The Chinese government has instituted a new anti-crime measure dubbed "sealed management." In less euphemistic terms, it's a handy new policy of effectively putting migrants on nighttime lockdown in their already decrepit villages. Though the targets of the policy are themselves Chinese, it's enforcement is reminiscent of some of the world's harshest immigration laws.
How has it worked in practice? Beijing officials have installed gates around migrant communities and forcibly locked the residents in from 11pm to 6am, all with the goal of reducing the city's hike in crime rates -- which the officials conveniently attribute to low-income civilians. Lest the padlocks and security cameras provide insufficient protection from the artificial enemy, the government has taken an additional cue from Jan Brewer: police patrol the gated neighborhoods at all hours to check the migrants' identification papers. Now there's xenophobia at its finest.
Only sixteen neighborhoods have been enclosed and locked down so far, but local officials are campaigning ardently to expand the system throughout the city. The ruling Communist Party has disseminated propaganda to portray the neighborhood compounds as a mutually beneficial social program (rather than, say, a thinly veiled quarantine of the poor):
"Closing up the village benefits everyone," read one banner which was put up when the first, permanent gated village was introduced in April.
"Eighty percent of the permanent residents applauded the practice," said Guo Ruifeng, deputy director of Laosanyu's village committee. He didn't say how many migrants approved, though they outnumber the locals by 7,000 to 700.
"Anyway, they should understand that it is all for their safety," he said. Guards only check papers if they see anything suspicious, he said.
"If they see anything suspicious?" But the assumption underlying the creation of the gated communities is that the migrants themselves are inherently suspicious -- and the police aren't likely to deviate from that deeply flawed rationale when choosing who to hassle. We've watched the descent down this slippery slope before, and it isn't pretty.
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
There's conflict brewing between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the ayatollahs in Iran -- and this time, the battleground is fashion.
It's hardly the first time the leaders of the Islamic Republic have embarked on a fatwa tirade against the perceived glitz and glamour of Western styles; but now a visible division of opinion regarding the legitimacy of the fatwas has appeared among Iran's leadership -- one that may leave a lasting fissure in its wake.
In this classic debate, the typically ultraconservative Ahmadinejad plays the part of the hip, chest hair-bearing nonconformist campaigning for more leniency and modernity in Iran's outlook on permissible appearance; opposite him, we have the old school, uptight enforcers played by Team Ayatollahs -- who relentlessly demand that every button be button and every hemline be lengthened. The two have disputed the propriety of rowdy hairstyles, unshaven countenances, and "badly veiled women" in the past. The former -- our surprisingly panache president Ahmadinejad -- has repeatedly declined to endorse the ayatollahs' prohibitions, and even went so far as to altogether denounce the police crackdowns used to enforce them.
So what's the latest incendiary style to drive the fashion-conscious chasm? Neckties.
In the latest such controversy, Mr Ahmadinejad, who never wears a tie in public, has gone on record as saying that no religious leader has banned the tie, which since the 1979 Islamic revolution has been regarded as a symbol of Western culture.
He was criticized by Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, normally close ally of the Iranian president, who said: "I say to him that many religious dignitaries believe ties should not be worn.
"The supreme guide (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) himself has said in a fatwa (religious edict) that the wearing of ties or bow ties is not permitted."
The tie has in past years been making a comeback in Iran, especially at events such as weddings and funerals.
The age-old adage stipulates that if you pull the string, the whole thing will unravel. If Mahmoud continues to pull the necktie, will the whole head of the Iranian government come toppling off, too? Or will the ayatollahs simply come to appreciate the magic that ensues when a world leader meets with the right piece of neckwear?
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For the last nine years, the U.S. has funded a major hydropower plant in Kajaki, Afghanistan. Why? To boost economic growth and bolster electrical infrastructure, in the hope of generating support for President Karzai's government among Taliban sympathizers. But the venture has one conspicuous flaw: the American-sponsored power plant intended to stymie the Taliban, as it turns out, sponsors the Taliban.
The U.S. has invested over $100 million in the Kajaki plant, which provides most of southern Afghanistan's electricity; but this tactical outlay yields a particularly insidious benefaction to Taliban officials, who preside over many of the districts in the electrical grid (located in the Helmand province, a notorious breeding ground for insurgents).
The Taliban benefits from the hydropower plant in more ways than one: its commanders collect electricity bills from civilians, deprive revenue from Karzai-allied officials (they lose an estimated $4 million per year to Taliban officials), and channel irrigation for their opium poppy harvests. They also intercept the power lines running straight from the Kajaki plant and sell off the surplus themselves. To put it simply:
"The more electricity there is, the more the Taliban make," says Hajji Gul Mohammad Khan, tribal-affairs adviser to the governor of Helmand.
At least the inclusion of a more civilian-oriented battle in the counterinsurgency plan -- for the hearts and minds of Afghans -- seems potentially constructive. But the U.S. has implemented other initiatives that inadvertently support the Taliban, and those lack the same rationale:
A Congressional subcommittee last month issued a report on how protection payments by Department of Defense trucking contractors have become a "'significant potential source of funding for the Taliban."
That's to say that U.S. contractors are actually paying the Taliban to withhold attacks on American convoys... a strategy that seems relatively on par with bribing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to slow down nuclear proliferation with a multi-million dollar check.
The paradoxical outcomes of U.S. strategies only highlight the likelihood that, as the war in Afghanistan grows increasingly complex, concession and compromise will become inevitable. But in Afghanistan, an insurgent needs only $200 per month to fight effectively, and the Kajaki power plant alone funnels millions (from the wallets of U.S. taxpayers) to the pockets of potential insurgents. In light of those disconcerting numbers, should the U.S. government at least reconsider their investment? If they do, they'll need to act fast: they plan to launch a $400 million upgrade to the Kajaki plant in 2011.
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The two most prominent presidential hopefuls in the upcoming Brazilian elections have launched their campaigns. Now each is fighting tooth and nail to prove one thing: that he or she is the most cautious, the most predictable, the most moderate candidate of them all.
In the past, elections in Brazil have tipped in favor of candidates championing change -- but that was when the tectonic shifts those politicians promised seemed the most expedient solution to faltering markets, raging social tensions, and the crippling effects of corruption, fascism, and military interference.
In many respects, current president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva -- who enjoys overwhelming approval ratings, despite several corruption scandals -- has reversed Brazil's bad fortunes: his pension systems and social programs have eradicated historic inequalities and kept the economy growing at a rate of 5.6 percent each year since 2003. Now that they are enjoying peace and prosperity relative to the tumult of past decades, Brazilian voters don't want change (except maybe a World Cup redux). They want Commitment to Continuity, not Audacity of Hope; security and certainty, not inspiration and innovation. And their politicians are happy to placate them.
Worker's Party candidate Dilma Rousseff is Lula's hand pick and the fondly proclaimed "Iron Lady" of South America. Her opponent? Brazilian Social Democratic Party candidate José Serra -- an experienced former secretary of state with an obstinate support base. Both have capitalized on the public's demands for continuity, portraying themselves as the ultimate political nonentities in the media. Rio de Janeiro is plastered with posters of Rousseff, hand-in-hand with a grinning Lula. The imagery fuels speculations, to the satisfaction of some and the disdain of others, that she is her predecessor's political puppet. Meanwhile, though Serra criticizes aspects of Lula's government and does promise greater government efficiency, suffice it to say that many of his posters read "The same as Dilma but different" ("The same as McCain but different" bumper sticker, conversely, would probably not have been a winning slogan for Barack Obama). Neither candidate deviates significantly on any major issue, and both reflect increasingly centrist tendencies.
Keep an eye on these intriguing anti-change campaigns as they approach the October 3 elections in Brazil. It will be interesting to see -- seemingly in lieu of any meaningful dissonance -- the reason on which constituents ultimately hinge their votes.
VANDERLEI ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images
Welcome to the ultimate Bolivarian oasis: the 23 de Enero slum -- a veritable hotbed of die-hard chavismo and radical socialism in Caracas. What can you expect to find in this little slice of heaven? Stockpiles of Communist Manifesto, murals depicting Jesus Christ brandishing AK-47's, and an oddly high number of dogs who will respond to the name "Comrade Mao."
The 100,000 inhabitants, who can see the presidential palace from the hills where they reside, have evidently internalized the image of chavista majesty framed by the sunset: they have adopted the dream of a fully socialist Venezuela -- as espoused by President Hugo Chavez himself -- and set it into motion in their own community.
This chavista neighborhood was named for January 23, 1958, when former president Marcos Perez Jimenez and his military dictatorship were overthrown. Following in the legacy of revolution and radicalism, the town's leftist ways now extend beyond the ubiquitous Che Guevara bandanas and "revolutionary car washes"; in fact, the Caracas slum is actually surpassing Chavez in his most precious goals: advancing socialism and eradicating capitalism. For starters, the inhabitants of "Little Vietnam" (as it has tellingly come to be called) have rejected the devalued bolivar -- which Chavez still struggles to revive -- and circulated little pieces of cardboard as communal currency instead. They plan to use their communal banking system to extend micro-credit and foster economic independence in the future. Meanwhile their residents work on a voluntary basis, and their markets purchase goods solely from nationalized distributors.
The town's ardent support for Chavez's cause has, paradoxically, created a chasm between the president and his most devout followers. After militant groups hailing from 23 de enero claimed responsibility for numerous attacks on Chavez's opponents, the Comandante was forced to distance himself from the very community his leadership brought to fruition. And the vexation goes both ways: leaders from 23 de enero have repeatedly expressed disappointment that Chavez has yet to rid his government of "false socialists." Despite these conflicts, Chavez is ideologically bound to the town; not to mention, he relies upon the increasingly extremist electorate's support to keep his political career afloat.
Looks like Hugo's caught in a bit of a Catch-22 here. Unfortunately for him, 23 de enero shows no sign of slowing down its radical rampage anytime soon:
'Here in 23 de Enero we are committed to take this process to the very end,' said cooperative member Martin Campos, a 38-year-old retired soldier sporting a yellow baseball cap with a red star. 'We are chavistas. Red, very red.'
JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images
Is it that time of year for a haircut? If you're in Iran, take a walk to your nearest barbershop, plop in a swively chair, and peruse through the catalogue of hairstyles on the counter. But make sure to survey the clean-shaven coifs and gel-infused buzzcuts in the catalogue carefully -- you now must select one of them for yourself, at your government's behest.
These sartorial sanctions are the latest crackdown on what the government percieves to be a more modern, Western aesthetic proliferating in Iran's popular culture. State-imposed restrictions have been growing steadily more stringent to combat "bad hijab" -- the improper veiling of men and women alike -- and clothes and makeup that, the government claims, contradict Islamic principles. But the multicolored mohawks, rockstar-inspired ponytails, and unkempt mullets popping up around Tehran recently seem to have been the final straw: the Culture Ministry has now banned a number of "decadent Western cuts" and issued a catalogue of permissible hairdos from which male salon-goers must choose.
Take a look at the pictures of the epic style summit where the catalogue was created: barbers, clerics, and government officials came together, visualizing proportions of beard to hair on mannequin faces and taking painstaking care to engineer the proper haircuts. While shaggy bangs have fallen victim to the blacklist, styles resembling the 1950's flattop -- a widespread fashion faux pas from the era of Elvis -- are deemed perfectly fine.
Though these constraints may seem superficial, be on the lookout for some serious backlash from the country's constituents. In the thirty-one years since the Iranian Republic was established, the power struggle between young Iranians -- fighting to maintain their freedom of expression -- and the government -- fighting to crush it -- has only escalated. The suppressed one-year anniversary of Iran's 2009 elections has already begun to amass a repository of unleashed defiance; not to mention some Iranians just won't be happy flipping through their barber's catalogue and asking, "Can I have the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?"
ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images
Two words sum up Argentina's national stance towards the atrocities committed under the 1976-1984 military dictatorship: "Nunca más" -- never again. But while the junta remains firmly in the past, the effects of its clandestine crimes remain potent in the present. The national outcry, the investigations conducted by the Argentine National Commission on the Disappeared, and even the tireless marching and protesting by mothers of "desaparecidos" on Mayo Square have failed to yield information on what happened to the estimated 30,000 victims of state-sponsored abuse.
But last month, after being hidden beneath floorboards for 34 years, a secret list emerged to give some Argentinians what they thought they might never get: answers.
Throughout its rule, the military junta enforced a meticulous policy of destroying all their documents. But apparently it wasn't meticulous enough: one accused subversive named Juan Clemente escaped from his detention center with 259 pages of the military government's records. Clemente feared divulging the papers would cost him his life, and so kept them hidden underneath his house for over three decades; but a new safeguard from the witness protection program and a sense of urgency elicited from the imminent verdict of the Tucuman trial has motivated him to bring them forward.
Certainly with the lack of available evidence, the incriminating notes -- easily attributed to junta operatives by the flagrant signatures on each page -- will bolster the case against the four Dirty War perpetrators on trial. The new evidence could even be to thank for a more just verdict come July 8.
But perhaps the list has delivered an even greater form of justice: some reprieve for those left oblivious as to the fates of their abducted loved ones. Families of the Dirty War's "desaparecidos" have flooded into the courts to examine the papers -- even the sadistic notes on intelligence operations, torture sessions, and the victims' decrepit physical states.
The families were also able to access the pages in which the junta took stock of their victims, recording their names in the left columns and the outcome of their detentions in the right. For some of those reading, two letters beside their loved one's name -- DF, or "disposition final" -- may bring both heartbreaking finality and bittersweet relief.
DANIEL GARCIA/AFP/Getty Images
Enter the cells of the Badam Bagh prison in Kabul, Afghanistan, and what culprits will you find locked up inside? A 16-year old recipient of an unplanned marriage proposal, a pregnant wife irrationally accused of adultery, and a veiled old woman who just displayed a "bad attitude."
These unlikely suspects were accused of "moral crimes," a new category of infractions for which half the incarcerated females in Afghanistan are held. The "immoral" misdemeanors also include refusing to marry, resisting rape or being raped, and -- especially devastating in light of prevalent and severe domestic violence that compels many women to flee belligerent spouses -- running away from home. Numerous "moral crimes" do not actually violate or even pertain to penal code; but this grouping of offenses requires no codification. Rather, they are loosely described as violations of Sharia law, however the accuser may choose to interpret it. In other words, "moral crimes" altogether lack definition, merely subscribing to a "You'll know it when you see it" kind of classification that allows discrimination to infiltrate the legal system.
In some respects, conditions for impounded women have actually improved. Hundreds of female inmates were previously held with male inmates at the notoriously inhumane Pul-e-Charki prison; but after parliamentary reports revealed the frequency of rape within its walls, the reportedly cozy Badam Bagh -- in which women can move freely, take computer classes, and sew and sell handcrafts -- was built. Clearly once detained, the women aren't subject to any kind of "Black Jail," where beatings, sleep deprivation, and isolation in cold cells are daily protocol.
But the reasons behind their detentions remain discriminatory and cruel. These ill-fated women, jailed with their children for what can be indefinite periods of time, are surely suffering from the crackdown on "moral crimes" -- the enforcement of which propagates the notion that immorality is inherent to the female sex.
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