Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Musings on Marriage

Ian Harris                                Otago Daily Times                            May 25, 2012

If a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, why doesn’t “civil union” for a committed partnership smell as sweet as “marriage”? After all, couples in a civil union are wed in all but word.

In ordinary usage, however, the two terms recognise a fundamental difference between the relationship of a man and a woman, and one between two men or two women – and what’s wrong with acknowledging that?

The current call by some same-sex couples to allow “marriage” to apply to them therefore seems to me to be seeking change but not difference. They have made their commitment to each other publicly and with legal effect.

With one proviso, it seems unnecessary to press for a change that would leave them exactly where they are now. Far more useful would be opening up a discussion on the quality of every relationship, heterosexual or homosexual, and on what makes for loving long-term partnerships across the board.

The proviso relates to adoption. Homosexual partners are not permitted to adopt a child. Remove that barrier – and research shows that children with same-sex parents fare pretty much the same as those with male-female parents – and the last trace of statutory discrimination goes with it. However, a comment by US President Obama that he supports legalising gay marriage has spurred Labour MP Louisa Wall to draft a bill that would redefine marriage to apply to any couple who have formally committed themselves to one another.

Sure, there are some same-sex partners who would like to be known as married rather than couples in a civil union. For heterosexual couples, the word is important because in every culture and every age it has described the union of a man and a woman, and they see no good reason to change that now. Most use the word “marriage” not as a way to express superiority or to judge others, but because it is precise and makes sense.

Homosexuals have not always been so enamoured of marriage. In 1969 the Gay Liberation Front in New York declared: “We expose the institution of marriage as one of the insidious and basic sustainers of the system. The family is the microcosm of oppression.”

Twenty years later Paula Ettelbrick, a professor of law and women’s studies, wrote: “Marriage runs contrary to two of the primary goals of the lesbian and gay movement: the affirmation of gay identity and culture and the validation of many forms of relationships.” Twenty years on again and there has been a sea change. American homosexuals are now campaigning for “marriage equality” as a basic human right. Adding to a puzzling mix, a poster at a recent demonstration declared: “Attention heterosexuals: We want to be miserable too!”

Yet the term “civil union” does not denote second-class citizens in a B-grade partnership, as the advocates of change suggest. It implies no lack of respect for those involved – some civil unions are heterosexual anyway.

It is unfortunate that the focus is the scope of the word “marriage”, not the substance of the relationships – which is beyond anything the law can prescribe. That, however, is the very area where discussion could prove most productive, and where same-sex and man-woman pairings might learn from each other.

What, for example, makes a good marriage? What makes a good civil union? A good partnership which is neither? The answer lies not in whether they carry the label “marriage”, but what each partner brings to their relationship. American scholar of myth Joseph Campbell saw a mythic depth in marriage. When two people find their proper counterpart, he said, they develop a spiritual identity: the two become one. That involves sacrifice, a word meaning “making sacred”.

“If marriage is only a love affair it will end in disappointment,” he said. “It’s an ordeal, and the ordeal is the sacrifice of ego to a relationship in which two have become one. You’re sacrificing not to each other but to unity in a relationship. “The Chinese image of the Tao, with the dark and light interacting – that’s the relationship of yin and yang, male and female, which is what marriage is. You’re no longer this one alone, your identity is in a relationship.”

Mythically, that involves “the sacrifice of the visible entity for a transcendent good . . . By marrying the right person we reconstruct the image of the incarnate God [Godness enfleshed in the human], and that’s what marriage is.” What Campbell is pointing to could, of course, apply to people in traditional marriages and in civil unions – or not, as the case may be. The labels are secondary.

Friday, 25 May 2012

On Memorial Day Weekend, America Reckons with Torture

by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship           Common Dreams           May 25, 2012

Facing the truth is hard to do, especially the truth about ourselves. So Americans have been sorely pressed to come to terms with the fact that after 9/11 our government began to torture people, and did so in defiance of domestic and international law. Most of us haven’t come to terms with what that meant, or means today, but we must reckon with torture, the torture done in our name, allegedly for our safety. It’s no secret such cruelty occurred; it’s just the truth we’d rather not think about.

After 9/11, our government turned to torture, seeking information about the terrorists who committed the atrocity and others who might follow after them. Senior officials ordered the torture of men at military bases and detention facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq, in secret CIA prisons set up across the globe, and in other countries – including Libya and Egypt — where abusive regimes were asked to do Washington’s dirty work.

The best known of all the prisons remains Guantanamo on the southeast coast of Cuba. For years, the United States naval base there seemed like an isolated vestige of the Cold War – defying the occasional threat from Fidel Castro to shut it down. But since 9/11, Guantanamo has been an extraterritorial island jail considered outside the jurisdiction of U.S. civilian courts and rules of evidence. Like the notorious Room 101 of George Orwell’s 1984, Guantanamo’s name has become synonymous with torture. Nearly 800 people have been held there. George W. Bush eventually released 500 of them, sometimes after years of confinement and cruelty. Barack Obama has freed 67, but 169 remain, even though the president pledged to close the Guantanamo prison within a year of his inauguration. Now, forty-six are so dangerous, our government says, they will be held indefinitely, without trial.

We almost never see the detainees. Were it not for the work of human rights organizations and the forest of lawsuits that have arisen from our actions, the prisoners would be out of sight, out of mind. Five of the Guantanamo prisoners were recently arraigned before a military commission for their role in the attacks. One of them is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who says he was the mastermind behind 9/11. He was waterboarded by interrogators 183 times. Pentagon officials predict it will be at least another year before the five go on trial.

Earlier this month, lawyers for Mohammed al-Qahtani – the so-called “20th hijacker” who didn’t make it onto the planes — filed suit in New York federal court to make public what they described as “extremely disturbing” videotapes of his interrogations. He was waterboarded at least 83 times in a single month. Just this week a federal appeals court refused to release information on the interrogation methods the CIA used on Abu Zubaydah.

So here we are, into our eleventh year after 9/11, still at war in Afghanistan, still at war with terrorists, still at war with our collective conscience as we grapple with how to protect our country from attack without violating the basic values of civilization — the rule of law, striving to achieve our aims without corrupting them, and restraint in the use of power over others, especially when exercised in secret.

In future days and years, how will we come to cope with the reality of what we have done in the name of security? Many other societies do seem to try harder than we do to come to terms with horrendous behavior commissioned or condoned by a government. Beginning in 1996, in South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission held hearings at which whites and blacks struggled to confront the cruelty inflicted on human beings during apartheid.

And perhaps you caught something said the other day by the president of Brazil, Dilma Roussef. During the early 70′s, she was held in prison and tortured repeatedly by the military dictators who ruled her country for nearly 25 years. The state of Rio de Janeiro has announced it will officially apologize to her. Earlier, when she swore in members of a commission investigating the dictatorship, President Roussef said: “We are not moved by revenge, hate or a desire to rewrite history. The need to know the full truth is what moves us.”

In other words, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”


Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Like Afghanistan, Mali is a victim of our 'war on terror'

Al-Qa'ida in the Maghreb is increasingly active, while even Nigeria's Islamist Boko Haram is involved.

Ian Birrell                                          Independent/UK                                          23 May 2012

So now we know that Nato will bring its misguided campaign in Afghanistan to a close by the end of 2014, although even Barack Obama admits that the country will remain highly insecure and a hotbed of terrorist activity. A war in which 414 British service personnel have died and which has cost the country £17.3bn will turn out to have been one of depressing futility, our troops possibly having to fight their way out and our government doing dodgy deals with central Asian despots to release our equipment.

If nothing else, the closing of this tragic chapter should serve as a warning that the world needs to be on guard against the failure of nations. But even as Nato leaders slapped backs in Chicago this week, there is little attention being given to the rapid collapse of another country – an event that could have devastating global implications.

For 20 years, the west African nation of Mali has been a model of stability – a tranquil, beautiful country famed for its mangos, music and mud buildings. But following a coup – an increasingly rare event in modern Africa – two months ago, it has descended from beacon of democracy to basket case with shocking speed.

This accidental coup began with a barracks mutiny on 22 March. A group of soldiers, angered by lack of supplies to crush a festering rebellion in the huge northern desert region, ended up in control of the capital. This weekend, regional leaders brokered a deal for a return to democracy in 12 months' time – partly by bribing the blundering coup leader with the spoils of presidential office, complete with a mansion and pension 50 times his current pay as an army captain. Despite this, there are fears the agreement will not stick.

Typical of the sudden chaos engulfing the country, the deal resulted in the 70-year-old interim president, a renowned scientist, being beaten by a mob. This in a country formerly so law-abiding that when a friend of mine left his wallet in a nightclub it had been returned to his hotel by the time he awoke. Now residents stay indoors at night, terrified by incidents such as the gang rape of a teenage girl, filmed on a mobile phone.

But it is events in the north that are so alarming. One legacy of colonialism is that Mali, like many African countries, is an uneasy fusion of diverse cultures. The Tuareg took advantage of the coup to declare independence, sparking events that have led to the black flag of al-Qa'ida fluttering over buildings, foreign militants flooding in, refugees pouring out, and harsh sharia law being imposed. It is all a dismal echo of Afghanistan. Nationalist groups fighting for control with Islamist gangs, while families and clans settle old scores in the most brutal manner. Many of the soldiers are well-armed and battle-hardened after fighting for Gaddafi in Libya.

At the centre of events is a charismatic figure named Iyad al Ghaly. He was leader of an earlier Tuareg revolt who, influenced by Pakistani salifists, became an Islamist and now heads a powerful group called Ansar ud-Dine. Traditionally, the Tuaregs enjoy music and dancing, while women have gone uncovered. Now they are being told to cover up, with even male and female children banned from walking together. Music and television are prohibited, shops are closed, and looters threatened with beheading. Cities are being emptied, with an estimated 310,000 people displaced. Gao, the most populous centre, is now a ghost town while in Niafunke, four out of five residents have fled, and those remaining are preyed on by marauding militia. In Timbuktu, one of the most extraordinary and mystical cities on earth, a sufi shrine has been destroyed, to the fury of locals. There are fears that the legendary libraries, holding thousands of ancient texts, may be next.

This is not just a tragedy for Mali. The civil war is drawing in neighbouring countries who are starting to fight a proxy war with their chosen groups. Al-Qa'ida in the Maghreb, thought to be Algerian-backed and behind the kidnap and killing of Western tourists, is increasingly active. Already there is a humanitarian crisis.

Mali is a huge and strategically important country. This is why American special forces have been operating there and why the West encouraged the militarisation of the north – a policy that has backfired so spectacularly. Mali may be one more victim of the "war on terror". And just as in Afghanistan, the shockwaves from this disaster in the desert could be felt far beyond its own borders.


Monday, 21 May 2012

Nato talks security and peace, Chicago has neither

The paradox of such a city hosting this summit lays bare the brutal way in which inequality is globally maintained and locally replicated.

Gary Younge                                            Guardian/UK                                               20 May 2012

On Friday morning in Brighton Park, a neighbourhood in southwest Chicago, around half a dozen Latina volunteers in luminous bibs patrolled the streets around Davis Elementary school. The school sits in the crossfire of three gangs; the Kings, the 2/6s and the SDs (Satan's Disciples). The trees and walls nearby are peppered with "tags" denoting territory and mourning fallen gang members. There is a shooting in the area every couple of weeks, explains Mariela Estrada of the Brighton Park Neighbourhood Council, which facilitates the volunteers.

That same evening, just a couple of blocks away, a 14-year-old, Alejandro Jaime, was shot dead while out riding his bike with his 11-year-old friend. According to witnesses, a car knocked them both off their bikes. They picked themselves up and ran. A man got out of the car and shot Alejandro in the back. "Although it's the city's job to provide public safety, we had to respond since our children are in danger and continue to face threats of gang violence," said Nancy Barraza, a Parent Patrol volunteer.

The next morning world leaders started arriving in Chicago for the Nato summit where, just 20 minutes from Brighton Park, they would discuss how to maintain international security. The dissonance between the global pretensions of the summit this weekend and the local realities of Chicago could not be more striking. Nato claims its purpose is to secure peace through security; in much of Chicago neither exists. When the city mayor Rahm Emanuel brought the summit to Chicago he boasted: "From a city perspective this will be an opportunity to showcase what is great about the greatest city in the greatest country." The alternative "99% tour" of the city, organised by the Grassroots Collective that came to Brighton Park, revealed how utterly those who claim to export peace and prosperity abroad have failed to provide it at home.

The murder rate in Chicago in the first three months of this year increased by more than 50% compared with the same period last year, giving it almost twice the murder rate of New York. And the manner in which the city is policed gives many as great a reason to fear those charged with protecting them as the criminals. By the end of July last year police were shooting people at the rate of six a month and killing one person a fortnight. This violence, be it at the hands of the state or gangs, is both compounded and underpinned by racial and economic disadvantage. The poorer the neighbourhood the more violent, the wealthier the safer. This is no coincidence. Much like the Nato summit – and the G8 summit that preceded it – the system is set up not to spread wealth but to preserve and protect it, not to relieve chaos but to contain and punish it.

Nato is not an impartial arbiter in this state of affairs but the military wing of a political and economic project that makes it possible. Neoliberal globalisation, and the inequities that come with it, cannot exist without force or the threat of it. "The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist," Thomas Friedman, an ardent advocate of free market globalisation, argued. "McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies to flourish is called the US Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps." The paradox inherent in a city like Chicago hosting a summit like this not only lays bare the brutal nature in which these inequalities are maintained at a global level, but it lends us an opportunity to understand how those inequalities are replicated locally.

Chicago illustrates how the developing world is everywhere, not least in the heart of the developed. The mortality rate for black infants in the city is on a par with the West Bank; black life expectancy in Illinois is just below Egypt and just above Uzbekistan. More than a quarter of Chicagoans have no health insurance, one in five black male Chicagoans are unemployed and one in three live in poverty. Latinos do not fare much better. Chicago may be extreme in this regard, but it is by no means unique. While the ethnic composition of poverty may change depending on the country, its dynamics will doubtless be familiar to pretty much all of the G8 participants and most of the Nato delegates too.

The gated communities – like the one in which Trayvon Martin was killed – have been erected on a global scale to protect those fleeing the mayhem wrought by our economic and military policies. This was exemplified last March when a boat with 72 African refugees fled the Nato-led war in Libya. When the boat found itself stranded it sent out a distress signal that was passed on to Nato which had "declared the region a military zone under its control", and then promptly ignored it, as did an Italian ship. The boat bobbed around in the Mediterranean for two weeks. All but nine on board were left to die from starvation, thirst or in storms, including two babies. "We can talk as much as we want about human rights and the importance of complying with international obligations," said Tineke Strik, the special rapporteur charged with investigating the case. "But if at the same time we just leave people to die – perhaps because we don't know their identity or because they come from Africa – it exposes how meaningless those words are." When Alejandro Jaime's parents hear Emanuel talk about "showcasing the greatest city in the greatest country", they doubtless receive his words with similar disdain.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

If there were global justice, Nato would be in the dock

Seumas Milne                                                  Guardian/UK 15                                         May 2012

Liberia's Charles Taylor has been convicted of war crimes, so why not the western leaders who escalated Libya's killing? Libya was supposed to be different. The lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan had been learned, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy insisted. This would be a real humanitarian intervention. Unlike Iraq, there would be no boots on the ground. Unlike in Afghanistan, Nato air power would be used to support a fight for freedom and prevent a massacre. Unlike the Kosovo campaign, there would be no indiscriminate cluster bombs: only precision weapons would be used. This would be a war to save civilian lives.

The fruits of liberal intervention in Libya are now cruelly clear, and documented by the UN and human rights groups:
8,000 prisoners held without trial, rampant torture and routine deaths in detention, the ethnic cleansing of Tawerga, a town of 30,000 mainly black Libyans (already in the frame as a crime against humanity) and continuing violent persecution of sub-Saharan Africans across the country.

Libya is in the lawless grip of rival warlords and armed conflict between militias, as the western-installed National Transitional Council (NTC) passes Gaddafi-style laws
clamping down on freedom of speech, gives legal immunity to former rebels and disqualifies election candidates critical of the new order. The New York-based Human Rights Watch this week released a report into the deaths of at least 72 Libyan civilians, a third of them children, killed in eight separate bombing raids, (seven on non-military targets), and denounced Nato for still refusing to investigate or even acknowledge civilian deaths that were denied at the time. So while the death toll was between 1,000 and 2,000 when Nato intervened in March, by October it was estimated by the NTC to be 30,000 – including thousands of civilians.

We can't of course know what would have happened without Nato's bombing campaign. But we do know that Nato provided decisive air cover for the rebels as they matched Gaddafi's forces war crime for war crime, carried out massacres of their own and indiscriminately shelled civilian areas with devastating results – such as reduced much of Sirte to rubble last October. So Nato certainly shared responsibility for the deaths of many more civilians than its missiles directly incinerated.

That is the kind of indirect culpability that led to the
conviction last month of Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, in the UN-backed special court for Sierra Leone in The Hague. Taylor was found guilty of "aiding and abetting" war crimes and crimes against humanity during Sierra Leone's civil war in the 1990s. But he was cleared of directly ordering atrocities carried out by Sierra Leonean rebels. Which pretty well describes the role played by Nato in Libya last year.

But there is of course simply no question of Nato leaders being held to legal account for the Libyan carnage, any more than they have been for far more direct crimes carried out in Iraq and Afghanistan. George
Bush has boasted of authorising the international crime of torture and faced not so much as a caution. Which only underlines that what is called international law simply doesn't apply to the big powers or their leaders. In the 10 years of its existence, the International criminal court has indicted 28 people from seven countries for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Every single one of them is African – even though ICC signatories include war-wracked states such as Colombia and Afghanistan.

That's rather as if the criminal law in Britain only applied to people earning the minimum wage and living in Cornwall. But so long as international law is only used against small or weak states in the developing world, it won't be a system of international justice, but an instrument of power politics and imperial enforcement.

Just as the urgent lesson of Libya – for the rest of the Arab world and beyond – is that however it is dressed up, foreign military intervention isn't a short cut to freedom. And far from saving lives, again and again it has escalated slaughter.


Waiting for Copernicus: On the Slow-Death of Neoliberalism

Common Dreams

by John Feffer                                        Foreign Policy In Focus                                     May 9, 2012

It’s happening in Buenos Aires. It’s happening in Paris and in Athens. It’s even happening at the World Bank headquarters. The global economy is finally shifting away from the model that prevailed for the last three decades. Europeans are rejecting austerity. Latin Americans are nationalizing enterprises. The next head of the World Bank has actually done effective development work.

After the near-collapse of the global financial system four years ago, obituary writers rushed to proclaim the death of the prevailing economic philosophy known as neo-liberalism. It was a tempting conclusion. Everyone seemed to get the message. Everyone except Big Money. Washington continued with business as usual. The IMF and the World Bank, meanwhile, didn’t fundamentally change their policies. And the European Union, led by tight-fisted Germany, continued to back austerity. All the major economic actors held to the old orthodoxy.

The case for austerity, explains Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson, “was that once governments began slashing their spending and deficits, markets would reward them by investing in their more productive economies. But the reverse has happened. As Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain have cut their budgets, investors have grown less willing to buy their bonds. By plunging themselves deeper into recession, these nations have convinced investors not that they’re fiscally virtuous but that they won’t become economically viable for many more years.”

French and Greek voters rejected austerity in the elections this weekend not because they are unruly children who refuse to swallow their medicine. Rather, they realize that austerity economics could very well precipitate a lot more pain. Moreover, they want the pain to be fairly shouldered. Francois Hollande, the new Socialist president in France, has called for a 75-percent tax rate on all earnings over $1.3 million. Now that’s a Buffet tax!

Europe at the moment is very much up for grabs. The far right has also rejected austerity, and it has a much simpler platform: blame the immigrants. The National Front in France has injected its xenophobic virus into the very heart of France’s center-right Union for a Popular Movement; the street thugs of Golden Dawn in Greece will enter parliament for the first time; Geert Wilders and his anti-Islamic chest-thumpers brought down the government in the Netherlands last month. Where the left has failed to provide an alternative to austerity, the right has prospered.

The Europeans could learn something here from Latin America, particularly Argentina. In the late 1990s, having racked up a huge debt, Argentina said no. It defaulted on $100 billion-plus in loans. According to the rules Argentina should have been banned from the global casino. But that didn’t happen. Most creditors – 93 percent – eventually accepted the 35 cents on the dollar haircut that the government offered. Foreign investors continued to supply capital. Unemployment dropped from 25 percent in 2001 to below 8 percent in 2010. Social programs reduced the percentage of the population living beneath the poverty line from 51 to 13 per cent.

Argentina is not the only country in the region to roll back the privatization mania. Brazil increased its control over the oil company Petrobras two years ago. Bolivia recently renationalized the electricity grid, Venezuela, under Hugo Chavez, has made enlarging the state sector a populist rallying cry. And Ecuador has followed suit with laws to allow the government to seize oil and gas companies that don’t comply with national regulations. Perhaps they will get some help from an unusual quarter – the World Bank. The new head Jim Yong Kim is a health professional, not a free-trader or a neocon. There are plenty of people at the World Bank who are waiting for this new kind of leadership.

As the world lurches from one economic crisis to another, one thing is certain: there is no longer any consensus in Washington over what to do. Neo-liberalism survives, but more out of inertia than conviction. Meanwhile, out there in the world, the economic Copernicans are busy reconstructing the order of things. 


© 2012 Foreign Policy In Focus

John Feffer is the co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC.

Cleaning up the Middle East

by Ian Harris                              Otago Daily Times                                     May 11, 2012

As spooky ideas go, this was a pearler. In a Q+A television interview last month, former Republican Party presidential contender Jon Huntsman said one of his party’s priorities should be “cleaning up the Middle East”. Huntsman came across as personable and moderate. He is a former Governor of Utah, ambassador to China and, like party front-runner Mitt Romney, a Mormon. But if “cleaning up the Middle East” is part of current thinking among senior American politicians, the world should tremble.

Then last week (May 2) President Barack Obama visited Afghanistan, one of the countries the United States and partners have been busy “cleaning up”, and gave an unwitting glimpse of what that could mean. Harking back to the military’s assassination of al Qaeda’s top man, he crowed: “A year ago we were able to finally bring Osama bin Laden to justice.” Justice? Since when did summary execution without any semblance of due process become justice? Is this the way to “clean up the Middle East”?

The phrase carries echoes of President Bush’s resolve in 2003 to invade Iraq – a “crusade”, he called it – and rid the country of its weapons of mass destruction. Which proved not to exist. Signalling a crusade was appallingly insensitive, and the term was quickly abandoned. But not before Middle Eastern countries objected to the region being subjected to any kind of crusade, which means a “campaign of the Cross”.

Bush’s gaffe was all the more startling for coming only two years after Pope Paul II travelled to Athens and Damascus to seek forgiveness for the seven crusades which Catholic Europe unleashed on the Levant between 1096 and 1291. The goal was to restore Christian dominance in the Holy Land and assert Rome’s supremacy over the eastern Orthodox Church. The victims were Muslims and Orthodox Christians.

Those crusades rank among the most shameful episodes in the church's history. Fuelled by a toxic blend of religious zeal and greed, the crusaders found inspiration in the cry “Deus vult” (God wills it). A popular slogan was “We shall slay for God's love.” In that frame of mind, it is hardly surprising that the first crusade, launched ostensibly to defend the Byzantine emperor in Constantinople from the approaching Turks and to free the Christian holy places from Muslim rule, began irrelevantly with the massacre of 8000 Jews in the Rhineland. Or that the crusaders celebrated the capture of Jerusalem in 1099 by slaughtering 70,000 men, women and children. Jews who took refuge in their synagogue were burnt alive. The Middle East was “cleaned up”.

And 90 years later Jerusalem was back in Muslim hands. So in 1202, with the papacy at the peak of its temporal power, the fourth crusade was launched. But the merchants of Venice diverted it to Constantinople, where the crusaders obliged their sponsors by massacring their fellow-Christians and plundering the city. The loot adorns St Mark's Basilica in Venice to this day. Pope Innocent III roundly denounced the crusaders: “Nothing has been sacred to you. You have violated married women, widows, even nuns . . . The Greek church sees in you the works of the devil.”

Thus in 2001 there was a lot for John Paul II to apologise for. He was taking an essential step towards a reconciling future, and there was huge symbolism in a pope taking off his shoes in the custom of his Muslim hosts before entering a mosque in Damascus. Pious fanaticism fanned the crusades, just as today it fans religious Zionism and the suicide bombers of Islam. In that regard, the God of the fanatics is part of the problem rather than the solution, and hope lies in moving beyond their distorted understandings of God.

Intentionally or not, John Paul pointed to that in Damascus. Urging both sides in the Arab-Israeli impasse to seek peace, he invoked not the Bible or the Qur'an, but “the principles of international legality, the banning of acquisition of territory by force, the right of peoples to self-determination, respect for the resolutions of the United Nations and the Geneva Conventions”.

All these have emerged as people increasingly realise that in the modern world humanity is responsible for its own destiny, and that what unites people around the world has a potential for good far beyond what divides them.

In other words, there is a human potential for Godness. A frail old pope's cleansing acts in Athens and Damascus gave a glimpse of it, just as the action of former popes in launching the crusades emphatically did not.

Shock Doctrine Opponents Revolt:

The Austerity Backlash Across Europe:

The truth is that the real world has paid the high priests of austerity an unwelcome visit

by Owen Jones                                                Independent/UK                                                May 11, 2012

When I first read Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine a few years ago, I had no idea how prescient the book was. It was a polemic about "disaster capitalism", arguing that sudden crises are intentionally manipulated to push through extreme free market policies that were otherwise not politically possible. But the past four years have proved a total vindication of Klein's argument. A crisis of the market was cleverly transformed by free market ideologues into a crisis of public spending. Across Europe, the biggest slump since the 1930s has been used to push through policies straight out of some right-wing wet dream: the slashing of taxes on the rich and major corporations; the selling off of public services; and a bonfire of workers' rights. It is disaster capitalism on speed.

But, this week, the great revolt against the Shock Doctrine began. That is exactly how we must understand the sudden sea change in European politics: not least, the election of Socialist Fran├žois Hollande in France, and the stunning breakthrough of anti-austerity leftists in the Greek elections.

Before I am accused of a swivel-eyed left-wing conspiracy theory, it is worth pointing out that even some proponents of austerity are candid about their strategy. Last November, I was in Portugal, which – after being bailed out by the EU and IMF – is pushing through a far-reaching free market agenda. The first wave of the most radical privatisation programme in the country's history is under way, including the selling off of energy, water, public transport and the national airline. VAT on electricity and gas has been hiked from 6 per cent to 23 per cent, driving up energy bills; many public sector workers are facing a drop in income of a quarter; and unemployment benefits have been slashed by nearly a fifth. Austerity has plunged the country into a deep recession, and debt-to-GDP ratio is soaring: but that is not the point. Portugal is being remade in the image of neo-liberal dogma.

Democracy in Europe has not been suspended, and the collision course is more apparent than ever. "Stop the world, we want to get off!" was The Wall Street Journal's verdict on the mounting European anti-austerity backlash. The truth is that the real world has paid the high priests of austerity an unwelcome visit. Their policies have sucked growth out of the economy, failed to tackle debt, dramatically increased unemployment, and devastated living standards. It would be utterly baffling if people did not fight back.

No wonder Greece is at the forefront of the backlash. A modern European society is being dismembered by austerity. The economy has shrunk by nearly a fifth, and the country's debt continues to mount. Over half of young people are without work; the minimum wage has been slashed to desperately low levels; and wages have fallen by a third since 2009. Then there's the ultimate indicator of despair: the number of people taking their own lives. Greece had one of the lowest suicide rates in the world, but experts suggest it may have doubled since the crisis began. Austerity is literally killing people.

But, along with the booting out of France's Nicolas Sarkozy, the Greek elections could mark the beginning of the end for Europe's Shock Doctrine. Already, the results have boosted the confidence of all those taking on the austerity offensive across Europe. In the Netherlands, the anti-austerity Socialist Party looks set to stage a breakthrough in the upcoming elections. Those calling for a "No" in the upcoming Irish referendum on the EU Treaty – slammed as an "Austerity Treaty" by opponents – feel momentum is on their side, too. The Tories and their Lib Dem allies got a kicking in the recent elections. Cameron's approval ratings are in freefall.

Until now, Britain's anti-austerity movement has been fragmented and lacking in direction. The new winds blowing from the Continent could change all of that. An attempt to use this crisis to transform society in the interests of the top is floundering here and across the Channel. The prospect of building alliances across Europe is no longer fanciful. It is a moment of transition: what happens next is uncertain. As the Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci put it as he languished in fascist jails in the 1930s: "The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born."


© 2012 The Independent

Don’t Send Me Roses for Mothers Day

by Medea Benjamin                 Pub. by Common Dreams            May 13, 2012

What happened to us mothers? We allowed this holiday to get away from us. We allowed it to become commercialized, individualized, commodified, unpoliticized. We allowed it to be about superficial symbols of love—flowers and chocolates and store-bought cards. We allowed it be a time when we, as mothers, sit back and receive personal recognition, instead of a time when we, as mothers, stand up together to make collective demands.
Let’s be clear about what Mothers Day was supposed to be, before it fell out of our grip. It was the brainchild of a brilliant woman, Julia Ward Howe, who was horrified by the carnage and suffering during the Civil War and the economic devastation that followed. She was also heart-broken by the outbreak of war between France and Germany in 1870, with its ominous display of German military might and imperial designs. She used her poetic gift to pen a proclamation against war, a proclamation that birthed Mothers Day.
"Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause," Julia wrote. "Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. "  Her solution? Women should gather together to "promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace."
So here we are, more than a century later, still in the throes of wars abroad and violence in our communities. But instead of coming together to say “Disarm, disarm,” we are content with trinkets and breakfast in bed. Isn’t it time to get out of bed, out of the kitchen, out of the house and into the streets? We should be demanding that our government stop pillaging our treasury by spending $2 billion a week on an unwinnable war in Afghanistan. We should be demanding good education and forgiveness of our children’s college loans, not more money for the bloated Pentagon. We should be demanding that the guns that kill over 30,000 of our sons and daughters every year here at home be banished from the store shelves. We should demand that our nation stop locking up our children for nonviolent crimes, just to feed a disgraceful private prison industry. We should demand that conflict resolution be mandatory in our schools to stop bullying and prejudice, and that diplomacy be mandatory in our foreign relations.
This is our day, moms. Let’s reclaim it and embrace its origins. Our day should not be solely about us, as individuals, but about us embodying the collective desires of mothers around the world—to stop our children from killing and being killed by other mother’s children. No one is going to bring that to us on a breakfast platter; it’s something that we women demand. 
 Happy Mothers Day.   
These were two of the comments that followed this blog: 
DeShawn 2 comments collapsed Collapse    
2 comments collapsed Collapse I say this as a man: If the world were run by women, it would be a much better place. Cheers to you, Ms. Benjamin.A
ctrl-z 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand   A 1 comment collapCollapseExpandI say this as a dog: If the world were run by dogs it would be a much better place, except for cats and squirrels. And there wouldn't be any more of that "get off the bed" stuff either, unless we wanted you to sleep on the floor.
But that's off topic. Medea Benjamin, she's alright. Sniffable even. If there were more humans like her there would be a lot less problems (and chewed slippers). She runs in a good pack.
URL  ms/commondreams/dont_send_me_roses_for_mothers_day/

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Last Words to an America in Decline

by Ernest Callenbach                                    Published on May 7, 2012 by

Ernest Callenbach, author of the classic environmental novel Ecotopia and Ecotopia Emerging, among other works, died at 83 on April 16th, 2012 -- leaving behind this unpublished document on his computer

As I survey my life, which is coming near its end, I want to set down a few thoughts that might be useful to those coming after. It will soon be time for me to give back to Gaia the nutrients that I have used during a long, busy, and happy life. I am not resentful at the approaching end; I have been one of the extraordinarily lucky ones. So it behooves me here to gather together some thoughts that may prove useful in the dark times we are facing. But let us begin with last things first, for a change. The analysis will come later, for those who wish it.

Hope. Children exude hope, even under the most terrible conditions, and that must inspire us as our conditions get worse. Hopeful patients recover better. “Yes, we can!” is not an empty slogan, but a mantra for people who intend to do something together. We cannot know what threats we will face. But ingenuity against adversity is one of our species’ built-in resources. We cope, and faith in our coping capacity is perhaps our biggest resource of all.

Mutual support. The people who do best at basic survival tasks are cooperative, good at teamwork, often altruistic, mindful of the common good. In drastic emergencies like hurricanes or earthquakes, people surprise us by their sacrifices -- of food, of shelter, even sometimes of life itself. So, in every way we can we need to help each other, and our children, learn to be cooperative rather than competitive; to be helpful rather than hurtful; to look out for the communities of which we are a part, and on which we ultimately depend.

Practical skills. With the movement into cities of the world’s people, we have had a massive de-skilling in how to do practical tasks. When I was a boy in the country, all of us knew how to build a tree house, or construct a small hut, or raise chickens, or grow beans. There was widespread competence in fixing things. We all need to learn, or relearn, how we would keep the rudiments of life going if there were no paid specialists around, or means to pay them. Taking care of each other is one practical step at a time; survival is a team sport.

Organize. We like to imagine that heroes are solitary, have super powers, and glory in violence. But of course human society is a complex dance of mutual support and restraint, and if we are lucky it operates by laws openly arrived at and approved by the populace. We have even evolved, spottily, a global understanding that democracy is better than tyranny, that love and tolerance are better than hate, that hope is better than rage and despair, that we are prone, especially in catastrophes, to be astonishingly helpful and cooperative.

Learn to live with contradictions. It is never easy or simple. But already we see, under the crumbling surface of the conventional world, promising developments: new ways of organizing economic activity (cooperatives, worker-owned companies, nonprofits, trusts), new ways of using low-impact technology to capture solar energy, to sequester carbon dioxide, new ways of building compact, congenial cities that are low in energy use, low in waste production, high in recycling of almost everything. A vision of sustainability that sometimes shockingly resembles Ecotopia is tremulously coming into existence at the hands of people who never heard of the book.

We live in the declining years of the biggest economy in the world, where a looter elite has fastened itself upon the decaying carcass of the empire. It is intent on extracting the maximum wealth from that carcass, impoverishing our former middle class. But this maggot class does not invest its profits here. End result: something like Mexico, where a small, rich plutocracy rules over an impoverished mass of desperate people. Barring unprecedented revolutionary pressures, this is the future we face in the United States, too. The U.S will stand out as the best-armed Third World country, its population ill-fed, ill-housed, ill-educated, ill-cared for in health, and increasingly poverty-stricken: even Social Security may be whittled down, impoverishing tens of millions of the elderly. We live in a dark time here on our tiny precious planet.

[This is an edited version of the first part of this document, well worth reading in its entirety. It can be found at ]

BAE 'proud' to sell arms to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia

By staff writers at Ekklesia                                                                             2 May 2012

The chairman of arms giant BAE Systems has refused to rule out selling arms to the Saudi government even if the country uses them to put down peaceful protests. Dick Olver said he is “proud” to sell arms to the regimes of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. 

Olver struggled to keep control as he answered questions at BAE’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) in central London today (2 May). BAE is a multinational firm that presents itself in the UK as a "British" company. The Saudi government has long been one of its best customers. BAE’s board were challenged by opponents of the arms trade who buy single shares to get into the AGM, by regular shareholders angry about executive pay and by workers at BAE’s Brough plant, who are facing redundancy. 

At one point, Olver shouted at South African former MP Andrew Feinstein, who urged him to give an assurance that he will co-operate fully with corruption investigations in South Africa. Olver shouted, “I’m not going to play words with you!” and refused to give the assurance. There were jeers when Olver insisted that BAE had “a culture of responsible behaviour”. 

Olver was asked if there were any circumstances in which he BAE would not be prepared to sell arms to Saudi Arabia. He refused to state any other than to say he would comply with UK arms licences. The UK system for licensing arms sales has long been regarded as flimsy, due to the influence of arms companies within government. Pat Gaffney of the Catholic peace group Pax Christi asked Olver if he could guarantee that the Saudi regime would not use BAE’s weapons against their own people. Olver replied simply, “No”. 

Challenged by Sarah Waldron of the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), Olver admitted that BAE had joined trade minister Stephen Green on an arms sales trip to Libya within the last few days. Olver was asked by Symon Hill, associate director of the Ekklesia thinktank, if he was planning to sell more arms to the Bahraini regime. He said he was “proud” to “support” Bahrain with Hawk jets and weapons parts, and refused to comment on the regime’s brutal repression of peaceful protest. 

Several questioners suggested that BAE should diversify its work to include renewable energy, thus moving away from arms and keeping jobs in Brough. There was applause from both anti-arms activists and Brough workers. Olver ruled it out, saying he would not “flip-flop” between industries, while at the same time praising his company’s contribution to hybrid buses. 

Veteran activist Albert Beale asked the board to state the ratio between the chief executive’s pay – about £2.5 million per year – and the pay of the lowest paid member of staff. Olver said the firm paid good wages but he had “no idea” about the ratio. Beale pointed out he had asked the same question last year, meaning there had been a year in which the board could have worked it out. Told that pay ratios were considered a serious issues in the public sector, Olver said, "We don't live in that world. We live in a competitive world." 

Olver triggered open laughter when he insisted that BAE is “one of the leading companies in the anti-bribery area”. The firm has long been accused of corruption, and was recently fined for “accounting irregularities” after making a plea bargain to avoid bribery charges in relation to Tanzania.Ann Feltham of CAAT asked if the chairman would apologise to the people of Tanzania. Olver said, “I don’t think I need to do that”. 


Ekklesia is a beliefs and values thinktank in UK

Bin Laden's Death Has Had Zero Impact on America's Security

by Gary Younge                                      Guardian/UK                                             May 1, 2012

Last week, Afghanistan; two coalition troops were injured and one killed by Afghan soldiers; the US reached an agreement with the Afghan government to maintain a presence in the country until 2024; and the US failed to break a deadlock with Pakistan after the US refused to apologise for killing 25 Pakistani soldiers in November.

This week, the White House will celebrate the anniversary of the assassination of Osama bin Laden as though it were the crowning achievement of its foreign policy. The man who entered the White House with the message of "hope" and "change" wants to hold on to it with a record of "shoot to kill".

Republicans are right to criticise the president for the crass manner in which he is "dancing around the end zone". Unfortunately, those criticisms ring hollow from a party whose leader played dress up on the USS Abraham Lincoln to announce the end of a war that is still not over, and whose presidential candidate claims Obama should stop travelling the globe "apologising for" America. Moreover, the problem is not that Obama is exploiting a moment of national unity for partisan gain – though he most certainly is – but that this extra-judicial execution of an unmourned man has proved the only event capable of uniting the country since 9/11.

For, as the events over the last week bear out, the assassination of Bin Laden has achieved precious little. Assassination is not a foreign policy. Vengeance, however righteous, is not an argument, let alone a plan. The two wars, ostensibly launched in response to 11 September 2001 have been disasters, leaving many more civilians dead than the original act of terror. America's standing around the world has yet to fully recover.

A message sent to local law enforcement last week by the FBI and Homeland Security stated: "We assess that al-Qaida's affiliates and allies remain intent on conducting attacks in the homeland, possibly to avenge the death of Bin Laden, but not necessarily tied to next month's anniversary." Both the fact and the manner of Bin Laden's demise simply proved what nobody ever doubted: America's ability to kill remains intact and unrivalled. Sadly, its ability to prosecute, convict, persuade and develop remains either untested or unproven.

Every time a drone kills a kid in Pakistan, the US creates more terrorists than it can ever hope to prevent through a single assassination. The dead may not "look like" Obama. But they are still someone's son (or daughter). The episodic atrocities leaked to American newspapers hardly instill confidence in the mission either. Its three principal interventions in the region – Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya – have ended with death of leaders at the hands of mob, hangman or marksman. But none has provided enduring benefits. "

Vice-President Joe Biden last week boasted: "If you are looking for a bumper sticker to sum up how President Obama has handled what we inherited, it's pretty simple: 'General Motors is alive; Osama bin Laden is dead'." Simplistic, certainly, but convincing? Hardly. General Motors' continued existence is good news for its workers and American manufacturing. But unemployment in Detroit remains at 17.8%. The trouble is, comparing yourself to Bush sets the bar far lower than the expectation Obama had originally set up.

Since al-Qaida was never a top-down organisation, Bin Laden's assassination does not make much of a dent in the terror threat. So it's an "achievement" that makes little difference to anyone's life, either in Afghanistan, or Pakistan or the US. That's precisely why Obama has to keep reminding people that it happened – but why the benefits of doing so are so shortlived. Because of everything else that's going on – abroad and at home – it's easily forgettable.

So, let jingoism reign. Let the cameras roll on the general revelling in the military prowess of a crack squad on a tough mission, launched by the warrior-in-chief who held his nerve. " And then, let the printers start on the new bumper stickers. Not "Yes We Can", but "Could Be Worse". 


© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited

Friday, 4 May 2012

‘Violence ends where love begins’: A conversation with Sr. Anne Montgomery

by John Dear SJ                               Peace Movement Aotaroa                                    May. 01, 2012
Sr. Anne Montgomery is a legend in some peace movement circles. A member of the Religious of the Sacred Heart, she has spent more than three years in prison for many civil disobedience actions against war, including seven Plowshares anti-nuclear disarmament actions; many years teaching in Harlem; and many years living with the Christian Peacemaker Team in Hebron, Palestine-Israel. She spoke with me on the phone the other day from her community in the Bay Area.
John Dear: What led you to work full time for disarmament, justice and peace?
Montgomery: In the 1970s, I was working with students in Albany and Harlem. My awareness came from people who were poor and knew the government wasn't there for them. Eighteen-year-olds had just gotten the right to vote but didn't use it because they felt it was useless.  My work with the poor, challenged me to join the demonstrations and get involved.
Dear: In 1980, you joined Daniel and Philip Berrigan in the Plowshares Eight disarmament action in King of Prussia, Penn. What was that action like?
Montgomery:  It turned out that it was easy to get inside the General Electric Plant. I helped distract the guard then went inside, and there they were -- the nuclear nose cones. We were able to hammer on a nuclear nose cone to symbolize the need for nuclear disarmament. We used the Isaiah quote as the basis for our witness: "They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and study war no more." We said people should start dismantling these weapons. It was a symbolic action, but it was also real because we made those nose cones unusable. I spent 11 weeks in jail. In all these actions, the Holy Spirit is with us in a very real way.
 We always take responsibility for what we have done. It's interesting that later, women in prison always understand our actions because of their familiarity with injustice, but they never understand why we wait to be arrested. We take responsibility.
I spent the most time in prison, nearly two years, for the Pershing Plowshares action, for trespassing  at the Martin Marietta plant in Orlando, Fla. We hammered and poured blood on Pershing II missile components and on a Patriot missile launcher and displayed a banner that read, "Violence Ends Where Love Begins." The Plowshares Eight action set in motion a whole movement, but the Thames River Plowshares also stands out because of the sense of vulnerability I felt in the face of our nation's addiction to power and greed, in the face of such blasphemous power. On Labor Day 1989, we swam in freezing water for an hour and a half in the Thames River in Connecticut to reach the Trident nuclear sub, which was being readied for sea trials. Three boarded it from a canoe; those of us who were swimming got caught in the tide. Some reached the side and hammered on it.
Dear: What was your time in prison like?
Montgomery: After the Plowshares Eight, I wasn't afraid of the women in prison, that they might think we were crazy. I always noticed that the women immediately offer you something and ask you what you need. They're very welcoming. That was a big relief and a wonderful experience.  The women support one another, and they hunger for something spiritual. So we always started prayer groups and Scripture study groups, and the women liked that. That was always positive. But you become very aware of the injustice poor women suffer.
I have hope in knowing that God's power and God's nonviolence are stronger than violence and war. Love is stronger than evil, hate, fear or war. The opposite of love is fear, and the government tries to keep us in permanent fear. But when we come together in love and struggle for peace, we are no longer afraid and we can change things. As we trust each other and God, our fear lessens. . Love is always stronger. That gives me hope.                          [Excerpts from a long story]