Pirates, Pirates, Everywhere

May 24, 2008


Yesterday, BBC News reported on the growing threat of piracy, noting a 10% increase in pirate attacks and calling attention to the continuing tensions along The Malacca Straits (a prime shipping channel off Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore that has been most vulnerable).

Yes, piracy is on the rise. But NOT in areas historically considered hotspots — contrary to the BBC News report. The Economist last month presented a more revealing and useful picture. Attacks along the notorious Malacca Straits have actually dropped considerably: from 38 in 2004 to 7 in 2007. Indonesian waters have witnessed a drop from 94 in 2004 to less than half: 43 in 2007. The Americas in general have declined as well, from 45 in 2004 to 21 in 2007. Overall, attacks on sea have decreased from 329 in 2004 to 263 in 2007. That’s a 25% drop.

What HAS grown exponentially in the past three years are attacks in African waters and areas that have been lumped together into a category called “rest of the world”. Somalia, for example, reported 31 attacks in 2007 compared to 2 in 2004. Oil-rich Nigeria reported 42 in 2007 compared to 28 in 2004. “Rest of the world” saw 25 attacks in 2007 vs. 14 three years prior. Stark contrast to what’s happening along the Malacca Straits.

Then there are acts of piracy and policing on the high seas of the internet, of course — but that’s a hugely complicated debate for another day.

The shifting patterns of sea piracy (and corresponding multinational interventions) are important to track accurately and specifically. Globalization and neoliberalism are dramatically rearranging the balances of power and distributions of wealth (and scarcities of wealth) around the world. We cannot keep looking at the same old places. We need to locate these issues in particular geographies and times.

Photo: willposh on flickr

NOT Stuff White People Like (or a Forum on Indigenous People We’ve Barely Heard About)

April 21, 2008

Evo MoralesIn the past month of writing on WordPress, I’ve noticed that a blog called “Stuff White People Like” always seems to top the list of popular blogs. I thought I’d break ranks and look at some stuff white people do not seem to like very much. As the Clinton-Obama media spectacle roars on and the papal smoke leaves our post-9/11 air, the 7th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues opened today with barely a whimper. Evo Morales (Bolivia’s first indigenous President) led the opening ceremony at UN Headquarters this morning, launching a two-week long discussion on the session’s special theme:

“Climate change, bio-cultural diversity and livelihoods: the stewardship role of indigenous peoples and new challenges.”

Climate Change. Sustainability. Hunger. These are timely issues, HOT topics. Stuff white people seem to like very much lately. But, from the perspective and for the benefit of Indigenous Peoples. Now this makes a huge difference. Would it still count as stuff white people like or care about? Looking at coverage on the major English-speaking news publications, apparently NOT. As I’m writing this entry, there have been only two (2) news mentions. One in BBC News (< clicking on this link is a waste of your time) titled “Capitalism Harms Planet – Morales” where Morales’ speech is basically reduced to a single quote: “If we want to save our planet earth, to save life, to save mankind, we have a duty to put an end to the capitalist system.” This seems so uninteresting to the reporter that she barely manages to write a halfway decent summary of Morales’ other points: “In a side swipe at Brazil, major manufacturers of the biofuel ethanol, he said some presidents were putting cars ahead of people.” Okay.

The second news mention appears in Reuters UK. Titled “Bolivia’s Morales says biofuels serious problem to poor”, it’s at least a better snapshot of the complex issues now facing Bolivia and indigenous peoples. The multinational push for biofuels is driving up food prices, climate change, and social unrest. The poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer, as policies and programs of the IMF and the World Bank widen the gaps. In standing for the poor and the indigenous, Morales now faces intensifying opposition from provinces that are seeking autonomy from his central government.

We read about wars, food riots, worker strikes, and government lockdowns and wonder what the world is coming to. We are seduced by talk of change from any stage, university or pulpit. We like to think we can teach “other people” better solutions. The pathetic news coverage of this forum is a clear indication of how much we really care. Maybe all we really care about is Stuff White People Like. I want to disagree. We need to listen, particularly to indigenous peoples who are losing everything. And give greater coverage to leaders who do not arrive in white robes on Shepherd One, but in everyday clothes of working people.

Links to background on Bolivia’s President Evo Morales: commondreams.org, democracynow.org, and a 9-minute video of Jon Stewart interviewing Morales on “The Daily Show” back in September 2007.

Olympic Protests Hint at a Global Revolution

April 7, 2008

Just as the IOC’s decision to host the XXIXth Olympic Games in Beijing signaled a massive shift in the global balance of power and capital, so has it pried open the floodgates of a transnational movement for revolutionary change. This is an unprecedented struggle for multiple worlds that has multiple authors, multiple constituents, multiple visions (not one world running on a neocon-neoliberal feeding tube; see my 3/28 post). This photo in today’s New York Times captures vividly the disjuncture between the old orders (represented by the vertical elements: gilded monument in the foreground and the Eiffel Tower in the background) and the bodies of the multitude (the horizontal socialscape of living and mobile people):


The protests in London and Paris that today extinguished the Olympic flame (for the first time since the torch relay began in the 1936 Nazi Games) are just one node in a larger constellation of contemporary, emerging forces. This constellation is vast, complex, and ever-changing, connecting the Zapatistas in Mexico, the poor in Thailand, the landless in Brazil, Sans Papiers in France, and countless unreported others. This constellation is radically different from the struggles of the American revolutionaries in 1776, the Paris Commune in 1871, the Hungarian uprising in 1956, the student revolutions in 1968. In “We Are Everywhere“:

“What is emerging now is a dialogue of a million voices which is building the first truly interconnected global uprising, an unprecedented transnational social revolution, a revolution made up of thousands of revolutions, not just one. A revolution that is not predetermined or predictable: not going around in circles but moving in every direction simultaneously. What we are witnessing now is actually a lot more like evolution, a work in progress that makes itself up as it goes along, constantly adapting to each others’ needs. An unprecedented global (r)evolution, is taking place and many of us don’t recognize it.

… As networks grow more connected, by webs and actions, wires and stories, many things will emerge that we, as mere neurons in the network, don’t expect, don’t understand, can’t control, and may not even perceive. The only way to understand an emergent system is to let it run, because no individual agent will ever be able to reveal the whole. The global movement of movements for life against money, for autonomy and dignity, for the dream of distributed direct democracy, are following an irresistible logic. It is a logic as old as the hills and the forests, an eco-logic, a bio-logic, the profound logic of life.”