Snippets: An Evolution

Since my transition into semi-retirement began some 18 months ago, I no longer publish the weekly newsletter promoting an inclusive perspective on global social and economic issues, but I have continued to write in-depth commentaries – albeit far less frequently. Although I still keep my eyes and ears open for information on a number of favored topics (diversity, employment, migration, climate change, health and nutrition), I am finding that my focus no longer includes a comparative analysis of how different institutions are addressing these issues. So here is a commentary on why I am transitioning to a new form that I am calling “Snippets”.  Commentaries and musings are still on my horizon, but here is something a bit shorter but still substantive to keep me constructively occupied on this website.

What follows are some preliminary “Snippets”. They are on varied subjects: on the Indian abuse of power on Kashmir, on comparative immigration issues in the US and the EU, on gender equality at the G7, and on Brexit.  But first, here are my thoughts on transitions.

I still believe in the importance of multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral dialogue and collaboration, but I have segued out of a daily tour of the many institutions operating within and around the Palais des Nations in Geneva. I don’t know of anyone else who is doing quite the same thing these days, but I have opted to leave the multi-sectoral part of my mission for others to pick up. But that still leaves me with the multi-stakeholder part of my personal mission in professional life.

It might be a bit different since I am no longer challenging those same Geneva-based international institutions to open themselves up to all of the interested stakeholders, where business or NGO or academic or philanthropy. But I am still attuned to enabling the search for common ground among the different and often opposing stakeholders of a particular issue. Ergo the commentaries on climate change, equality, privacy and inclusive governance that I have been posting on my “post-retiree” website.

At the same time, I have been looking for ways to connect my interests to where I am personally today – both intellectually and physically. Here I am in the South of France – with its overly hyped-up Riviera image, but nonetheless with its truly magical atmosphere – the shimmering azure sea, the warm sunshine, the fluffy clouds in an otherwise clear blue sky, the sloping hillsides displaying the soft greens of olive and cypress trees, the brilliant reds and pinks of bougainvillea and oleander, the lime-washed walls and red tiled roofs of classic Provençal villas, and the soothing scents of lavender, jasmine and rosemary.  As I’ve said many times before, it IS a magical atmosphere – just like those Cézanne paintings that we have admired in art museums around the world! And yes, Cézanne was indeed here – as well as Matisse and Picasso and all those other famed artists who gave us such a definitive image of this part of the world. It is idyllic. And it has been serving as a convenient channel for lighter fare in my writing endeavors – musings, I call them, to supplement the more in-depth and intellectually oriented commentaries.

But it is also isolated. The local scene has no international organizations, no really internationally-renowned universities or research centers, no large museums or concert halls nearby – AND no bicycle trails! So the question before me is: is this enough? I was warned about this. Having spent more than 20 years caught up in the whirlwind of international Geneva, an island unto itself, I had encountered reports of retired international civil servants who went off to this or that idyllic spot, only to come back to the comfort and stimulation in Geneva that they had not found in their retirement lives. Really? I’m afraid this is not my solution to the isolation.

To be fair, I did not do it quite the same way to start with. Technically, I might have “officially” retired from the UN system at age 55, but I neither “left” Geneva nor “stayed” where I was. Setting up an international relations service firm and a global social observatory (in Geneva) were certainly built on the foundations of a relatively brief stint as a high-ranking international civil servant (also in Geneva). But I also had previous business and academic and public service experiences to draw upon. I also had a partner who shared my beliefs and interests and who brought a complementary set of skills to our joint ventures. So we went in significantly new and different directions from the comfortable world of international civil servants, even as we opted to retain Geneva as the home base for these initiatives.

And now it is 20 years later – technically, if you will, a more appropriate “retirement” age. Nonetheless, at 75 I have to admit that I still see myself as “not quite” retired.  I might have made the joint decision with my partner to close down both the business and the NGO and transition out of Geneva to full-time living in our retirement home in the South of France – the famed “Riviera”, if you will. I have plenty to do here – and more space, too. Although I do miss the friends and colleagues from my Geneva days, I do not miss the lifestyle there. It was time to move on from that. What is more, my existing professional and friendship networks are from many different places and do not depend on a Geneva-specific home base. (They do, however, depend on a bit of travel here and there!) And it is challenging to work on building new ones, too.

The issue at this stage is not really about what is income-producing and what is not. Rather, the challenge is to operate within the existing system of official retirement from formal employment to give both meaning and value to one’s life. After all, there is so much of what we all do that is unremunerated, especially women but also men, but still necessary and meaningful and valuable. So the task is to address this challenge and take the next steps. So far, this has included modest income-producing work running an Airbnb (albeit not very intellectually stimulating), gardening, a more regular exercise regime, and volunteering to teach English as a foreign language. On this latter point, I am even going through a training exercise for formal certification. And next?

Snippets. That’s what I have in mind going forward. Personal snippets. Like this one. I don’t intend to flee back to Geneva – or to the US, for that matter. Not for now. The latter might have added magnetic power as I prepare to become, rather belatedly given my age, a grandmother of a child whose parents live in the US. (The baby is due in December. So we shall see about that.) But the immediate steps are to move along the present path while shifting its direction ever so slightly. Still writing commentaries and musings and teaching English and doing Airbnb, but experimenting with something more frequent and short. Twitter gets some attention in this modified path, but Twitter is just too Trump-ish. So snippets it will be. Longer than tweets but still relatively short. More like the length of an old-fashioned “letter to the editor”. Well, clearly a bit longer than letters to the editor. I just sent off two of those, longer than Tweets but still shorter than what I have in mind. So I will call them “snippets”.

Snippets: Kashmir (23 August 2019)

Here we go. On Kashmir for starters:

I was alarmed to read about the abolition on 5 August of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This was even backed by the Indian Parliament, dominated by Modi’s Hindu majority party. I am on the side of those who think this is a violation of the Indian constitution, which gave the region its special status, first in Article 370 of independent India’s original constitution and further supplemented by Article 35A from a later date. I am also among those who think this is a powder keg situation.

My personal interest in what is happening in Kashmir is not only because I once spent a holiday there. I also wrote a paper about it many years ago. Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah was the leader of the Moslem Kashmiri majority then. As a teenager living in India and interested in learning about Indian democracy, I was curious while travelling around the Valley about the tensions that I sensed between the people of Kashmir and the visible presence of Indian troops in the Valley.  I was also intrigued that the people I met were overwhelmingly against BOTH Pakistan and India.

Later in my studies, I researched and wrote that paper about the democracy question in Kashmir, starting with the time of independence and partition of India and Pakistan. It has a tragic history, due to the fluke of a Hindu Maharajah ruling over a Moslem majority, even under the British, but the continuing interests of both India and Pakistan in controlling the region have kept it in the realm of unresolved conflict. As a result of numerous violent confrontations, there is a truce line with one-third of the region in Pakistani control and two-thirds in Indian control. A plebiscite, long since authorized but never held, would probably have resulted in Kashmiri independence from both India and Pakistan.

Regrettably, that does seem to be an unrealistic outcome today. Neither India nor Pakistan would be happy to have Jammu and Kashmir become a potentially vulnerable and weak state that could easily be manipulated by China. Consider, furthermore, the way the Chinese have been treating their own Muslim Uyghur population.

It is not entirely clear what has been going on in diplomatic circles behind the scenes. The Indian government is taking quite a gamble as it upends all appearances of a democratic outcome for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. If the gamble succeeds, it will reinforce the Hindu-izing trends in India overall. Although the risks are high for a popular uprising within Kashmir, it seems that the Pakistani government is reluctant to escalate it with a military intervention.

One can expect a lot more movement among the different interests before anything is settled – legal challenges, UN Security Council deliberations, and even the possibility of President Trump as a mediator. Can you imagine that? Jimmy Carter, maybe, but Donald Trump? It was the new Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan who suggested it, but Prime Minister Modi quickly rejected the notion.

The media have so far been low-keyed in reporting the developments, but I personally resonated with several recent commentaries that articulated the seriousness of the situation, both for Kashmir and for India and Pakistan. The Indian biographer of Gandhi, Ramachandra Guha, regrets that India is losing its secular political identity and suggests that the August actions move India from a 50-50 democracy to a 30-70 democracy.  Two articles published by the Analysis and Policy Observatory, an Australian think tank, give Indian and Pakistani perspectives, but both conclude that it portends the “saffronising” of India into a Hindustani version of Pakistan.

Snippets : Immigration Obstacles (27 August 2019)

In the European Union, refugee applications are supposed to be processed in the country of entry before they can move on to any other country. In the US, the current administration is trying to get the countries on or near its southern border to require the processing of asylum claims for anyone entering those countries from a third country. Mexico has agreed to do this, at least for a certain number, while Guatemala and Panama are also being put on the spot to implement this policy.

Obstacles to immigration have been reappearing in both places – and in spite of the declining numbers. The numbers are important to get a sense of the proportions, but the data are often like comparing apples to oranges. I would be interested in knowing if anyone is making the effort to consolidate the numbers for meaningful comparisons. However, even as I write that, I also realize that the context is so different in the different locations that comparisons may well be unrealistic and perhaps even useless.

For example: US border crossings are measured only for those who are classified as “illegal” or “unauthorized”. The highest recorded number for any recent year was in 2000, under President Clinton, at 1.64 million. This number was down to under 800,000 by 2008. And 2017, under President Trump, had the lowest number, under 300,000. So why the big fuss?

Well, the main “relevant” factor, it seems to me, is the demographic change from predominantly Mexican single males back in 2000 to a growing proportion of Central American families, including unaccompanied children, from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. In fact, as reported by the Pew Research Center, the historically large proportion of in the total number of unauthorized immigrants living in the US (and not just crossing the border) from Mexico has dwindled. I had been using a figure of some 12 million total unauthorized immigrants in the US, but I understand that that has now come down to 10.5 million as of 2017. And this is due, according to the Pew Center’s analysis of the data, to the significant drop in Mexican immigration into the US. Instead of single Mexican males looking for work (and usually finding it), the flow today is increasingly made up of families fleeing persecution and crime and corruption in their home countries rather than just heading up to the easy job market in the US.

Maybe the Trump administration has a point that the flow needs to be cut back to more manageable proportions, given that these are families and children and not single men who can just slip away into the hidden job market on farms and factories across the Southern US. I’m not suggesting that his comments (or his behavior) are justified, but the number crossing the border did go up by about 100,000 from that record year of 2017 to almost 400,000 in fiscal year 2018. And in May of 2019, when there were some 133,000 illegal crossings in that month alone, it looked like the number would exceed 500,000 in this fiscal year.

So yes, the numbers have been going up, and it is certainly evident that there is also an increasing proportion of legitimate asylum applications in the process, too. Independently of any comparison with what is going on in Europe, I can only conclude that there are serious issues to address. Forget for now the abhorrent and anti-immigrant policies of the current administration; the challenge here is to come up with different and more targeted humanitarian solutions to the situation in the US. What are the numbers in Europe?

There doesn’t seem to be a comparable total tab of “unauthorized” immigrants in the EU. At least I haven’t come across it. The refugee flow (a different concept from “unauthorized” immigrants), mostly crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Greece, Malta, Cyprus, Italy and Spain, hit a record 1 million in 2015 but has dropped off significantly since then. It was also about one-fourth that before 2015. So that was clearly a crisis year, triggered by disasters in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, before the EU found ways to bottle up the movements in Turkey and Libya. So in 2016, the recorded number was 362,000, mostly entering Greece and Italy. But then the Italian government changed and was overwhelmed by a right-wing anti-immigrant figurehead Matteo Salvini who didn’t care that the numbers had dropped significantly and who made headlines by refusing rescue ships to dock in Italian ports. As of mid-August, the number of refugees arriving in Italy through whatever means was down to 5000 for 2019. Greece was still getting a significant number, but Spain was picking up the difference.

I guess one could say that the EU refugee numbers are now much lower than the US unauthorized entry numbers. But neither of them is close to the records of 2000 in the US or 2015 in the EU. And the proportion of total population that is either immigrant or directly descended from immigrants is reportedly around 6.3 per cent in the EU (about 32 million out of a total of 500 million) and more than double that at 13.6 per cent (44.4 million out of a total of 327 million) in the US. So why all the fuss?

Both are experiencing newish immigration pressures from people who are fleeing persecution and corruption – but also environmental devastation and discouraging livelihood prospects. The numbers might have come down from record highs, even if they are fluctuating upward a bit again. But they aren’t at crisis levels in either case. And it is still the fact that the largest numbers of “displaced persons”, currently totalling 70.8 million, according to UNHCR, are within their countries of origin or in contiguous countries.  But those are the aggregate numbers.  The 800,000 Rohingya refugees in Cox Bazaar, Bangladesh, or the millions of Syrian refugees in Turkey or Jordan are bigger concerns when it comes to survival and basic sustainability. Most would prefer to return to their original home places. What is happening in the US or in the EU might be on the fringe, in a way, but they are also being confronted with new absorption challenges that do justify an exploration of improved (not closed) border management and adaptation strategies.

Official EU data can be found here and here.  Official US data can be found here and here. The Pew Research Center is a good analytical source (US information here), and the Migration Policy Institute is another one (US information here and EU information here).

Snippets: Gender Equality in the Shadows at the G7 (30 August 2019)

Motivated by my personal mission for multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral engagement, I used to do in-depth commentaries on the official documents and observed dynamics of G7 and G20 summits. What has been especially significant is the growing number affiliated special interest groups – the B7/B20 for business associations, the L7/L20 for labor groups, C7/C20 for civil society and on and on – think tanks, environmentalists, women’s groups, farmers, you name it. There is a whole subculture of devotees, like me, who see these groups as harbingers of inclusive global governance, even if they are totally dependent on the whims of the convening host government. There is, in fact, no institutional autonomy for any of them. But that’s not why I am writing this particular snippet.

The real reason is that gender equality was supposedly a leading theme for the French host, President Emmanuel Macron at this year’s G7 Summit in Biarritz on 24 to 26 August 2019. The official French website actually listed three priorities for the Summit: (1) fighting inequality, (2) a renewed format to include both partner countries, especially from Africa, and key civil society players, and (3) a dual imperative of fighting gender equality and preserving the environment. I checked these out on the official French website a couple of days ago and saw them listed (in the future tense, even though this was after the Summit was over). I then checked again this evening (29 August) to verify the wording – only to find them gone from the website.

Well, no wonder. These are hardly the priorities that were widely publicized in the media during and after the Summit. Instead, the media was quite taken by President Macron’s skillful, even Machiavellian, diplomatic maneuvering to prevent President Trump from upstaging him. He played up to Trump’s ego and flattered him with platitudes on trade and lord knows what else they covered in their carefully orchestrated hand-shaking encounters and closed door events. The final Summit declaration, which is usually a big deal, was downgraded to simply refer to common agreements on trade, Iran, Ukraine, Libya and Hong Kong without elaborating on them. And that was it. The media, though, had a heyday with the way Macron pulled strings on the sidelines – challenging President Bolsonaro of Brazil for neglecting the raging fires in the Amazon, inviting Foreign Minister Mohammad Jovan Zarif of Iran to Biarritz (but not to the Summit itself) and endorsing the prospects for a future direct meeting between Trump and the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

No mention of gender equality in any of these media reports. But I did get inspired to check out the official website – where I did find what has now disappeared as a priority list that did refer both to fighting inequality, with a specific reference to gender, and a separate priority on fighting for gender equality along with preserving the environment. Upon further investigation, however, I did come across a few official documents on topic. The Biarritz Chair’s Summary on Fighting Inequalities and a Declaration on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment. Other documents included one describing a Gender Equality Council Call to Action and another announcing a Biarritz Partnership for Gender Equality.

Perusing these documents does not lead to much that is new, maybe just a matter of reiterating and elevating the importance of specific commitments in the areas of legal changes to remove discriminatory laws, education, health, economic empowerment, ending violence against women and promoting full public participation. These appear both in the Chair’s Summary and the Declaration. Apparently there was a specific session on fighting inequality which dealt mostly with gender equality, and where representatives from the Gender Equality Council met with the G7 heads of state or government (or their delegates).  In addition to the call for specific commitments, there is this notion of a Biarritz Partnership for Gender Equality. It is similar to the Canadian version from last year, for which Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau deserves credit for launching this gender initiative as a G7 initiative.  But the Declaration also refers to a Global Coalition (?) and plans for a Generation Equality Forum in 2020, in honor of the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Women’s Summit of 1995. I did not see any reference to LGBTQ issues, though.

Unrelated to gender equality issues, the Biarritz Summit was instrumental in a couple of other parallel initiatives that are worthy of mention here. Well, actually, there were several of these, including on maritime issues and on biodiversity, for example. But one of the initiatives that caught my eye was a Global Fashion Pact with a sustainability focus. President Macron played this one in typical Machiavellian fashion – with, I suppose, a French twist. Some 32 fashion and textile companies agreed to sign this pact with three commitments – stop global warming, restore biodiversity and protect the oceans. It is interesting, not only because Macron used the French fashion industry to his advantage, but also because it reflects the three priorities that he has been pursuing in the environmental field. So it’s not only climate change, but biodiversity and oceans.

The other initiative that caught my eye came out of the Chair’s Summary on Fighting Inequalities. In addition to the strong presence of gender equality issues in this Summary, there was praise for a Business and Inclusive Growth initiative and a joint declaration from the L7 (unions) and B7 (business) on social dialogue. The most interesting announcement, though, was the convening of an Inclusive Growth Financing Forum. OK, just another one of these ploys to keep meeting on this or that issue. But it so happens that this particular Forum is, according to the Chair’s Summary, going to be launched at something called the Paris Peace Forum in November. I have actually already received my invitation to this Forum and plan to be there. I will definitely fit this launch event into my itinerary – unless, of course, it’s one of those business events that require an additional invitation to attend.

Anyway, here are a few useful documents: the Biarritz Chair’s Summary on Fighting Inequalities (available here), the Biarritz Chair’s Summary on Climate, Biodiversity and Oceans (available here), the Declaration on Gender Equality and Women’s Employment (available here), the French press release on the Fashion Pact (available here) and the very modest G7 Leaders’ Declaration (available here)

Snippets: Brexit! Brexit! Brexit! Rabbit! Rabbit! Rabbit! (2 September 2019)

The catastrophic outcome of the 2016 “Brexit” referendum has been an interest of mine over the months since the surprise result in June of that year. It’s odd, isn’t it, that it predated the other catastrophic surprise of 2016?  The timeline since then has been curiouser and curiouser! Sort of an Alice in Wonderland fantasy but more like a nightmare. So why haven’t I written anything about it in my commentaries or my musings? I guess it’s because each turn of events has been more bizarre than the previous, and the whole thing has remained so contentiously unresolved that it is hard to say anything serious or particularly constructive.

So the latest rabbit hole? Prorogation? Definition: “the action of discontinuing a session of a parliament or other legislative assembly without dissolving it.” That sounds mighty suspicious! Critics of the UK’s new PM Boris Johnson aren’t the only ones who are dismayed by this highly undemocratic maneuver. So the guy wants to avoid a Parliamentary majority against a no-deal Brexit on 31 October and get on with an exit from the European Union in spite of a highly divided British electorate?

There is no point in going into the details here; the saga continues. It would be entertaining if it weren’t for the impending tragedy of it all. IF it ends up with the UK citizenry overwhelmingly in support of whatever outcome, then we can enjoy the show (in retrospect, that is). That outcome, from my own “disinterested” perspective, should be to STAY in the EU. But that is just my personal opinion. I may have a niece, great-niece, son-in-law and soon-to-be grandchild with direct personal interests in the matter, but I just sit back here in southern France and merely indulge in some quiet weeping.

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