Career Calling

August 18, 2013

Sabbath, August 18, 2013

[On Sundays, this blog looks beyond the job world in “Sabbath.”]

Problems That Defy Solutions

Over the last week, we’ve seen terrible images from Egypt.  Hundreds have been killed in ongoing protests.  Meanwhile another civil war continues in Syria.  The death toll in that country is in the thousands.  The media often covers these stories as if they were covering a sporting event that had a limited scope and a clear victor.  The reality is far more complicated.  The problem for our political leaders and the media is that most Americans don’t want to hear about complexity.  We want problems that are simple and easy to solve.

What should the president do in such cases?  Clearly some action must be taken, but, as we’ve seen from past interventions, today’s solution can turn into tomorrow’s problem.  In the 1980s, the U.S. supported “freedom fighters” in Afghanistan.  Later, some of those people became vicious warlords who ruled by terror.  Others became the Taliban who were even more extreme in their behavior, especially in the way they limited the lives of women.  Another U.S. ally in Afghanistan was Osama Bin Laden.  His actions changed America and the world.  What seemed like a happy ending in Afghanistan – the expulsion of the U.S.S.R. – turned into 9/11 and an American war in Afghanistan that has lasted for more than 10 years.

It’s terrible to hear about massacres and repressive behaviors of governments that we support.  However, as we’ve seen in Egypt, voters will select rulers and turn on them in less than a year.  First, enemies of the elected government took to the streets and the government was deposed by the army.  Now supporters of the deposed government have taken to the streets, and they have engaged in deadly confrontations with the police and military.  How can such a situation be solved simply?  While it will send a statement for the U.S. to cancel military exercises or cut off aid, how will those actions affect a conflict in which all parties are fueled by hatred and fear?

History plays out over months, years, and decades.  It’s not a TV program that where problems are resolved in 30 minutes or an hour.  Civil Wars, as America experienced, do not end quickly or peacefully.  While the U.S. Civil War lasted from 1861-1865, its aftermath has been ongoing and often subtle.  We still debate issues of racial equality and states rights. During the last presidential election, some commentators and politicians in Texas claimed the state had a right to secede.

150 years after the bloody battle of Gettysburg some Americans still consider secession to be the best way to solve our differences.  In that light, it’s difficult to be critical of people in Egypt and Syria – or President Obama.  Civil wars are horrible and complicated problems.  They cannot be solved with simple words or actions.  The people of Egypt and Syria will write their own history, hopefully with as little foreign interference as possible.  However these stories end, they will not be kind or clean or simple.

May 29, 2011

Jobless Youth and Protest

Filed under: Job Market Trends — claycerny @ 2:20 am
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Common Dreams  offers an insightful article by David Lindorff that compares conditions that caused uprisings in the Middle East and what is happening in the U.S. today.  Lindorff points out that young people inEgypt and Tunisia faced unemployment rates of 40% and 30%.  The situation in the U.S. isn’t much better.  Young African American endure 44% joblessness.  For Latino youth the figure is 30%.  Overall youth unemployment is 20%.  Sound familiar?

These statistics in themselves doesn’t mean the going to see street protests, but it does suggest a serious problem.  Lindorff speculates that a youth movement could change things in this country, leading to government sponsored jobs and access to college funding. 

I’m wish I could agree with his progressive vision.  As Lindorff says, generations of Americans have been raised not to protest.  We accept what our leaders tell us.  As bad as things are for young people, it will have to get worse before we see street protests in this country.  Even then, given our current political leaders and corporate media spin machine, I’m very pessimistic about the outcome.

February 6, 2011

Egypt and the Labor Movement

Filed under: Commentary — claycerny @ 2:38 am
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Writing in Uncommon Dreams (via In These Times), Michelle Chen examines how the role of labor in the Egyptian democratic uprising could have international ripples.  She cites several experts on the role of labor in what has been a “non-ideological” movement. Chen also contrasts Egypt with Iran, which is something PR flaks who dominate the corporatist media have not done.  They’re too busy spreading fear.

January 30, 2011

Sabbath, January 30, 2010

Filed under: Sabbath — claycerny @ 7:32 pm
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[“Sabbath” looks at work we do beyond our careers.]

The Work of Courage and Freedom

A few weeks ago, a movement began in Tunisia.  Now it has spread to Egypt.  Brave women and men, young and old, are stepping in front of riot police and tanks.  They sending a message to their governments: It’s time to change.  In Tunisia, the long-time President/Dictator fled the country.  President/Dictator Hosni Mubarak is hanging on in Egypt – for now.

These stories and the video that accompany them inspire us.  For Americans, they remind us of the stories of our own country’s founding.  However, we often forget the work and risk that go with rebellion.  In the Spring of 2009, protesters rose up in Iran.  A young girl named Neda was shot and bled to death on the street.  That image inflamed the country for a few weeks, but the government cracked down.  Protest leaders were jailed.  The police and paramilitary thugs took back the streets.  During the current situation in Egypt, the government has shut down the internet.  It is logical to assume that it is also tracking calls and email from people identified as protest leaders.  Let’s hope Egypt doesn’t follow the path of Iran.

Courage shows in situations like these.  During the Tiananmen Square protest in 1989, one man stood in front of a column of tanks.  When the tanks tried to move around him, he stayed in front of them.  This action can be dismissed as symbolic since the Chinese government eventually smashed the democracy movement.  However, one person’s courage stands, and now it is born again in the people of Tunisia and Egypt.

Freedom comes after courage, and it is even more difficult to achieve. Revolutions in Cuba and Iran began with the noble goal of kicking out the dictator.  The governments that followed brought in new types of repression that have done little to bring power to the people.  In China and Russia, governments preach economic freedom while finding new ways to control their citizen’s lives.  Where can we find hope?  South Korea was under a dictatorship for several decades before its people rose up and took their country back.  Similarly, in the Philippines, democracy was established after years of dictatorship.  Sometimes, people can win their freedom when their risk their lives.  Let’s hope north Africa is going to be like one of those happier situations where a seed of democracy blooms.

In our work and personal lives, we follow routines.  They keep us focused and straight.  Those who dare to go into the streets risk that security.  When commentators drone on about the politics behind the protests (and see everything through an America-first lens), let’s take a minute to think about the individuals who dare to take a stand.  They put everything on the line.  Whatever the outcome of these rebellions, their courage deserves our admiration.

Sunday extra helpings:

Al Jazeera English has produced some of the best coverage of what is happening in Egypt.

Professor Juan Cole’s blog Informed Comment is a must-read for understanding the complexity of the Middle East.  Cole’s position is too liberal for some.  Others call him anti-Israel.  I think those charges are nonsense.  He gives his readers plenty of source material to back up his claims.  Cole is a scholar in the truest sense of that word.

What’s a Sabbath post without a poem?  Check out William Butler Yeats’ “Easter 1916,” which captures the emotion and courage of those who led the Irish revolt as well as Yeats’ self-critique of his reaction to the event.  This is one of the great poems in English literature because it brings together music, philosophy, and history (all the human’s arts).  Enjoy.