5/29/2009 10:07:13 AM
Slavery: Good thing we got rid of it, huh?
If you don’t immediately spot the false presumption in that statement, you’re the sort of person Kevin Bales and Ron Soodalter want to reach with their new book, The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today (June 18, University of California Press).
Bales, an Utne Visionary and president of the anti-slavery group Free the Slaves, has been telling the world for years that slavery hasn’t gone away in books like Disposable People and To Plead Our Own Cause. The new book hits close to home for Americans who live under the illusion that even if slavery exists, it is distant and rare:
Slavery probably crept into your life several times today, some before you even got to work. Rolling off your bed, standing on that pretty hand-woven rug, maybe you threw on a cotton t-shirt. In the kitchen did you make a cup of coffee, spoon in a little sugar, and then kick back with a chocolate croissant and your laptop to check the headlines? …
All in all a normal day, but slavery was involved in almost every step. Hundreds of thousands of rugs are hand-woven by slaves in the “carpet belt” of India, Pakistan, and Nepal. Cotton is grown with slave labor in India, West Africa, and Uzbekistan, the world’s second largest producer. Coffee cultivation also encompasses slave labor, mainly in Africa. Enslaved Haitian workers harvest the sugar in the Dominican Republic, the largest exporter of sugar to the U.S. The chocolate in that croissant can also be the product of slavery.
Read more of The Slave Next Door to learn more about how you can get the slavery out of your day and out of the world. It starts by learning about it.
Sources: University of California Press, Free the Slaves
5/27/2009 12:32:28 PM
Thousands of workers paid by the United Nations are on strike in Amman, Jordan. The United Nations news agency IRIN reports that the action has closed schools and clinics that serve the large Palestinian refugee community there. The workers—some of them Palestinian refugees themselves—are demanding better wages:
One of the disgruntled teachers, Salem (not his real name), said he was also a refugee and deserved a “decent salary”.
“People used to envy us … due to the good salaries, but as the years passed by and inflation ate into our pay, people began to pity us.”
Salem shares his two-room concrete home near the centre of the al-Hussein-camp with his wife and eight children. He said he had no option but to strike: “The salary is barely enough for 10 days. What to do for the rest of the month?”
Palestinian refugees who arrived in Jordan after the 1948 and 1967 wars with Israel. Today they number nearly 1.8 million.
The official response of United Nations officials in Amman called the strike “futile.”
5/26/2009 2:18:24 PM
This morning, Obama announced his nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Here’s a quick look at the blogosphere’s reactions so far.
Tom Goldstein at SCOTUSblog has an informative, balanced, and calm overview of Sotomayor’s qualifications, as well as a helpful warning about the controversy that’s already stirring:
Because proponents’ and opponents’ claims about nominees are provided for public consumption through the mass media, they involve bumper sticker messages; there is not much nuance. Almost always, they collapse into assertions of ideological extremism, as when some on the left attempted to portray John Roberts as a (secret) ideologue and single-minded tool of the government and corporations against individuals.
SCOTUSblog has also assembled a very helpful series of posts (here, here, and here) summarizing Sotomayor’s opinions in civil cases.
Mark Halperin predicts an easy confirmation at Time’s blog:
Obama has chosen a mainstream progressive, rather than a wild-eyed liberal. And he has chosen a rags-to-riches Hispanic woman. Her life story is inspirational—a political consultant's dream. Since she is certain to be confirmed, there are plenty of smart conservatives who will, by midday Tuesday, have done the political cost-benefit analysis: at a time when Republicans are trying to demonstrate that their party can reach beyond rich white men, what mileage is there in doing anything but celebrating such a historic choice?
At Mother Jones, David Corn parses the potential for a conservative “cat-fight”:
By selecting Sotomayor, Obama is forcing Senate GOPers to choose between attacking a Hispanic appointee (and possibly alienating Hispanic voters) and ticking off social conservatives. At the moment, the GOPers' calculation seems obvious. But it could come at a cost of a cat-fight on the right.
We have some hints of what the battle over Sotomayor’s nomination might look like because, as Steve Benen notes at the Washington Monthly, “many leading far-right activists—including Limbaugh and Fox News personalities—started the offensive against her weeks ago.”
It’s worth noting that they did so with help from the so-called “respectable intellectual center,” in the form of Jeffrey Rosen’s May 4 piece for The New Republic, “The Case Against Sotomayor.” The article, which has been debated and debunked by several bloggers, used mostly anonymous sources to paint a pretty negative picture of Sotomayor’s intellect, temperament, and general preparedness for the Supreme Court. As Jason Linkins puts it at Huffington Post, Rosen essentially characterized Sotomayor as “a not-smart person who nevertheless went to Princeton, and a hotheaded Latina whose ethnic hotheadedness seemingly carried none of the accepted, value-added ethnic hotheadedness of Antonin Scalia.”
Rosen’s unsubstantiated characterizations of Sotomayor rapidly spread to mainstream media outlets. Brian Beutler at Talking Points Memo:
[T]he meme couldn't be contained. It resurfaced less than a week later in two Washington Post articles and has colored today's coverage of the nomination, and of all cable news coverage of the SCOTUS stakes for the past month.
It’s definitely showing up in the post-nomination right-wing blogs, too. “Conservatives rejoice,” writes Erick Erickson at RedState. “Of all the picks Obama could have picked, he picked the most intellectually shallow.” At National Review’s The Corner blog, Ramesh Ponnuru deems Sotomayor “Obama’s Harriet Miers.”
Adam Serwer dismantles this ridiculous comparison in an excellent post at The American Prospect:
Sotomayor's resume doesn't just look good compared to Harriet Miers. Sotomayor has more than 10 years on the appeals court—by contrast, the current chief justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, had two years as a judge on the D.C. Circuit before being nominated. As a white man, however, his credentials and intelligence are beyond reproach.
A case against Sotomayor based on her "credentials" or "intelligence" is false on its face—this is a kind of Southern Strategy all over again. By stoking white resentment over the rise of allegedly unqualified minorities getting prominent positions, the GOP is hoping to derail her nomination. It probably won't work, but it's another sign of how little the GOP learned from last year's election.
Sources: SCOTUSblog, Time, Mother Jones, Washington Monthly, The New Republic, Huffington Post, Talking Points Memo, RedState, National Review, The American Prospect
5/26/2009 1:48:21 PM
The media storm in response to North Korea’s short-range missile tests on Monday runs the gamut between calls for continued diplomacy to questions about a renewed Cold War. Here’s a short list of key articles:
Daniel Politi summarizes the mainstream press coverage for Slate, including: how this incident spells an early test for Obama’s foreign policy from the New York Times; questions about North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s motivations from the Los Angeles Times; and, speculations in the Washington Post on how big a bomb the communist regime can actually produce.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Mr. Kim may be preparing a transitional leader on the heels of his alleged stroke in August of last year. A top candidate may be his brother-in-law, Jang Seong Taek, whom he recently appointed to North Korea’s National Defense Commission. U.S. officials suspect that Mr. Kim’s third son, Kim Jong Un, is also in the running.
Korea Times wonders if their peninsula may be regressing to Cold War-era tensions after a decade of uneasy yet promising relations with their northern neighbor, as defined by the “Sunshine Policy” doctrine. Articulated in 1998 by then-South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, the Sunshine Policy established a peaceful stance towards North Korea that anticipated eventual reunification. However, since his 2008 election, current President Lee Myung Bak has taken an increasingly hard line approach toward Pyongyang.
Lee Chi-dong reports for Yonhap News that South Korea’s Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan has vowed to try to “bring North Korea back to the bargaining table” of peaceful negotiation.
And, New Scientist sees a silver lining in Monday’s missile tests: “The network of blast detectors intended for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which has not yet come into force, seems to have perfectly identified the explosion as a nuclear test, despite its small size.” In other words, at least our nuclear-monitoring technology is working.
Sources: Slate, Wall Street Journal, Korea Times, Yonhap News, New Scientist
Image by Borut Peterlin, licensed under Creative Commons
5/26/2009 12:14:26 PM
The Taliban have again taken up residency on the front pages of our newspapers. Bill Moyers asks historian (and one-time Pakistan resident) Juan Cole a question many of us might feel silly asking after all of these years of war in Afghanistan and worry over Pakistan: “Who are the Taliban and what do they want?”
Cole’s response (and the entire Moyers segment) provides a foothold on the mountain of nuance we’re missing in the coverage of what is now being called the “Afpak” war:
What we're calling the Taliban, it's actually a misnomer. There are, like, five different groups that we're swooping up and calling the Taliban. The Taliban, properly speaking, are seminary students. They were those refugee boys, many of them orphans, who went through the seminaries or Madrassas in northern Pakistan back in the nineties. And then who emerged as a fighting force. Then you have the old war lords who had fought with the Soviet Union, and were allied with the United States. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Jalaluddin Haqqani, they have formed insurgent groups to fight the Americans now. Because they had fought the Soviet occupation, they now see an American occupation, so they've turned on the United States. They were former allies.
So we're calling them Taliban. And then you have a lot of probably disorganized villagers whose poppy crops, for instance, were burned. And they're angry. So they'll hit a NATO or American checkpoint. So we're scooping all of this up. And then the groups in northern Pakistan who are yet another group. And we're calling it all Taliban.
Want more? The interview (which also includes Pakistani-American journalist Shahan Mufti) is a must read for anybody trying to make sense of our growing entanglement in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Source: Bill Moyers Journal
Image by DoD.
5/26/2009 11:55:28 AM
With President Obama in office, some of the Bush era’s most vociferous antiwar organizations have become peculiarly complacent, Justin Raimondo observes in the American Conservative. Raimondo singles out MoveOn.org, Americans United for Change, and VoteVets, among others for not calling the planned escalation of U.S. presence in Afghanistan what it is: no different than the war policy of the Bush era.
“Like the neoconized Republican cadre that hooted down Ron Paul as he rose to challenge the Bush foreign policy during the GOP presidential primary debates, a similarly brainwashed Democratic base is now cheerleading their leader and shouting down dissenters even as this White House repeats—and enlarges—the mistakes of the previous occupant,” Raimondo writes.
Source: American Conservative
5/22/2009 4:46:06 PM
Reporter Nick Turse is one of a small number of journalists making the connection between the global financial crisis and domestic abuse. Here he is in a piece published over at Tom Dispatch:
Even in good times, life for poor working women can be an obstacle-filled struggle to get by. In bad times, it can be hell. Now, throw domestic violence into the mix and the hardships grow exponentially.
"Clients are coming in more severely battered with more serious injuries," reports Catherine Shugrue dos Santos of Sanctuary for Families, New York State's largest nonprofit organization exclusively dedicated to dealing with domestic violence victims and their children. "This leads us to believe that the intensity of the violence may be escalating. It also means that people may be waiting until the violence has escalated before they leave."
"Difficult financial times do not cause domestic violence," says Brian Namey from the National Network to End Domestic Violence. "But they can exacerbate it."
"When there are tough financial times," Namey notes, "couples can be under greater pressure, have higher stress levels." In fact, a 2004 study by the National Institute of Justice reported that women whose male partners experienced two or more periods of unemployment over five years were three times more likely to be abused.
He reaches a bit deeper and discovers a phenomenon victim advocates call "economic abuse":
Sanctuary for Families points to "Jen," a battered client who came to them in the fall of 2008 just as the financial crisis was beginning to sweep the country. According to its staff, she represents an ever more typical case.
Speaking of her partner, she put her dilemma this way:
"Sometimes I think it would be easier just to go back to him. I know that he could possibly kill me but... when we lived with him he always had the refrigerator full and I never had to worry about what my baby was going to eat or what we were going to wear. It's just really hard to watch my baby live like this. Sometimes I don't think it's worth it."
Jen is one of an increasing number of women caught between violence in the home and the violence of being moneyless, powerless, and alone in the world. One way in which economic abuse occurs, as Shugrue dos Santos explains, is when "as part of the power and control dynamic, the batterer tries to exert control over the finances of the family. We talk to many women, and even if they're the primary bread-winners in the family, they end up turning that money over to the batterer who either doesn't give them money or gives them an allowance."
Source: Tom Dispatch
5/22/2009 4:27:25 PM
The Institute for War and Peace Reporting has an interesting and hardly surprising report on poverty-stricken Afghan youth signing up with the Taliban for part-time work:
Abdullah Jan and Abdul Khaleq are both from the Pushtrod district of Farah province in western Afghanistan. Both are young, unemployed, and seek work as day laborers, for which they get about 200 afghani (4 US dollars) per job. There is one big difference between them though: while Abdul Khaleq earns his money by digging ditches, painting houses, and other manual labour, Abdullah Jan, not his real name, does so by attacking police checkpoints.
It seems the problem of the part-time Taliban is growing:
Afghan commentators say the Taliban’s recruitment of part-timer fighters is a worrying development, as it shows how easily they can draft ordinary Afghans into their ranks. “This tactic should be studied,” said one political analyst, who did not want to give his name. “They are provoking more and more people to violence, and extending their influence in the society.”
Source: Institute for War and Peace Reporting
5/21/2009 3:21:11 PM
A full quarter of Americans are blaming "the Jews" for the financial crisis. That's according to a recent Stanford University study where researchers were explicit in their questioning: “How much to blame were the Jews for the financial crisis?” Possible answers: a great deal, a lot, a moderate amount, a little, not at all.
Neil Malhotra and Yotam Margalit, who conducted the study, wrote about their findings in the Boston Review and placed them in the appropriate (and ominous) historical context:
The findings presented here are troubling. This is not the first instance of an economic downturn sparking anti-Semitic sentiments. Financial scandals are widely regarded as contributors to the rise of anti-Semitism in European history. Famously, the Panama Scandal—often described as the biggest case of monetary corruption of the nineteenth century—led to the downfall of Clemenceau’s government in France and involved bribes to many cabinet members and hundreds of parliament members. Nonetheless, the public’s fury centered on two Jewish men who were in charge of distributing corporate bribe money to the politicians. In her classic The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt described the Panama Scandal as a key event in the development of French anti-Semitism. The Stavisky Affair, in which the Jewish financier Alexandre Stavisky embezzled millions of francs through fraudulent municipal bonds, broke out 40 years later and had a similar effect of nourishing the accusation that the Jews were behind the corruption in financial dealings.
Source: Boston Review
Image by purpleslog. Licensed under Creative Commons.
5/20/2009 5:37:57 PM
Every morning, on the way to work, many Americans pass by a current or future stimulus project. Some $27 billion of taxpayer money will be spent on fixing roads, replacing bridges, and building signs and light posts. With that much money on the table, corruption, waste, and abuses of power are nearly inevitable.
The website ProPublica is amassing a network of citizen watchdogs to keep an eye on the individual projects and the stimulus as a whole. In the beginning, volunteers will be asked simple questions: When did construction start? What companies are showing up? The idea is to tap into local knowledge that ProPublica’s professional investigative reporters in New York City might not have.
“Ultimately what we’re trying to do is tell a story that would be more difficult with traditional methods,” ProPublica’s Amanda Michel told me on the phone. Michel gained experience directing Off the Bus, a groundbreaking citizen-driven campaign news project for the Huffington Post. With the new “Adopt-a-Stimulus Project” and ProPublica’s budding reporting network, Michel hopes to “build a network of people on the ground to tell us what’s really going on in their communities.”
Knowing that an army of citizen watchdogs are looking over their shoulders might keep the stimulus recipients a little more honest.
5/20/2009 2:52:11 PM
Thousands of inmates in three Phoenix-area jails are on lockdown—an attempt to force an end to a two-week old hunger strike among mostly immigrant detainees who have not yet been convicted of any crime.
Valeria Fernandez, a reporter for Inter Press Service, writes:
The Maricopa County jail system, administered by Sheriff Joseph Arpaio, holds about 9,000 inmates, 70 percent of whom are pre-trial detainees.
The country’s self-proclaimed "toughest" sheriff is famous for housing prisoners in tents, giving them pink underwear and feeding them what he claims are 30-cent meals. But he’s recently been in the spotlight of a national uproar over his tactics to crack down on illegal immigration by conducting traffic stops and raiding businesses.
The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is currently under investigation by the federal Justice Department over allegations of racial profiling and civil rights violations. It is also the subject of a 30-year-old lawsuit over jail conditions, including the quality of the food.
Family and supporters of the striking detainees have been holding candlelight vigils outside the jails.
Source: Inter Press Service
5/20/2009 11:19:44 AM
You can almost see it from here, but Russia remains an enigma to many Americans, easily reduced to crude caricatures. Start filling the Ural-sized gaps in your knowledge by reading Russian Life magazine’s “100 Things Everyone Should Know About Russia” in its May-June issue (article not available online).
“How was it that one of the most isolated, illiterate societies in Europe produced, in the 19th century, so many giants of literature, science, music, and the arts? Why is it that such a conservative, deeply religious, and agrarian-feudalist society so eagerly embraced the revolutionary, atheistic, and industrial ideology of Communism, and then, 80 years later, with equal vigor, cast this ideology aside in favor of the previously despised ‘bourgeois capitalism’?”
That’s the provocative introduction to the list, a way of commemorating the magazine’s 100th issue since launching in 1995.
Here are a few of our favorites:
Some 70% of Russia is forested and 22% of the world’s forests are in Russia. As such, Russia—which has been called the “lungs of Europe”—is second only to the Amazon in the amount of carbon dioxide it absorbs.
Among “20 Must See Films”: Belorussky Train Station by Andrei Smirnov and Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears by Vladimir Menshov.
From “10 Important Legends and Folk Tales”: Koshchey the Deathless, the evil sorceror, kidnaps a princess from Russia and takes her to his kingdom, where the hero must save her by finding Koshchey’s death. The princess tricks Koshchey into revealing where he has hidden his death: on an island in the middle of the sea in a coffer buried under an oak.
Cyril did not create the Cyrillic alphabet. [He and his brother created the Glagolitic alphabet, from which Cyrillic descended. Ha!]
Vodka, so pure and purposeful, so ideal for warming the despondent soul in February or cooling passions in August, is a feast or famine sort of drink. One would expect something like vodka to arise from a Northern culture with a communal peasantry, where long winters and tortuously short growing seasons mean back-breaking labor intermitted only by community-building social feasts and drinking bouts.
Source: Russian Life
5/19/2009 1:53:02 PM
Much has been said about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s first meeting with Barack Obama, yet little attention has fallen on Netanyahu’s gift to the president: a copy of Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad, a satirized account of the author’s 1867 visit to Palestine.
Though Twain’s book is satire—of the noxious Western tourist trudging through unfamiliar lands with inauthentic reverence and deep contempt for local customs—it’s difficult to separate Twain’s actual observations from his vicious spoof. So much so that some Israeli historians and politicians have used Innocents Abroad as evidence that Israel was created atop a land without people—populated only by tribes living backwards lives.
Gifted into the hands of a U.S. leader, Innocents Abroad is a barely coded message about the history and inherent value of the land and culture Palestinians have fought and died for since the founding of the State of Israel in 1948.
Here, in Twain’s words, is the historiography that Netanyahu offered to Obama:
On pilgrim claims that they could not tear themselves away from the Holy Land: “It does not stand to reason that men are reluctant to leave places where the very life is almost badgered out of them by importunate swarms of beggars and peddlers who hang in strings to one’s sleeves and coat-tails and shriek and shout in his ears and horrify his vision with the ghastly sores and malformations they exhibit. One is glad to get away. I have heard shameless people say they were glad to get away from Ladies’ Festivals where they were importuned to buy by bevies of lovely young ladies. Transform those houris into dusky hags and ragged savages, and replace their rounded forms with shrunken and knotted distortions, their soft hands with scarred and hideous deformities, and the persuasive music of their voices with the discordant din of a hated language, and then see how much lingering reluctance to leave could be mustered” (p. 386)
On beautiful Arab men and their repulsive women: “Arab men are often fine looking, but Arab women are not. We can all believe that the Virgin Mary was beautiful; it is not natural to think otherwise; but does it follow that it is our duty to find beauty in these present women of Nazareth?” (p. 297)
On Arabs as savages (a theme Twain returns to again and again): “We rode a little way up a hill and found ourselves at Endor, famous for its witch. Her descendents are there yet. They were the wildest horde of half-naked savages we have found thus far.” (p. 306)
On the “hopeless, dreary, heart-broken” landscape: “Of all the places there are for dismal scenery, I think Palestine must be the prince. The hills are barren, they are dull of color, they are unpicturesque in shape. The valleys are unsightly deserts fringed with a feeble vegetation that has an expression about it of being sorrowful and despondent. . . . It is a hopeless, dreary, heart-broken land.” (p. 391)
5/19/2009 11:47:51 AM
Since the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama has been hailed as a pragmatist. As a candidate, he embraced off-shore oil drilling and clean coal and he spoke out in favor of gun rights. As President, his economic policies and his decision to block the release of prisoner abuse photos have similarly been touted as “pragmatic.”
“Being a pragmatist is a statement about means, not ends,” Robert Reich writes for Talking Points Memo. Pragmatism is not a virtue, in and of itself; virtue lies in the goals achieved through pragmatism. According to Reich, “to call his stance ‘pragmatic’ is to rob it of its moral authority.”
In comparison to the last eight years, Obama’s lack of ideology feels to many like a breath of air for a nation under water. The Bush administration convinced many Americans, and especially Democrats, “that there is a correlation between idealism and incompetence. I have no quarrel with efficacy, but it is a contentless ideal,” The United States needs to be represented in the world by more than best practices.”
A solution to President Obama’s search for a non-dogmatic philosophy may lie in the actions of candidate Obama. As a candidate, Obama was able to explain controversies to the public in measured and intelligent terms. In his speech on race, Reich writes, “He took America to a higher place by explaining what we all knew and felt but giving it a larger and nobler frame. He educated us in the best sense of the word.”
President Obama has the chance to embrace the educational possibilities of the current crisis. He needs to “find a way to bring the public in, to let it feel a sense of participation and ownership,” Mark Schmitt writes for the American Prospect. Rather than evoking the state secrets privilege, or divorcing economic policies from the public at large, Obama should embrace the transparency he campaigned on. He can educate the American people on widening inequality at home and the dangers of foreign threats abroad. According to Schmitt, “Ideology, in a measured dosage, can help people understand where we're headed and why.”
To do so would both make good on his promises of transparency and strengthen his policies. Call it pragmatic ideology.
Talking Points Memo
the American Prospect
5/15/2009 6:09:54 PM
Since “The Icelandic Revolution,” the country took another leftward turn in its April 24 general election, creating a center-left governing coalition as the economic and employment situation has continued to deteriorate. The shifting political landscape has inspired yet more soul-searching among Icelanders, writes Sumarliði Ísleifsson at openDemocracy. Tracing the history of the Icelandic self-image, he notes,
… Icelandic politicians promoted an image that praised arrogance and risk-taking based on the heritage of a Viking people settled in the high north, and that extends the notion of Icelandic superiority over others. This discourse, insofar as those who believed in and promoted it allowed it to influence their judgments, must be accounted as having made some contribution to the severe financial shock that hit Iceland in 2008-09.
Ísleifsson suggests that “the search for new self-understandings … is timely as the country faces the future.”
(Thanks, AL Daily.)
Source: Open Democracy
5/15/2009 5:02:19 PM
In a politically polarized America, the quest for common ground between liberals and conservatives can feel like a search for the lost coty of Atlantis. The work of psychologist Jonathan Haidt, highlighted in Miller-McCune, sheds light on this political division, finding there isn’t simply one moral compass, but five “moral realms” on which we place importance. For liberals, ideas of harm/care and fairness/reciprocity reign supreme, while conservatives focus more on in-group loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity.
Some issues may gain supporters on both political sides because of their appeal across different moral realms. Haidt highlights the environmental movement as one example, where liberals were likely motivated by the harm/care dimension, while conservative Evangelical Christians found it spoke to their emphasis on authority/respect. "They're driven by the idea that God gave man dominion over the Earth, and keeping the planet healthy is our sacred responsibility. If we simply rape, pillage, destroy and consume, we're abusing the power given to us by God.”
"The climate crisis and the economic crisis are interesting, because neither has a human enemy," he adds. "These are not crises that turn us against an out-group, so they're not really designed to bring us together, but they can be used for that. I hope and think we are ready, demographically and historically, for a less polarized era."
But that, says Miller-McCune's Tom Jacobs, "will require peeling off some bumper stickers. Contrary to the assertion adhered onto Volvos, dissent and patriotism are very different impulses. But Haidt persuasively argues that both are essential to a healthy democracy, and the interplay between them — when kept within respectful bounds — is a source of vitality and strength."
5/15/2009 3:48:32 PM
The White House’s new drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, recently announced that he’s abandoning the term “war on drugs,” telling reporters: “We're not at war with people in this country.” The change in rhetoric seems to signal a move toward a more moderate, public-health approach on drugs, rather than the militarized stance the country currently takes.
Kerlikowske may have the right idea, but a focus on policies inside the United States still neglects the far more globalized problem of the U.S. drug war abroad. According to Foreign Policy editor Moisés Naím, “the United States today is both the world’s largest importer of illicit drugs and the world’s largest exporter of bad drug policy.”
The global economic crisis has created a situation where the drug trade is one of the few economic engines in countries like Mexico, Bolivia, and Afghanistan. “In many places,” Naím writes, “narcotraffickers are the major source of jobs, economic opportunity, and money for elections.”
If policy makers want to move toward a more effective drug policy, Naím writes that a focus on the social consequences of drugs would be a good place to start. But should the United States simply replace the “war on drugs” with an “conflict against mind-altering substances” or a “battle to combat banned medications,” the drug czar’s change in tone won’t have much of an effect.
“Rhetoric matters,” writes Reason’s Radley Balko, who is encouraged by Kerlikowske’s recent decision. “War implies a threat so existential, so dire to our way of life, that we citizens should be ready to sign over some of our basic rights, be expected to make significant sacrifices, and endure collateral damage in order to defeat it. Preventing people from getting high has never represented that sort of threat.”
Though a step in the right direction, Balko admits that rhetoric alone won’t solve the drug war’s underlying problems, at home or abroad. For one thing, Kerlikowske won’t be able to create policy reforms on his own. He’ll have to work with congress and other agencies for that. Jacob Sullum, also on the Reason blog, cautions readers: “We should not be fooled by medicalized language into believing that drug prohibition is less brutal or less of an assault on our rights.”
Sources: Foreign Policy, Wall Street Journal, Reason
5/15/2009 1:12:30 PM
International adoption is driven more by money than by need, and many “orphans” are in fact not orphans, journalist E.J. Graff reported in “The Lie We Love,” a Foreign Policy story reprinted in Utne Reader’s May-June 2009 issue. In a subsequent slide show and essay for Slate, Graff follows a thread of the story further by profiling families who’ve been affected by corrupt adoptions. From a Guatemalan mother, Ana Escobar (above), who found her kidnapped daughter about to be sent to the United States for adoption, to American parents who learned the truth when their adopted toddlers learned to speak English, these stories put an achingly human face on the dark side of adoption.
Sources: Foreign Policy, Slate
Image of Ana Escobar by Adam Nadel, courtesy of Adam Nadel.
5/14/2009 5:04:33 PM
Guatemala has been on edge since a video of the murdered lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg surfaced, in which Rosenberg blames Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom for his anticipated assassination. Guatemalans turned to the internet to express their outrage, leading to the arrest of one Twitter user, Juan Ramsés Anleu Fernández, for inciting “financial panic.”
The posthumous video by Rosenberg began, “If you are hearing or seeing this message it’s because I was assassinated by President Álvaro Colom.” Rosenberg implicated a number of Colom’s associates, telling a story of corruption and murder in the quazi-government bank Banrural. In response, Juan Ramsés Anleu Fernández, an IT employee known on Twitter as Jeanfer, advocated that people take their money out of Banrural and “break the banks of corrupt people,” which may have led to Fernández’s arrest.
Fernández is the first person to be arrested for inciting financial panic, according to the Guatemalan newspaper Prensa Libre, though many anti-Banrural messages have been circulating on the internet. BoingBoing reports that Twitter users have taken to reprinting (or retweeting) Fernández’s message as a form of protest against the arrest and the government.
You can watch Rosenberg’s video with English subtitles below:
5/14/2009 3:32:41 PM
If you missed the 60 Minutes feature on Predator drones, you’ll have to get your military propaganda fix somewhere else.
America’s flying death machines do not enjoy a favorable reputation in Afghanistan or among many of our allies. It’s a problem that only seems to get worse. “While no military has ever done more to prevent civilian casualties,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates said from a podium in Kabul last year, “it’s clear we have to work even harder.” That was October 2008. More than six months later Afghan families are routinely decimated by U.S. bombs or obliterated altogether.
In the 60 Minutes report, according to the show's website, "Laura Logan discovers first hand how precise the Predator can be.” It’s exactly the message the military needs out there right now: precision, precision, precision. It’s a battle they can’t win, however, if only because war (no matter how technologically advanced) is murderously imprecise.
To the grunts on the ground, war's imprecision is an uncontroversial notion. But the pilots of these deadly machines are different. They fly their drones remotely from a base forty-five miles north of Las Vegas and many worlds away from the particular patch of earth that shakes and burns from their Hellfire missiles and 500 lb bombs.
Not surprisingly, the pilots cleared to speak with Logan exuded confidence:
"What if you get it wrong?" she asks one pilot.
"We don't," he replies.
"That's a tough question." Pause. "Yeah. We have the resources to make sure we're right.”
Precision, precision, precision. A demonstration of the Predator’s exactitude features Logan and her crew caught by the camera of a hovering drone. “What better way for 60 Minutes to shill for the military,” writes Michael Shaw at his blog BAGnewsNotes, “than to soften the reality of hell-from-the-sky by focusing on the lovely Laura Logan from 10,000 feet?”
It’s striking how much her two-man camera crew resembles a couple of fighters. And it’s no stretch to imagine how a person trained to kill might have an easier time pulling the trigger from the desert north of Vegas—especially when your combat environment looks like this:
In all the talk of America's technological prowess, an important point is lost: Inevitably, people make mistakes. And when the U.S. military makes mistakes, civilians die. When that happens, the military military makes no effort to assess civilian deaths following air strikes, unless a special investigation is called. That job is often left to NATO, which sends soldiers into villages for “battle damage assessments” whenever possible. That means tending to the wounded, counting and photographing the dead, and sitting down with village elders.
Last October I spoke to Brig. Gen. Richard Blanchette, a spokesperson for NATO forces in Afghanistan, about the mess we so often leave behind: “We need the support of the people of Afghanistan,” he said on an unsteady line from Kabul. It’s “a tough challenge for our leadership to go into a village after force is used in that manner.”
I took “a tough challenge” to be a world-class understatement, but I can’t be certain of course. An anonymous ambassador to Afghanistan was more candid in a statement to Human Rights Watch late last year: “Some Afghans think the U.S. is worse than the Russians. There is a cultural problem with the U.S.—they are cowboys.”
It’s a truth we must face: our Cowboy-in-Chief is back in Crawford, but our cowboy problem is far from over.
Source: BAGnewsNotes, National Catholic Reporter
Screenshots by Michael Shaw.
5/13/2009 12:48:44 PM
Humbling. Terrifying. Numbing. There is no other way to describe the TIP Strategies animated "Geography of Jobs" map, which tracks job loss and job gain beginning with 2004. It's a little bit like watching a horror movie, only we're living it.
(Thanks, Visual Culture.)
5/11/2009 3:05:05 PM
If you are raped in the African country of Mauritania, government health documents will not mention the sexual nature of the violence and social welfare offices will call it "domestic violence" even if the rapist was of no relation. The United Nations news agency IRIN explains that "the only parts of the law that criminalize any sexual act are two articles prohibiting sex between unmarried persons. As a result, many alleged rape victims are accused of violating the law." In a maddening and tragic twist, pregnancy can be seen as evidence of a woman's crime. According to the Mauritanian Association for Maternal and Child Health, seven women have been imprisoned in 2009 on charges of violating the law prohibiting sex between unmarried persons. When approached by IRIN, a government official said the government of Mauritania was in the process of revising its penal code. Meanwhile, local journalist Nourra Mint Semane complains that her radio reports on rape have been censored. "For Mauritanian society," she says, "rape is a shame that must be buried and the biggest ‘criminal’ is the victim herself.”
The United Nations set the bar for government treatment of sexual violence with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment ror Punishment.
5/11/2009 11:31:39 AM
The issue of Palestinian statehood rode the Pope’s robe into the headlines this week. The pope opted to speak of a “homeland” for Palestinians, avoiding the word “state” like it was a dirty word. It’s the kind of acute linguistic caution that has poisoned the entire debate around Palestinian rights. As an antidote, straight-talking Middle East analyst and historian Juan Cole confronts the statehood issue with blunt force in a post at his Informed Comment blog.
“The contemporary world is a world of states,” explains Cole, “and falling between the cracks because you lack citizenship in any state is a guarantee of marginality and oppression.”
Cole folds the stateless status of Palestinians into its proper historical context, and then makes his argument with a clarity that is all too rare in this notoriously contentious debate: “Statelessness was an attribute of slaves in premodern times. The Jews of Europe in the 1930s and 1940s were the primary victims of the crime of stripping people of their citizenship in a state. Make no mistake; it is Israel that deprived them of statehood, which the 1939 British White Paper pledged to them, and which other League of Nations Mandates, such as French Syria and Lebanon and British Iraq, achieved. Apologists try to shift the blame for Palestinian statelessness from Israel to someone else. But it won't work.”
5/6/2009 2:09:59 PM
A tense French social climate has The Nation asking if the far-left side will erupt and seize power. Tough economic times may be pushing emerging French anti-capitalists groups over the brink of civility—but the president brushes it off. “Sarkozy is playing for time and is betting that people will get tired of the social protests, just like Maggie Thatcher did in the 1980s,” says Isabelle Sommier, a sociology professor at the Sorbonne. “But this is a very risky strategy, because we are sitting on a volcano.”
Workers have been getting very creative clamoring to get their voices heard, for example:
One way to negotiate is to hold your boss hostage. Boss-nappings reminiscent of the 1960s and 70s, in which, frustrated workers force the boss to stay in the factory or an office until they can work out their differences seems to be a reemerging tactic. “It’s a way to oblige the employers to actually face their employees, to look them in the eyes. There is no escape.” Different about today’s scheme though is that some of these bosses work for multi-national companies and have little authority over lay-offs and pay cuts.
Professors are hosting “classes” for subway passengers, protesting the marketization of academia. In front of Paris City Hall, academics, students and sympathizers have literally been walking in circles nonstop since March 24—to represent the ‘infinite circle of the obstinate.’
Other activists, sponsored by the New Anticapitalist party (NPA) are hosting “wild picnics” in supermarkets to protest high food prices. The plan is: go in, set up a table and eat anything in sight until you get kicked out. The NPA is a quickly growing political faction in France, and just in time for European Parliamentary elections in June.
Source: The Nation
Image by Ptit@l licensed under Creative Commons
5/6/2009 11:26:23 AM
A bill known to few outside of organized labor and big business lobbies could be a key player in reinvigorating America’s economic activity, writes Michael Payne in Dissent. The Employee Free Choice Act, which was introduced to Congress on March 10, would make it easier for workers to form unions. By doing so, it could help restore the financial viability of the struggling middle class, making it an integral part of the solution to the economic crisis. And it wouldn’t add a dime to public spending.
During the middle of the 20th century, unions brought us the middle class whose spending allowed our economy to expand. But now the middle class is shrinking; wages for the two-thirds of Americans paid by the hour have been stagnant for the past three decades. Payne pins the housing collapse on this trend.“This is not a generation of selfish materialists trying to live higher on the hog than their station in life warrants. It is, rather, a generation of Americans unable to reproduce even the modest lifestyle of their parents and turning to unsustainable debt and untenable mortgage terms as a last-gasp attempt to hold on to a modest standard of living.”
Wage stagnation correlates strongly with the decline in the percentage of workers represented by a union. This decline is not for lack of interest in unionization; according to the AFL-CIO, sixty million non-union workers want a union (business lobbies put the number at a still substantial twenty-five million). The high demand is unsurprising, since union workers make 30% more in total compensation than their non-union counterparts.
The reason union membership has stagnated in spite of demand is that the unionization process is heavily weighted in management’s favor, as T.A. Frank demonstrates in the Washington Monthly. This is where the EFCA comes in. The bill would restore some balance to the employer-employee relationship by increasing penalties for illegal union-busting tactics, allowing for binding arbitration if negotiations stall and letting workers choose the system for electing a union.
Citing unions' ability to increase middle class incomes, several economists support the EFCA. Lawrence Mishel, president of the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute, says, “The president has said that we need to go from ‘borrow and spend’ to ‘save and invest.’ I think we need to go to ‘earn and spend.’” Economists like unions because, unlike federally mandated, one-size-fits-all labor standards, collective bargaining is a flexible, situation-specific tool—workers have a vested interest in negotiating a compensation package that will ensure the companies' financial success as well as their own.
A new report from the Center for American Progress found that just a 5% increase in the number of union workers would inject 49 billion dollars into the economy. “There is another sector that is really too big to fail,” writes Terence Samuel for The American Prospect. “The people who will rebuild the economy are workers with enough money in their pockets to take care of all their needs without going into huge debt.”
Sources: Dissent, The Washington Monthly, Reuters, Center for American Progress, The American Prospect
5/6/2009 10:43:25 AM
How much of America's support for Obama results from clever marketing and our desire to just feel good about our president? Chris Hedges’ latest Truthdig column, which explores the gap between President Obama’s brand and his leadership, should give any Obama supporter pause.
“Brand Obama is about being happy consumers,” Hedges writes. “We are entertained. We feel hopeful. We like our president. We believe he is like us. But like all branded products spun out from the manipulative world of corporate advertising, we are being duped into doing and supporting a lot of things that are not in our interest.”
He then details a potent list of the President’s executive actions thus far, which, according to Hedges, prove that “Brand Obama does not threaten the core of the corporate state any more than did Brand George W. Bush.” The evidence includes: $12.8 trillion to Wall Street and insolvent banks; $1 trillion to our “doomed imperial projects” in Iraq; expanding the war in Afghanistan; and refusing to consider single-payer, not-for-profit healthcare.
Hedges goes on to dissect Obama’s Senate voting record, which he calls “a miserable surrender to corporate interests.”
He tags the world of Brand Obama as “junk politics,” which scholar and cultural critic Benjamin DeMott described as “impatient with articulated conflict, enthusiastic about America’s optimism and moral character, and heavily dependent on feel-your-pain language and gesture.” Hedges sees Obama’s junk politics as an extension of his celebrity status, grounded in our image-based culture and the proliferation of “pseudo-events” in the media.
These pseudo-events, “whether they show the president in an auto plant or a soup kitchen or addressing troops in Iraq” are immune to critique, according to Hedges.
“Reporters, especially those on television, no longer ask if the message is true but if the pseudo-event worked or did not work as political theater,” he writes. “Pseudo-events are judged on how effectively we have been manipulated by illusion. Those events that appear real are relished and lauded. Those that fail to create a believable illusion are deemed failures. Truth is irrelevant. Those who succeed in politics, as in most of the culture, are those who create the brands and pseudo-events that offer the most convincing fantasies. And this is the art Obama has mastered.”
Image by Radiospike, licensed under Creative Commons
5/5/2009 4:04:11 PM
When we last reported on the sexual cleansing of Iraq, the human rights organization Iraqi LGBT had counted more than 475 murders since 2003. Now the count is more than 600. Now, according to a report from the Al Arabiya television network, gay men are being subjected to a gruesome new form of torture: their anuses are sealed with a powerful glue and diarrhea is induced, leading to death. An Al Arabiya reporter who visited a morgue in Baghdad. Two Human Rights Watch researchers have also confirmed these terrible deaths.Yanar Mohammed, president of the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq, tells Gay City that videos of the torture are being distributed on mobile phones.
Mohammed, who co-founded Iraq's first feminist newspaper, has taken the issue as her own. "Many older women in my organization were quite opposed to taking up the question of the persecution of homosexuals and didn't understand why it was important," she says. "But I firmly believe that misogyny and homophobia are two sides of the same coin, and that we had a duty to speak out against the persecution of gays in Iraq, which is so little known that I was surprised by the extent of it when I began to look into it."
A Human Rights Watch report on the persecution of gays, lesbians, and transgendered people in Iraq is forthcoming.
Source: Gay City
5/4/2009 6:29:47 PM
As a rule of thumb, it’s generally easier to sound smart when criticizing something than it is when supporting it. It’s safer to stand on the sidelines and insult than it is to offer your own ideas. This immutable rule of human interaction has given rise to “professional pessimists,” a class of pundits and professionals who, according to Arthur Herman in the Wilson Quarterly, have been around since at least 2,000 BC.
Modern pessimists have a lot to criticize. The economy is tanking, bestial influenzas threaten the world’s population, global warming is on the rise, and governments seem impotent to do anything about it. Herman counts Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria, former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, and conservative pundit Peggy Noonan among the ranks of the professional pessimists for their collective belief that the “American Century is finally, definitively over.”
The professional pessimist is able to “not only make past successes look like failure, but can present catastrophe as condign punishment for past sins.” Unfortunately for their home countries, these pessimists can convince other people to panic, or to blithely accept a bleak future, making the decline of their civilization unavoidable.
Source: Wilson Quarterly
5/4/2009 4:56:03 PM
Nigeria has the third highest HIV caseload in the world after India and South Africa—but opportunity trumps risk for some young women in neighboring Benin, who are studying English to give them an edge in the Nigerian sex industry. “Basically,” says a student at a language school in Benin, “it’s English for sex.”
An report on sex workers in Nigeria by IRIN, a news agency funded by the United Nations, gives voice to these women. “Amy, a young sex worker near one of the big hotels in the city, came from Ivory Coast in 2007. She said she made enough money to rent an apartment for US$400 a month in a suburb of Abuja.”
“The world has changed,” she says, “we need to get moving and we need to meet others. What is true for business is also true for other areas. Why should we think that sex is not affected by this? We need to find ways to adapt ourselves.”
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