Why Hillary Should Be President – Human Trafficking and Global Criminal Networks

On September, 23, 2003, Senator Hillary Clinton was interviewed for the great PBS program Wide Angle on the topic of human trafficking (2003, folks, that was 5 years ago, ok… and yes, that was the year of the beginning of the war in Iraq but that was not the only thing going on in the world. I, for one, am glad somebody was paying attention to these other crucial issues even though I disagree with her – heck, ANYONE’s vote for the war). Let me excerpt a few chosen quote (full transcript at the link above, so YES, I’m picking and choosing).

Hillary Clinton: Well. Jamie, the fact that this is a modern-day form of slavery was shocking to me. When I realized, because of my travels and exposure as First Lady, how prevalent it was, I determined that we should do something about it. I went to Beijing to the UN Conference on Women in September of 1995, and spoke out against a long series of abuses that were human rights violations of women’s rights and among those, of course, was trafficking. And then, in the time after the conference, when it did become an item that was of higher interest on the national and international agenda, we followed up. In 1996, I went with my husband to Thailand for a state visit. I went to the north where I met with NGOs [nongovernmental organizations], trying to help young girls who had been sold by their families into prostitution, trafficked into the brothels, mostly in Bangkok.

Jamie Rubin: So they were sex slaves, these girls.

Hillary Clinton: They were. They were 10, 11, 12 years old. I remember going to a hospice and meeting a 12-year-old girl who had become very sick because of AIDS, had been thrown out of the brothel, had found her way back to her family, who didn’t want her, and ended up in this hospice for dying teenagers and adolescents. And both I and my staff, led by Melanne Verveer, who was responsible for the work on issues like this, began talking about it with everyone we could find in the White House and the State Department. In 1997, we began something called Vital Voices, and we brought together women from the former Soviet Union in Vienna. And what I found was that it was a huge problem, not just in a country in Asia, like Thailand, but also in Ukraine, Belarus, the former Soviet Union. And then the administration, under my husband’s leadership and under Secretary Albright’s leadership, really made this a high priority, which led to our involvement in international conferences with the Secretary of State, the President, and other high officials, raising this with governments around the world.”

But but but… as First Lady, all she did was organize tea parties!! You know what? That’s what I call leadership, damn it (Disclaimer: I know such an interview will be full of self-serving statements but the very fact that she knows what she is talking about is evident… below, you’ll find my own writing on the subject… she hits all the crucial points in this!).

Note to trolls: yes, 1996 was also the year she traveled to Bosnia… no it’s not inconsistent… a year has 365 days, so you can actually go to different places in one year (I know, ain’t that incredible??).

And here is one for the skeptic feminists:

“When Madeline Albright became Secretary of State — after the announcement and when she was confirmed — I went over to the State Department. And we had a joint meeting where we talked about women’s rights as being really important to American foreign policy — and not as some kind of marginal luxury that maybe when we didn’t have something better to think about we could worry about. Because where women have rights, as we have found in Afghanistan, and in many other parts of the world, the countries are more likely to be stable, they are more likely to be pro-democracy.”

YES, I want a President who understands the gendered nature of social issues such as trafficking. Human trafficking sounds gender neutral but the reality is that criminal networks are masculine organization. The victims of human trafficking are largely women. It is absurd to design policies that are gender neutral when the targeted population “just happens” to belong to one gender: women. So what did Hillary do exactly? In the interview, she emphasizes that during WJC’s administration she did NOT work on the law enforcement side of things. Instead, she started the Vital Voices initiative after Beijing (you can read about their accomplishments – and recognition of HRC’s leadership) at their website, but the general goal is to raise awareness.

And here again, Hillary shows, to someone like me who constantly writes and works on globalization, that she’s got the more detailed, nuanced and consistent view of the phenomenon:

“It’s the dark underbelly of globalization. Now that we can move goods and people with such ease all over the world, it is very hard to know what it is that we are transporting, where it’s supposed to end up. This is true for human beings, it’s true for drugs, it’s true for weapons, it’s true for terrorism, it is something we have to come to grips with. I think we should be looking at trafficking, not only as an evil, in and of itself, that the world has to combat, but as part of some of the problems that we face because of globalization. Who would have thought, before September 11th, that hijackers could use credit cards, modern commercial airplanes, and box cutters to wreak such havoc? I really think it’s time for the world community to come together internationally and start setting out rules for the 21st century.”

Here again, this is a horribly long post, so, most of it is below the fold but I am trying to convey here that here is someone who, again, displays leadership where, in my view, it matters: on problems that have global ramifications. She does so with passion and intelligence (huh? Who knew you could have both?), approaches the issue of trafficking with compassion without losing sight of the national / global policy implications.

To paraphrase the song, the world needs Hillary.

Continue reading

The Tragedy of Congo’s Displaced People

What is currently going on in the Congo is a massive humanitarian tragedy that photographer Susan Schulman, on assignment for the UN Refugee Agency and UN World Food Program, has managed to capture in stunning photos that are the subject of an exhibit. Some of them are reproduced in the Guardian (here and here). The Guardian also provides a useful primer on the war in the Congo, a conflict that kills 45,000 every month, in almost complete global invisibility.

IMF to Redistribute Votes

It has been in the works for a long time and it is long overdue, via the BBC,

“The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has backed plans to redistribute voting power in the organisation. It has recommended changes which would base the power of each of the IMF’s 185 member countries on the size of their economy, reserves and trade. The US has expressed reservations about the move but said that it would support it because it represented progress. However poorer nations and charities have said the plans, which must still be ratified, do not go far enough. IMF members have spent more than a year negotiating the changes – which would move some sway away from traditional industrial powers including the US, the UK and Germany – to the faster-growing emerging and developing economies. China, India, South Korea, Mexico and Brazil are among those that will see their voting power increase. However, under the proposal the likes of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Russia, Iran and Argentina would lose influence and all five countries either voted against the plans or abstained from voting. Final decisions will be made after the IMF’s spring meeting next month.”

It is unclear at this point whether this is going to significantly change the dynamics within this institution. For instance, will this affect the enormous voting weight held by the United States and countries of the European Union at the expenses of poorer countries, a big bone of contention at the IMF. Whether this will change the policies in place there and reduce the level of hostility from the Global South is another matter. It remains to be seen whether this reshuffling of voting rights is more cosmetic than substantial.

US Private Military Contractors Recruit in Africa


“Namibia’s independence war ended nearly 20 years ago, but the experience gained by many soldiers during the conflict has made the country a fertile hunting ground for private security companies seeking recruits for the world’s 21st century wars.”

Like many African countries that have experienced civil wars since their independence, Namibia found itself with an oversupply of men whose only marketable skills were tied to guerilla warfare. So, when an American private military company came to recruit, it was a golden opportunities for many of them, especially considering Namibia’s 35% unemployment rate.

Private military companies are facing recruitment issues in the United States so, they have now turned their attention to recruiting Third-Country Nationals (TCNs) to staff their missions in Afghanistan and Iraq (sometimes without telling their recruits that that’s where they will be going). Currently, there are about 155,000 private military contractors in Iraq, and about 30% of them are TCNs. We already know that their presence there is controversial, as illustrated by multiples incidents and practices (See Blackwater). But of course, TCNs have several attractive qualities:

“The growth of the private security industry is increasingly targetting developing countries where many TCNs have valuable conflict experience, said Doug Brooks, president of the International Peace Operations Association, a Washington DC-based trading group for private security companies.

“They have some knowledge about risk mitigation, and about what is risky in a war zone. Most people in the world don’t know what this is. People in Africa do. I mean a lot of people have been in these areas and they have this amazing amount of experience they bring to their jobs,” Brooks said.

Hiring personnel from Africa also has another attraction. “They tend to be much cheaper than Americans or Westerners – maybe by a factor of 5 or 6,” Brooks told IRIN. “Should the US government only hire Americans to do these jobs, the costs would be just insane.” What is inexpensive by Western standards can be a pay bonanza in Africa and other developing countries. In Namibia, word of mouth spread that the security jobs in Iraq and Afghanistan would pay about US$550 per month, or about 10 times the monthly wage of a local security guard.”

So, TCNs can be used to take more risks, they might have gained their experience with warlords of more or less dubious reputation, and they are cheap. I also love the name of that lobbying group of private military companies; the reference to peace is quite touching. But, if you listen to the industry, it is all good for such countries and can contribute to their development. It’s a win-win situation.

These recruitments have of course been controversial, especially for local human rights groups. As mentioned, recruits may not have access to the media and know what is going on in Afghanistan and Iraq and may not be told that these will be the terrains of their missions. Moreover,

“”We’ve seen a lot of third country nationals where their passports are taken, or where they were delivered to a place to work which was different to what they were promised,” said Erica Razook, legal fellow at Amnesty International USA’s Business and Human Rights Unit. Rights groups told IRIN that some TCNs effectively work in conditions of “indentured servitude,” in which they sign employment contracts that last for three to five years, “but spend their first year just paying off travel expenses,” Razook said.”

And then, there is the general issue of oversight and legal training. The recruits may have come from militia, paramilitary groups, insurgency groups. They probably do not have any sense of Geneva convention and other legal frameworks that apply to combat zone and the treatment of prisoners and civilians. We already know it is a major issue with military contractors, even when they come from Western countries and are supposed to know better. And the question is raised as to whether these recruiting practices violate the International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries

Of course, private military companies do NOT like to be likened or compared to mercenaries. They want a more professional standing and reputation. But in the case of Namibia, the government fought back:

“In terms of Article 4 (8) (b) of the Constitution, Namibians are not allowed to get involved in the military or security forces of other countries without the written permission of the Namibian government. The Defence Act of 2002 criminalises the involvement of Namibians in the military, reserve or any auxiliary force of any country without the written permission of the defence minister as an offence punishable with a fine, prison service or both.”

What is the Namibian government afraid of? That when these men are dismissed from their PMC contracts, they will come back home, maybe with more money, but not exactly different skills than what they had when they left. They might still present a security risk to their own countries.

Suggested readings:

Killing Fields Photographer Dith Pran Is Dead

Via the Guardian,

“The Cambodian photographer whose life story under the brutal Khmer Rouge regime was recreated in the film The Killing Fields has died in New Jersey. Dith Pran, 65, had been ill with pancreatic cancer.

His death was announced yesterday by Sydney Schanberg, a former New York Times correspondent who worked with Pran in the early 1970s covering the rise of Pol Pot and Cambodia’s civil war.

“Pran was a true reporter, a fighter for the truth and for his people,” Schanberg told the Associated Press.”

The ending of one of the most powerful movies ever made: The Killing Fields.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/qlMfDnsnDvQ" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Catholics No Longer Number One

Via Le Nouvel Observateur, not only that, but the number one are now the Muslims… ouch, that’s a gotta hurt. I mean, they keep electing reactionary popes and they get passed anyway by another reactionary religion. For the specific data, it looks like in 2006 (last data year), Muslims represent roughly 19% of the world population whereas Catholics are 17%. Globally, the size of the Catholic population is stable but that of the Muslim population is increasing thanks to higher fertility. Damn, it’s all these nasty Western feminists’ fault what with their right to choose!

Paying for Services Provided by the Biosphere – Finally

Via the Independent,

Guyana“A deal has been agreed that will place a financial value on rainforests – paying, for the first time, for their upkeep as “utilities” that provide vital services such as rainfall generation, carbon storage and climate regulation.

The agreement, to be announced tomorrow in New York, will secure the future of one million acres of pristine rainforest in Guyana, the first move of its kind, and will open the way for financial markets to play a key role in safeguarding the fate of the world’s forests. The initiative follows Guyana’s extraordinary offer, revealed in The Independent in November, to place its entire standing forest under the protection of a British-led international body in return for development aid.”

It is something that is persistently ignored: when when manufacturers produce goods and when we pay for their consumption, the production and consumption price tags never include the services that the biosphere provides, free of charge. We should pay for such services. If we had to pay for the full cost of our consumer goods (and that would include the services that our governments already provide), everything would cost much more. The only way we can sustain our levels of consumption with stagnating income is because the biosphere subsidizes us. Let’s us never forget that. Or, as Hylton Murray-Philipson, director of the London-based financiers Canopy Capital, who sealed the deal with the Iwokrama rainforest, said

“How can it be that Google’s services are worth billions but those from all the world’s rainforests amount to nothing?”

Indeed. There is finally global recognition that deforestation is the number 2 cause in global climate change and last year’s Bali conference issued a call to protect the world’s remaining rainforests. But why Guyana?

“Guyana, sandwiched between the Latin American giants Venezuela and Brazil, is home to fewer than amillion people but 80 per cent of its land is covered by an intact rainforest larger than England. The Guiana Shield is one of only four intact rainforests left on the planet and at its heart lies the Iwokrama reserve, gifted to the Commonwealth in 1989 as a laboratory for pioneering conservation projects. Iwokrama, which means “place of refuge” in the Makushi language, is home to some of the world’s most endangered species including jaguar, giant river otter, anaconda and giant anteater. Guyana’s President Bharrat Jagdeo, a former economist, has appealed for state and private sector help for the country to avoid succumbing to the rampant deforestation currently blighting Brazil and Indonesia, in an effort to raise living standards in one of Latin America’s poorest countries.”

In other words, he is resisting the pressure from multilateral institutions to exercise his country’s comparative advantage: privatize logging and let the market work its magic. Instead, he is invoking another comparative advantage: get paid for the services already provided by the rainforest. This is the Global Canopy Programme approach and it is worth expanding.

Sick Story of the Day

I am not an animal rights activist but this really turns my stomach, via the Guardian,

“Chaining up a dog and forcing it to go without food and water in the name of art is a surefire way of making yourself unpopular with animal lovers. (…) The Costa Rican has been called an animal abuser, killer and worse over claims that a stray dog called Natividad died of starvation after he displayed it at an exhibition last year at the Códice Gallery in Managua, Nicaragua. Vargas tethered the animal without food and water under the words ‘Eres Lo Que Lees’ – ‘You Are What You Read’ – made out of dog biscuits while he played the Sandinista anthem backwards and set 175 pieces of crack cocaine alight in a massive incense burner. More than a million people have signed an online petition urging organisers of this year’s event to stop Vargas taking part.”

So, no one seeing the exhibition thought of liberating the dog? Oh and the “artist” (if you can call him that) says he’s received dozens of death threats… really? The gallery owners deny that the dog was starved and say it has escaped, so no one knows what’s happened to it.

Why Hillary Should Be President – Untold Stories

This is the first in a (hopefully) collaborative series: WHSBP (title and series idea courtesy of Lambert Strether of Corrente, my second blogging residence, and a nice one too!) to counterbalance the Other Series (WWTSBQ). This series outlines issues on which Hillary Clinton was ahead of the curve, starting with microcredit. I have posted consistently on microcredit (here, here and here) but it is one obvious issue where HRC got it before everyone else.

This is actually one of the things that surprised me when I read Muhammad Yunus’s book, Banker to the Poor.

“It was not until the mid-1980s that people in the United States began showing real interest in applying Grameen principles to their own poverty problems. I supposed it all began in 1985, when Bill Clinton, then governor of Arkansas, was looking for ways to create new economic opportunities for the low-income people in his state. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s college roommate, Jan Percy, had just returned from working in Bangladesh with an American organization and was at the South Shore Bank in Chicago. She introduced the Clintons to Ron Grzywinski and Mary Houghton, Chicago-area bankers who had done much to convince the Ford Foundation to support Grameen.” (176)

So, the four of them Bill and Hillary Clinton, Ron Grzywinski and Mary Houghton started meeting, according to Yunus, to design the plans for a bank that would provide microloans to the poor in Arkansas. The Clintons also invited Yunus and as he writes

“As I spoke, both the governor and his wife were drawn into my story. After half an hour, Mrs Clinton declared, “We want it. Can we have it in Arkansas?” (…) Hillary Rodham Clinton’s support for the Grameen idea has never diminished. She visited us in Bangladesh in April 1995 and she has visited microcredit programs on three different continents. She also co-chaired the Microcredit Summit in 1997.” (176)

Yunus then goes on to describe the details of putting together what is now the Southern Good Faith Fund, developed in partnership with South Shore Bank (check out their website if you are interested in socially responsible investments).

However, this is the Clintons we are talking about, so, there was no chance they would be taken seriously by the cool kids. As Yunus describes,

“During a 1992 interview with the editors of Rolling Stone magazine, [Bill] Clinton spoke particularly fondly of Grameen. In a separate article, two of the editors ridiculed him for being too ready to promote micro-credit in the United States. I was disappointed, but an American Friend explained that Rolling Stone’s reaction was hardly surprising. He argued that Grameen was a ‘Third World technology transfer’ and that the American elite might not be ready for it. Given the reluctance of Americans to adopt successful policies from countries as close to them as Canada, Germany or England, it would prove very difficult for Clinton to convince his fellow Americans to follow a Bengali model.”

And that is one lesson we have all already learned: the cool kids in the media and the Village elders hated the Clintons already for coming from Arkansas and mess up “their” place and pollute it with foreign ideas like universal health care and economic opportunities for the poor (and please, spare me the failure of health care reform and and “ending welfare as we know it”; in the first case the Clintons had to deal with the same disgusting media campaign HRC has to face now and in the second case, Clinton had to deal with the Gingrich Congress – a Congress that actually flexed its idiotic muscle against the President, what a concept).

Now one with a brain would suggest that micro-credit is THE ultimate solution to solving global poverty, but it is one tool that can be used to do so alongside other policies. Yunus himself never stated that his idea is the panacea. He is much too smart for that. However, this is what I care about when I think of experience in a presidential candidate. I want someone who is intellectual smart and curious (even if the cool kids, the Village elders and now the Big Boyz Bloggerz think it’s soooo 90s). I want someone with a clear pulse on our global world and has the wherewithal to get in touch with the right people to get things done in a decisive fashion.

Let’s not be distracted by stupid snipers stories. This is not what matters (“but SHE LIED!!!!” Fuck that). Let’s look at what really matters: she caught on the idea when it was new, in the mid-1980s and no one was really paying attention. She committed to it and still promotes it. Muhammad Yunus constantly mentions her.

That’s why, I think, Hillary should be President. Let’s tell the untold stories.

From the Dark Ages – India Edition

Via the BBC,

“Police in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh say they have arrested 17 villagers over the killing of a woman suspected of being a witch. The 40-year-old woman, Phool Kunwar, was dragged from her home on Monday night, beaten and burned with a hot iron, police say. The accused include three women. If found guilty, they face up to five years in prison. Social activists say such cases are common in India. Police say Ms Kunwar was beaten with sticks and sharp rods, burned with a hot iron and pushed into a burning pyre in the village of Dhawalpur. Junior police chief Rajeshwar Singh said she died of her injuries and was then buried.”

It is actually so bad that, in addition to murder and obstruction of justice charges, the accused faced special charges of making accusations of witchcraft. The state of Chhattisgarh has had to introduce such laws because of the number of assaults linked to accusation of witchcraft. And if it weren’t bad enough, there is this gem:

“One of the accused said she had done nothing wrong because she was instructed by a divine power to punish the woman for being a witch. Villagers are reported as saying that the trouble started after a woman in a trance during a religious ceremony stated that Ms Kunwar was a witch.”

Nothing like the power of dumb superstitions in crowds and all in a rural context, isolated from access to information regarding the rest of the world. That is the social context where such bad thinking festers. What is worse is that accusations of witchcraft are made by women who claim they have divine healing powers, but somehow, their patients don’t recover. It can’t be because they are quacks, of course, so, it’s gotta be because of the witches. It reminds me when skeptics offer to participate in seances and nothing happens, no spirit shows up because spirits can’t show up when there are skeptics in attendance. I guess quackery and its rationalizations are universal.

Bottom line, this state has seen 160 such cases last year, but that is probably a VERY conservative estimate because the families of the victims do not want to be ostracized if they speak up.

Sociologists in the News: Engineers and Terrorists

Via Context Crawler, sociologist Diego Gambetta gives an interview to the Independent as to why engineers are overrepresented in terrorist Islamist groups (in addition to being all men between 18-40). There are possible explanations but they are not entirely satisfactory:

“Everyone’s first reaction is that they are recruited for their technical proficiency, but there’s no evidence for this. Recruiters say they look for a personality profile rather than technical skills.

So we are left with two ideas: that certain social conditions affect engineers more than other graduates; and that certain unobservable traits attracting people more to radical Islamism are a little more frequent among engineers. My co-author Steffen Hertog and I think it’s a combination of these two things. With engineers in the Middle East we have intelligent students who found it difficult to find professional satisfaction in their ambition to help their countries develop, so they have endured relatively greater frustration than other graduates. The fact that you see no over-representation in Saudi Arabia where they have greater professional opportunities supports this view. But other graduates are equally represented among non-violent groups and even in Western countries and South East Asia, where labour market opportunities are better, engineers are more attracted to violence.”

That was actually one of the explanation proposed by Marc Sageman in Understanding Terror Networks. Ok, so, what are the alternative explanations?

“Something else is going on, and it might have something to do with personality traits. In the USA, engineers are seven times more likely to be right wing and religious, and in the 16 other countries we looked at it seems there are not more right wing and religious engineers individually. But when engineers have either of these traits, right wing or religious, they are more likely to have the other trait, too.

Piecemeal evidence suggests that traits such as a greater lack of tolerance of ambiguity, a belief that society can be made to work like a clock, and a dislike of democratic politics, are more frequent among engineers. The probability of a Muslim engineer becoming a violent Islamist remains minuscule but it’s still between two to four times greater than among other graduates.”

That’s more like it. Anyone familiar with PZ Myers blog, Pharyngula, knows that there are a lot of engineers within creationist ranks who specifically think in those terms. People who enjoy a liberal arts education that challenges them to question everything, authorities, traditions and mechanisms of power make right-wing conservatives and religious fundamentalists uncomfortable (too bad). We make a category mistake when we analyze Islamist groups separately from Christianists in the United States. They share the same mode of thinking and the same worldview.

Diego Gambetta’s paper (with Steffen Hertog) can be found here. I would also recommend books by Gambetta: