Author: Donn M. Kurtz II

The Flood of 2011

For the sixth time in less than six years, the world hears about Louisiana because of a disaster.  This time it is the Flood of 2011.  The flood waters are heading towards towns, communities, and people in and around the Atchafalaya Basin, an area which is not nearly as isolated as one might be led to believe.  Long after the water recedes and national attention is focused elsewhere, a large part of the state will once again, perhaps for years, deal with the damage and dislocation of this latest event. In 2005, it was Hurricane Katrina, from which New Orleans and large parts of the upper Gulf Coast have yet to recover. Far less publicized were hurricanes Rita, Ike, and Gustav. Rita hit the southwestern part of the state near the Texas border less than a month after Katrina devastated New Orleans and the far southeastern parishes. Gustav and Ike arrived in 2008.  Gustav, the worst hurricane I have ever been through, came into the south central part of the state.  Ike, a month after Gustav, actually made land fall on the upper coast of Texas but had a substantial impact in parts of the area damaged by Rita three years earlier.  Last year the Deepwater Horizon explosion, deaths, and spill brought additional attention to this area.[1] Several debates are still raging over the long-term economic and ecological impact...

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The British Referendum: No Change in Election System

British voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposed change in their election system earlier this month. The referendum on the alternative vote[1] failed when more than two-thirds of those participating voted “no”.  Three factors contributed to this outcome.  First, the leadership of the three major parties was divided on the issue.  Second, the main proponents of the proposition, the Liberal Democrats, suffered significant setbacks in other contests on the ballot.  Finally, the public did not feel any sense of urgency necessitating a change. A first key to enacting change is some degree of unity on the part of the political elite. That unity was notably absent on this issue.[2] The governing coalition was divided from the very beginning of the partnership.  The Conservative leader Prime Minister David Cameron, and a large part of his party, opposed the referendum while Deputy Prime Minister Nicholas Clegg of the Liberal Democrats supported it as did the rank and file of his party.  The Labor Party was perhaps the most divided with its leader Ed Miliband advocating a vote in support of the referendum while the backbenchers of his party largely opposed it. A second factor relates to the Liberal Democrats poor showing in other elections on the ballot. That party has long endorsed election change because it often receives a respectable percentage of votes in parliamentary elections, but that percentage seldom translates into a...

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Southern Sudanese Independence

Voters in the January referendum in Southern Sudan overwhelmingly endorsed secession for that region with the new state scheduled to come into existence on July 9th this year.  The vote, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005, and the violence that led to that settlement have been well covered by journalists and analysts, but I have seen relatively little commentary on the actual process of achieving independence. That process involves establishing borders, resettling people, and dividing assets.  How these issues are resolved has implications for all of Africa. Borders In every case of secession or the division of a country that I can think of, border conflicts have complicated the process. While it seems clear that the general demarcation between Sudan and Southern Sudan[1] is agreed on, two possible points of contention remain.  First, the oil-rich Abyei area will hold a separate vote to determine whether it remains a part of Sudan or joins Southern Sudan. Could this become a contentious issue?  Second, even though the broad border questions may have been settled, is there still the possibility of clashes over specific local boundaries? Population Creating a new state is not just a matter of dividing territory but also one of dividing people.  When colonial India was partitioned, millions of Muslims and Hindus found themselves on “the wrong side” of the borders of the new India and Pakistan.  Millions of...

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Into Exile

Earlier this year a popular uprising forced Tunisian President Zine El Abadine Ben Ali into exile.  Not long after, former President of Haiti Jean-Claude Duvalier (“Baby Doc”) returned to his home country from nearly a quarter century of exile to be promptly arrested and charged with crimes allegedly committed during his time in office. These two events are reminders of the risks associated with holding high political office and of the fate of many former chief executives. Since 2000, seventeen heads of government have gone into exile. They left office and their countries because of fear of what would happen to them if they remained. They represent a variety of political systems and regions and took up residence in a number of different states.  Several have returned and continued their political careers but most remain in exile. The seventeen chief executives who have gone into exile are as follows: Argentina: Carlos Menem Bolivia: Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada Cambodia: Norodom Ranariddh Central African Republic: Ange-Felix Patase Central African Republic: Andre Kolingba Guatemala: Alfonso Portillo Haiti: Jean-Bertrand Aristide Honduras: Manuel Zelaya Kyrgyzstan: Kurmanbek Bakiyev Liberia: Charles Taylor Madagascar: Marc Ravalmanana Madagascar: Didier Ratsiraka Pakistan: Perez Musharraf Pakistan: Nawaz Sharif Peru: Albert Fujimori Tunisia: Zine el Abadine Ben Ali Venezuela: Carlos Perez Three broad factors explain why a head of government vacates his office and leaves the country. Seven went into exile...

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The Egyptian Transition

If Egypt is to emerge from the present crisis as a stable and responsive political system six steps must be taken without delay. First: President Mubarak must resign immediately in favor of his Vice President Omar Suleiman and leave the country.  Nothing less will satisfy the demands of the protesters and the opposition leadership.  His promise not to run for re-election is an inadequate response Second: President Suleiman should appoint new prime minister and cabinet representing as many interests as possible.  The cabinet appointed earlier in the crisis by Mubarak lacks the legitimacy to manage reform. Third: The President must empower that new leadership to govern without interference from him which means that Suleiman must adopt a different presidential role – that of a transitional head of state only.  This approach could be useful in reassuring both the military, with which he has good relations, and other states who want to see an orderly transition.  His remaining in this new capacity would be a sign that Egypt’s relations with key international players, the United States and Israel in particular, will not be altered in a fundamental way. Fourth:  The new prime minister and cabinet should nominate and Suleiman should appoint a new vice president.  A respected but relatively non-partisan military office would be a good choice. This step would indicate that Suleiman is a temporary figure and it paves...

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International Education and National Political Leadership

Only two American presidents studied at foreign educational institutions.  John Quincy Adams attended Leiden University while his father John Adams served as a diplomat in Europe.  Bill Clinton spent two years at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.[1]  In contrast, large numbers of heads of governments around the world pursued at least part of their education outside their own country. Evidence supporting this observation comes from an examination of the experiences of a recent group of national executives. Understanding this aspect of the educational background of political leaders offers insights into their international orientation, their appreciation of politically valuable credentials and experiences, and the educational opportunities in their home countries.  In 2010 twenty-eight chief executives came to office and twelve, or 43%, studied in a country other than their own.[2] The relevant information on these leaders is as follows: Chile: President Miguel Juan Sebastian Pinera. Harvard, M.A. and Ph. D. Columbia: President Juan Manuel Santos. University of Kansas, probably undergraduate degree; London School of Economics, masters; Harvard, M.A.; Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Masters. Costa Rica: President Laura Chinchilla. Georgetown, Masters. Finland: Prime Minister Mari Kiviniemi. High school exchange student in Germany. Guinea: President Alpha Conde. Institute d’Etudes Politique de Paris (Sciences Po), advanced degree. Honduras: President Porfirio Lobo Sosa: University of Miami, B.A.; courses at Patrice Lumumba University, Moscow. Hungary: Prime Minister Victor Orban. Oxford, half year at...

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Israel’s One and a Half State Solution

Jeremy Hammond, editor of this journal recently argued that the two state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is dead.  I contend that it was never alive. No Israeli government –regardless of the party or Prime Minister in power — has ever made a serious commitment to the essential reality of a Palestinian state.  At best Israel’s idea of a two state solution would lead to one and a half state outcome. The conventional understanding of statehood involves four components.  A state is an entity consisting of a recognized population and territory with a government exercising sovereignty over those people...

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From the Gulf Coast: A Moratorium Is Not the Answer

Grand Coteau, Louisiana, July 23 — Yesterday 11,000 people attended a rally at the Cajundome in Lafayette, Louisiana to protest President Obama’s moratorium on deep water drilling.  When one strips away the anti-Obama feeling which predated the spill, the exaggerations, and the need of many to score partisan political points, the essential message of the rally is valid.  A moratorium is not the answer. At this point we do not know with any degree of certainty what caused the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.  It is clear that generally BP has less than a stellar reputation in the oil industry for...

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