The right to freely have access to and disseminate information is a fundamental political right and a necessity for a functioning democratic society, but there is very little public and regulation to ensure that this right is not only properly respected, but indeed that it can best serve the public interest. Instead, private corporate interests not only maintain full ownership rights over the electronic media they control and can thus dictate their own policies within the law, but can have an incredible effect on influencing what law there is to regulate their behavior through political lobbying and indeed using their own media influence to advocate for their cause.

Now, I don't wish to delve too far into this matter as it's far too complex to properly address in a blog post that has already perhaps gone on too long... But I would like to say that the very nature of intellectual, artistic, and digital "property" (each category of which has its own similarities and differences) has certain characteristics that fundamentally seem to deny their compatibility with how we traditionally understand and define property rights. (Which of course doesn't even take into account the myriad difficulties with "traditional property rights" that a radical leftist or anarchist could cite.) But furthermore, and perhaps even more importantly, there seems to be a normative case for ensuring that something so fundamental as the free exchange of ideas and information via the internet or other communication technology (and everything tied in with this) is managed, perhaps even "owned," by the very public that uses and relies upon this technology.

Currently, there are two main fronts in which this struggle for control over the internet and communication technology is being waged. First regards the issue of digital rights, which is a broad field that encompasses issues of ownership, privacy, access, and expression, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation has been a progressive advocate at the forefront of this matter. Secondly is the issue of network neutrality, which is more narrowly defined and regards user access to digital content, and in the United States the organization Free Press is a key player in this fight against corporate interests.

Of course, I can't end this post without discussing Google's role in all of this. Google does make a point (like many in the tech industry) of presenting itself as ethical and responsible, but it is nevertheless a private corporation with its own interests that sometimes conflict with what can be understood as the broader public good. Accordingly, there are a number of issues that lead some to question the organization's unofficial motto of "Do No Evil." Privacy concerns have been at the center of the controversy surrounding Google, especially regarding Google Maps (particularly the street view feature), GMail, and its new social networking feature Buzz. Most interestingly I think regards Google's foray into intellectual property rights, as the company has been digitizing books for years now and placing them into its online database. While this may be viewed as a positive means of increasing access to these materials, there is also some concern regarding the extent of Google's ownership rights of these texts (especially those whose copyrights have expired or were in the public domain to begin with) once it has them in its database, making it the center of some controversy and a lawsuit. Finally, there is increasing concern that Google is achieving monopoly status as it encroaches more and more into our lives and society, effectively summarized in this video (which does have English narration).

The point of all this is that we must first be aware of all of this, and secondly we must strive for more control and autonomy with regards not only to our internet and media access, but in every other facet of our lives. And this furthermore calls for a radical reshaping of our social, economic, and political institutions to truly represent the values of a peaceful and just world. This of course isn't something that can be easily achieved in and of itself, but steps can be taken and progress can be made. I have taken a rather critical stance so far towards Google, but for convenience's sake (at least for the time being) I won't be changing the format of this blog any time soon, though I will still continue to use and support independent, alternative sources of internet media and explore options of open-source software. However, one shouldn't focus too closely on particular areas of change while missing the bigger picture, just as one shouldn't become too overwhelmed by the grand struggle and skip over the smaller foci of change- such is the difficulty that we face.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

¡Fuerza Chile! One Week After the Quake

Well it´s now been officially more than one week after one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded shook Chile, and things are starting to settle back into place, more or less. Here in Valpo, a rather uneasy normalcy has started to return, as most businesses, public transportation, and utilities are back up and running. Walking around the city, it´s really difficult to believe that only a few days ago we felt the same magnitude on the richter scale as what devastated Haiti- aside from a few broken windows, some cracked siding, and the like, there really isn't much to suggest that this city suffered much physical damage at all. And certainly, by my understanding, it is the case that we here in Valparaíso were extremely fortunate not to suffer more than we did.

One sees here in Valpo a large outpouring of support for our less fortunate neighbors. Chilean flags and messages of support can be seen everywhere. The past few days I also took part in some of the relief effort being organized by the Pontífica Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, gathering and sorting clothing and food and other supplies to send to the south. My personal experience in these circumstances is rather limited, so I have little to base my analysis directly off of, but nevertheless I think it is remarkable both how quickly things here are going back to "normal," as well as the amount of support being provided by the people themselves. I was completely overwhelmed by not only the amount of provisions that the student organizers at PUCV were able to gather, but also how many hundreds of students were dedicating their time and energy to the thankless task of sorting and packaging these myriad supplies, two weeks before their classes start back up.

But of course, I am only going off of what I know based on what I've personally seen. Beyond that, I like most everyone else has to rely on what I'm being told. The problem is that under such circumstances there's really no way of knowing what's really going on, nor how "bad" it really is- and we won't really have any way of knowing what the effects of this quake will for some time to come. Signs are emerging however, as the tourism industry is starting to suffer and certainly the devastation that this quake has had on Chile's infrastructure, especially the highways, railways, and bridges, will have a crippling effect on the economy for a long time to come.

In the meantime, there is much going on and many storylines emerging, but personally I am most interested in the issue of the looting and violence going on in Concepción and other hard-hit cities in the south-central regions, and what the implications of this and the government´s response will be. For several days one couldn´t turn on the television here without being bombarded with the images of people breaking into stores and businesses, to which the government responded with a strong hand by mobilizing thousands of soldiers, tanks, and issuing a toque de queda ("curfew"), which is the first time such action has been taken in the country since the restoration of democracy. I have little doubt about the seriousness of this matter and the need to restore order amidst this chaos and violence, and The BBC has a thoughtful article on the complex issues involved in deploying the Chilean military for this relief effort with the memories of the military government still fresh.

Nevertheless, I think we should also always remain cautiously skeptical about state efforts to use force to "increase security," especially when military units are deployed for policing efforts. Situations such as these often serve as convenient opportunities for state authorities to overextend their reach, which almost always ends up doing more harm than good, especially over the long term. Perhaps my background in the post-9/11 United States leaves me to draw unfair comparisons between the Chilean government's response and how my country typically operates under these circumstances, but tanks are surely an extreme measure to deal with bands of looters. And certainly questions of the long-term "security presence" need to be asked considering reports indicate that any decision regarding lifting the toque de queda down there will be postponed until March 11, when new president Sebastián Piñera assumes office.

Accordingly, what will be most interesting to watch (IMHO) throughout the duration of the Piñera administration will be how he uses this event to shape his agenda and ultimately his legacy, and how in turn the Chilean people will respond. With his right-wing background and his calls to "reestablish public order", I can't help but consider that this may be early indicators that Piñera may use this opportunity to take a more heavy-handed "law and order" approach than what Chileans have experienced in 20 years. Furthermore, this crisis and the much-critized response of the Bachelet government, especially regarding the failures of the tsunami alert system that may have led to more casualties than the quake itself, will leave a deep stain on her and the Concertación´s legacy and give Piñera further incentive to separate himself politically and ideologically. And this in turn will certainly impact Piñera's economic policies, perhaps leading to an onslaught of neoliberal reforms and privatization schemes in the reconstruction effort, as well as a convenient excuse to back away from his campaign promises on Chile's projected economic growth.

How will the rest of Chile respond? I see here in Chile and throughout much of Latin America a great deal of skepticism towards state authority and institutions, which has only been amplified by the government's response to this event. Furthermore, I think one can be assured that Piñera's efforts at neoliberalization or "securitization," if they come to fruition, will be met with a great deal of resistance. Ultimately, it's still too early to tell, but despite the devastation, chaos, and violence in some parts of the country, the compassion and support seen in the rest does give hope for what is yet to come.
(Both pictures taken in Valpo, March 2010. First is a micro, second is a scene from the PCUV relief effort.)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Article on Lula and the Upcoming Brazilian Elections; Checking In Again (Briefly)

My most recent article for NACLA, "Brazil Faces Its Post-Lula Future" is now up on their website. I encourage you, of course, to check it out.

Needless to say, it's not easy to sum up the past eight years in Brazil under Lula's leadership, his complex relationship (to say the least!) with the Brazilian left, the nation's emerging role on the global stage, and the two leading candidates in the upcoming elections, in under 2,000 words. Nevertheless, the lesson to be taken from his presidency, and from what we've seen so far under Obama as well, is this: for true progressive and fundamental change to radically reshape society along more just and equitable lines, one cannot rely on political leaders alone.

There's much more to say, but it will have to be saved for another day. As for now I'm gettting ready to go back into Valpo- I apologize for the lack of reporting on the earthquake, as you can imagine it has been a rather surreal couple of days. I'm still trying to sort everything out that's been going on these past couple of days before I write more on the subject. My friend Rose Costello has some pics and commentary from Santiago, as does political scientist Robert Funk, and The Clinic and The Mostrador are two great sources of Spanish-language reporting down here. More on this to come shortly...

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Earthquake Update from Chile

A massive earthquake just struck the south of Chile, affecting nearly the entire country. I'm fine, a bit shaken however, and am safe and sound over at the girlfriend's house about 15km inland.

At about 3:30 am local time, the ground started shaking as such that I thought it was just a minor tremor (which is fairly commonplace here), but quickly realized that it was much more powerful than that and was able to get to a safer part of my apartment. No serious damage done to the apartment, but some broken glass and the place is a mess.

As I was walking down to catch a micro (the local bus) to take to the polola's house, I was struck by the surreal normalcy of the city- people still seemed to be going about their business as normal, but conspicuously quieter and less dynamic than usual. I'm impressed by the efforts thus far not only by the rescue squads and such, but even the normal everyday citizens, such as the transportation drivers, continuing as usual.

On the whole, I didn't see too much serious damage in Valpo, mostly some busted glass, toppled street lights, broken siding, and a few people camping in the streets. Elsewhere the situation is not so fortunate: in nearby Viña, there are five confirmed deaths, and damage is worse farther inland in Santiago and Rancagua, where there have been several buildings collapsed. The worst has been of course concentrated in the south near the epicenter- Concepción and other nearby cities have been hit pretty hard, and lots of infrastructure has been wrecked.

From what I've seen so far, the epicenter was an 8.8 magnitude quake, which makes it one of the most powerful recorded in history. Where I am in Valpo recorded between a 6 and a 7, and there were at least 6 aftershocks of 6.0 or higher. So far, 122 deaths have been confirmed. This is all the more extraordinary considering that the quake that devastated Haiti was about a 7.

More up-to-date information can be seen at El Mercurio Online and The BBC.

Why does all the action in Indiana have to happen while I'm away?!?

As anyone who has had the conversation with me surely knows, anytime I get talking about Indianapolis (where I just spent four formative years of my life at university), I point out my biggest complaint about the city is that it doesn't really have any personality or character of its own. Instead, it's just kind of stuck in between everything: it's too big to be "mid-sized" and too suburban to be "big," it's not dynamic enough for jet-setters and go-getters, nor laid-back enough for bohemians and artists, and it's smack dab in between Chicago, Columbus, St. Louis, and Louisville. (Indeed, I know very few people who actually claim they're from Indy... Even amongst people who've lived there quite a while, they generally resist attaching themselves to the city, instead claiming "Chicago," "The Region," "St. Louis," or if they're a Hoosier [myself included] it's whatever town they were born in. Most people that live in Indy, it seems, is by default rather than by choice...)

Now, this is fine if you want to run a trucking company or open a new chain of family dining establishments, BUT (and this brings me to the point in conversation that I inevitably get to), if you want to see nationally-recognized music artists... Well, it makes things a bit more difficult. Instead, most "big" names (all things being relative, speaking as a fan of so-called "indie music") stick to Chicago, while the up-and-comers usually go to the quintessential college town Bloomington to the south. Louisville and Columbus both also have pretty well-established local scenes, which is also a testament to their major campus presences as well (which is another key factor missing in the Indy equation...).

And so, after having just returned from a 3-day trip to the Chilean countryside in Cajón del Maipo (where I noticed an astonishing amount of Piñera paraphernalia, which all makes sense considering General Pinochet owned a guest home there...), why am I talking about Indianapolis?

Well, after sitting down at my computer after a brief absence and pulling up my email, the first page I pulled up was Pitchfork.com (and feel free to interpret what this says about me however you please...) and the news headline was regarding a new single from one of my favorite bands in the world, Titus Andronicus. And, most importantly, not only are they announcing a massive tour that includes numerous *free* in-store performances across the US, Indy-freaking-anapolis is one of the stops, AND they're even looking for places to crash for the night!

I did have the good fortune to be one of (I'm being generous) the five people who caught them at an in-store at Luna Music the last time they were in town (and I think the only person not behind the counter that was there specifically to see them play...) and, needless to say, they were spectacular. And they're also the only lo-fi indie punk band that I can think of that exudes such a gloriously-epic character and can pull off references to obscure Shakespearean tragedies, "Seinfeld," Albert Camus, and the (American) Civil War. If you're not the least bit interested or aroused by now, then you're probably not a very close friend of mine or should at least stick to reading my posts on politics...

And so, with all that being said:


P.S.- One final important note: all my "criticism" of where I come from is dashed with a hearty helping of love. Indianapolis does at the very least try to define itself, primarily as a top-rate sports destination, though I wish there was more of a focus on my beloved Butler Bulldogs, and their most popular pro sports team was stolen in the middle of the night...

But seriously, there are a lot of great things about the city outside of the rather limited appeal that sports can have, including a tremendous art museum, great neighborhoods in Broad Ripple, Mass Ave, and Irvington, and, of course, a tenacious local music scene that includes great venues such as The Melody Inn and The Emerson Theatre.

P.S.S.- Did I really go this entire time w/o saying "Nap Town"???

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"Pink Houses"

John Mellencamp as the next Senator of Indiana? Ugh I certainly hope not... I have a ton of respect for "The Nation" and John Nichols in general, but this has to be one of the sillier political articles I've read in a while...

(Photo taken in Valpo, Feb. 2010)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Just Returned from Santiasco; and Justice, Impotance, and Crimes Against Humanity

Spent the past weekend in the nation's capital. Didn't have as much time to visit museums as I'd liked, but with Santiago only being about an hour and a half away (via bus), I'll have plenty of chances to go back.

I did have the chance to find out why it's called "Santiasco." It's not that it's actually disgusting, but it's just generally a pretty underwhelming city. Not in size by any means mind you, Santiago is massive: a population ~6 million people, though with it being February an estimated 2 million Santiguinos are out of town on vacation. But it is, to be quite frank, rather bland and uninteresting for what one would expect from the social and political center of the nation. Obviously, there are plenty of things to do and see, but it really just doesn't have much character of its own, like a Buenos Aires or Madrid (to name two Hispanic cities that I'm familiar with). Lots of malls, smog, and Las Condes, an upper-class suburban neighborhood community who could be regarded as the base of the Chilean right and president-elect Piñera. Yuck.

Valpo on the other hand is another story. Literally, whereas Santiago's draws are the museums and parks and restaurants and such that you go to a city of its size to enjoy (and seek to spend as little time as possible getting from point A to B!), Valpo is the complete opposite: it's bursting with character and is a spectacular city to wander and get lost in, but it really doesn't have much to offer in the way of things to "do" (most of those kinds of things are located instead in nearby Viña). I love it here, and after being in Santiago for a few days I was longing to come back.

One thing that did strike me while in Santiago is the number of museums and sites dedicated to the victims of Pinochet's torture regime. I had the opportunity to visit the Parque por la Paz at the former site of Villa Grimaldi, one of the most notorious detention centers during the 70s and 80s and where thousands of political dissidents lost their lives.

What's so striking to me is that a number of them opened only a handful of years after democracy took hold and while still on the cusp of that military government and of course, long before any real attempts at holding any of the torturers, murderers, and other-human-rights violators accountable for their crimes (which of course has yet to happen at all on a broad scale, and is almost certainly unlikely to ever happen). Pinochet in fact would have still been serving on his self-appointed Senate seat, which he held until 1998, at the time that the Parque por la Paz opened in 1994.

I believe it is remarkable that these gestures can be made, even by the state itself, in the absence of any real attempts, or even discussion of an attempt, at exacting justice and holding these men and women accountable for their crimes against humanity. Even outside of the torture, rape, murder, and kidnappings, the Pinochet regime was even so bold as to track down and assassinate opponents on foreign soil, including the notorious car bombing of Orlando Letelier in Washington, DC.

Of course, there is a significant discourse about what exactly it means to "hold the wrongdoers accountable" and what the implications are under such circumstances, especially when democracy is still so fragile in the years immediately after the dictatorship is over. But the fact of the matter is that in the Chilean case, and in so many other of these situations where severe human rights abuses are acknowledged but their perpetrators left unaccountable, it was never truly a matter of "the justice" of such actions. Instead, as my girlfriend says, having several family members who were imprisoned and tortured under Pinochet for their nonviolent political activities and beliefs, it's a matter of "la impotencia" to even consider legal accountability for these crimes.

Again, this is why Piñera’s election is so important for Chile. So much of media coverage, especially at the international level and by corporate interests, is focused on the narrative of the “progress” that Chile has made now that it can elect a right-wing president. But what progress is it when that President had close ties to the dictatorial regime and may be returning these same criminals back to power?

And of course the same can be said here in the United States in the wake of the torture, repression, and extrajudicial killings perpetrated by the Bush regime. Former Vice President Cheney was just on national television last week (crawling out of his lair to be on ABC News, mind you, not FOX), boasting about his support of and authorization of the US government’s use of waterboarding, one of the common methods of torture employed by the Chilean secret police at Villa Grimaldi. I recall a conversation I had with Boston University professor and author Andrew Bacevich before he spoke at Butler last spring on this very issue of holding the Bush Administration officials guilty of these transgressions accountable. I was trying to make the point that having a legal inquiry into what happened is essential for reestablishing the legal precedent against these actions (considering there already is a significant body of international and US legal writings regarding waterboarding as a torture method and the illegality of such methods) and preventing these crimes from happening again, while Dr. Bacevich, an ardent critic of the Bush Administration, argued the point that it was simply not politically feasible nor prudent to pursue such a course. Be sure to note that neither of us got around to the issue of “justice,” for it so often is merely a secondary issue to the “practicality” of criminal proceedings, if it is even considered at all.

But what really is to be said about the “impracticality” of these measures where in Chile a democratic government has been established for 20 years, and in the United States we are supposedly the most exemplary “democracy” in the Western Hemisphere, if not the world? Per Slavoj Zizek, we don’t actually believe in such things as “justice” and “democracy” and “human rights,” but instead we believe that we believe in these values. And here it's also worth recalling that much of the discourse in the mainstream media in the United States on the issue of waterboarding didn’t merely focus on whether or not waterboarding was in fact torture or not, but on whether or not “torture” in and of itself should be completely ruled out for use against terrorists!

Of course, part of the reason that states won't have these investigations, or when they do they are such toothless examinations as the ongoing UK invesigation regarding the leadup to the Iraq War, is because the responsibility lies with too many of those still in power. This is especially true here in the US, where so much of the political elite is so established that the US still refuses to join the International Criminal Court out of fear that people in Washington may actually be held accountable for their actions, and even the "progressive" Obama Administration still continues to carry out shady Bush-era tactics such as indefinite detention and extraordinary renditions (a brief scan of Glenn Greenwald's superb blog can quickly bring one up to speed on this). One might even make the case that all nation-states have at least some blood on their hands. But again, this should only further call into question the legitimacy of our political authorities and of the state itself, and we should not be afraid to ask these questions if we truly think we believe in "justice," "democracy," and "human rights."

In other news, later this week I'll be going to Cajón del Maipo, a forested area about an hour SE of Santiago that's a popular place to camp and go rafting and such. Definitely looking forward to it. In the meantime I'll be posting my most recent NACLA article and try to get some posts in before I take off.

Friday, February 19, 2010

"Apaga la tele, vive tu vida"

A Bit of Background and Context on Current Chilean Politics

I think it's only appropriate to use my first substantive post for some commentary and background on the current political situation here in Chile into which I’ve arrived. This is indeed an interesting time for this country, who just this past January concluded their presidential elections, with the conservative billionaire Sebastián Piñera defeating the center-left candidate Eduardo Frei in the runoff.

Now, within most political contexts (at least, I suppose, that we in the North or other parts of Latin America are accustomed to), this would seem rather banal. For Chile however, Piñera's victory is quite significant on a variety of levels.

Firstly and perhaps most importantly, the election of Sebastián Piñera signals an official end to the nearly two decades of continuous leadership by the center-left coalition known as the Concertación. In fact only a handful, indeed if any, political organizations in the world have had as much success at effectively leading a democratic state as the Concertación. Over the past 20 years, Chile has established itself as arguably the most stable, peaceful, and best-functioning nation in the region. This is a remarkable feat in and of itself, but especially so considering the extreme challenges posed the historical and geographic conditions of South America that undermine the ability to run a functioning, let alone democratic state, and a quick look around at Chile's neighbors illustrates just how difficult this is.

Of course, Chile is not immune from some of the same problems as its neighbors. There is a substantial income inequality gap between the wealthiest of society and the poorest; infrastructure definitely lags behind European or North American standards; and other, though perhaps less “official,” indicators of underdevelopment, such as just the sheer number of stray dogs living on the streets here in Valpo (it’s quite remarkable!), suggest that Chile faces these same challenges as well.

But it is also clear that Chile ranks at or near the top of Latin America in not only most of the social and economic ranking systems, but many of the political indices as well, such as Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index and The Economist’s Democracy Index. From 1990, since just before the Concertación came to power, until 2006, the poverty rate was reduced from nearly 40% of the population down to just 13%. And significant progress in these areas has been made under current President Michelle Bachelet, who actually defeated Piñera back in 2005 and whose popularity and approval ratings are amongst the highest in the world.

And these high degrees of socio-economic and democratic political development under the Concertación are most remarkable considering that they came immediately in the wake of 26 years of the right-wing dictatorial regime of Augusto Pinochet, who with the support of the United States ran one of the most notorious governments in Latin America. Much credit should then be afforded to Concertación leadership for stabilizing democracy and development amidst these turbulent conditions (though the role of the Chilean people themselves and civil society cannot be discounted either).

This of course leads into the second significant point to be made about Piñera’s victory, which is that it is the first return to power by the right in Chile since Pinochet stepped down. While I don’t particularly agree with some of the “Piñera = Facha [Fascist]” sentiments expressed down here, there are indeed some troubling right-wing connections for Piñera that betray his carefully-cultivated mainstream image. Piñera’s own brother was a high-ranking minister in Pinochet’s government and several of his top aides and political allies have close ties to dictatorial regime and the reactionary Catholic sect Opus Dei. Piñera himself also amassed his personal fortune under Pinochet’s neoliberal “shock therapy.”

Some may say that this is merely what is to be expected in politics, especially in a context where extremists held power for so long, that whichever candidate from the Chilean right who came to power would have some “dirty hands,” so to say. Can’t we just move on? Or better yet, perhaps this can in fact serve as evidence that Chile can finally or actually has in fact “moved on” from its unsavory past? Here however I would have to disagree, and instead assert that if this is the case that it is in fact more emblematic of a deeper ethical problem as opposed to evidence of “progress.” Complacency with regards to our political leaders’ shady connections suggests a normalization and/or acceptance of these poor characteristics that we should instead be trying our best avoid, and in the case of Chile perhaps this is even some semblance of a “return” to this state. These questions also altogether avoid any discussion of justice, as very little responsibility was ever truly meted out for the crimes and abuses of power perpetrated under the coup regime. As such, Piñera’s victory is for many Chileans not only a troubling rebirth for many of the same shareholders of power from the Pinochet era, but the calls for “moving on” and “change” are indeed also a slap in the face to those who still bear the physical and emotional scars of a nightmare that wasn’t all that long ago.

Going back to Piñera himself, in his attempts to distance himself from Pinochet’s legacy he may instead be molding himself into a more refined version after another unpleasant figure on the right, Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi. Chilean friends of mine are incredulous of the billionaire’s attempts to self-identify as “middle-class” despite owning key stakes in one of Chile’s top soccer clubs and its national airline. Piñera has also already come under intense criticism for cashing in to the tune of millions after wrapping up his victory. And just last week I was fortunate enough (if one so wishes to call it that I suppose…) to witness the bizarre “spectacle” of his cabinet appointment ceremony, in which he personally handed out flash drives with all of his “goals” and “ambitions” to each of his new team members on national TV. (As I remarked to a friend, “You better believe that Mitt Romney is taking notes on this as we speak!”)

And so, in so many words, this is the political situation that I am stepping into here in Chile. As for actual analysis of the election itself, political scientist Robert Funk has been invaluable: the general message however has been that this election result, despite efforts by favorable allies in the mainstream media to depict it as otherwise, was not so much a ‘victory’ by Piñera as it was a ‘loss’ by the Concertación, whose complacency, poor campaign management, and a tepid candidate spelled an end to its own rule. Hence, in a way, the coalition was a victim of its own success, yet it may also be seen as taking a fall for a recent slump in performance indicators that may or may not be linked to the global economic downturn.

As always, there is much more to say, but I will save it for another day. How this situation plays out from here, both in terms of how Piñera will govern (most analysts I’ve read thus far don’t expect much of a change, especially in terms of domestic policy; personally I see the recent developments in the regional politics as the most interesting area to watch as it offers the most potential for Piñera to define himself) and how the Chilean people will react to his rule (I am most interested in the divide between more traditional mainstream core of society and radical fringe elements and the tension between them). More to surely follow as things develop…

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Valparaíso, Chile, January 2010

For What It's Worth...

For those who are interested, here are some links to previous articles I have recently written for NACLA, the North American Congress on Latin America. NACLA is a progressive nonprofit organization based in the United States that does advocacy journalism on Latin America.

My first exposure to the organization came last summer while I was Seattle: browsing an independent bookstore, I came across their quarterly magazine, which for this particular issue was focusing on right-wing paramilitary activity in Colombia (a subject of particular interest to myself). Lately, I have been contributing articles to their website on a volunteer basis, and have found the organization to be an excellent resource that I'm proud to be a small part of. (Any organization that prominently highlights glowing recommendations from Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn on their front page definitely gets a vote in my book!)

Here's my most recent article for them, an analysis of the Honduran elections and it's regional implications- An Electoral Defeat for Democracy: The Regional Implications of the Honduran Vote

Another article regarding the events in Honduras from last fall, regarding the use of Colombian paras by the Honduran elites and coup regime: The Plot Thickens: Honduran Coup Regime and Landowning Elites Enlist the Support of Foreign Paramilitaries

Additionally, I wrote a piece on the subject of the Dominican Republic's recent overhaul of its constitution, a matter which recieved very little mainstream coverage: A Giant Step Backwards: The Dominican Republic Reforms Its Constitution

I will shortly be contributing an article previewing the upcoming Brazilian elections, and will be providing the appropriate links to that as well.

Monday, February 15, 2010

"Just Chillin"

Taken in Valparaíso, Chile, January 29, 2010.

Inaugural Post

Having arrived here in Chile just a little over two weeks ago and having settled in a bit, I feel it's now an appropriate time to get this project, "Hoosier Gringo," up and running. Accordingly, I'd like to establish a little background about myself and what I seek to accomplish with this blog:

Last year I graduated from Butler University (in Indianapolis, IN) where I majored in Political Science and Spanish, with an additional minor in Philosophy. During this time, I became interested in Latin American politics and US-Latin American relations. Beyond these areas, I also have a broad range of interests with regards to political theory and political philosophy which I seek to explore here on this blog, and perhaps better define for myself with respect to my academic future. Among my longer-term goals for myself is the desire to pursue graduate studies in Political Science, International Relations, or a related field.

At minimum, my goal for this blog is for it to be an outlet for my creative and intellectual energies so that I can keep them sharp in this time spent living abroad and out of school. Beyond that, it's also my aspiration to regularly contribute relevant and interesting insights on the US and Latin American political experience, and the norms and theoretical underpinnings that both underlie and transcend this realm, as seen through the eyes of a small-town Indiana farmboy living in Latin America with a cosmopolitan perspective on the 21st Century.

The name "Hoosier Gringo" came to me rather spontaneously, though I feel it pretty adequately reflects who and what I am and what the focus of this blog will be. Additionally, and indeed more importantly I believe, I think it also gives a sense of the importance I see in acknowledging and respecting one's own personal background, while also reaching out and connecting with others in the world at large in solidarity.

These themes and ideas, among others, will be the source of inspiration for my future posts. Enjoy!