Friday, 20 December 2013

Angel Face

By Uri Avnery                       Published by Haaretz              21 Dec. 2013

SEEING HER face on the TV screen, one is struck by her beauty. It is the face of an angel, pure and innocent. Then she opens her mouth, and what pours out is vile and ugly, the racist message of the extreme right. Like seeing a cherub parting its lips and revealing the teeth of a vampire.

Ayelet Shaked may be the beauty queen of the present Knesset. But she is the instigator of some of the most outrageous right-wing initiatives in this Knesset. Her latest exploit is a bill which is now being debated in the Knesset, which would levy a huge tax on donations given by foreign “political entities” to Israeli human rights associations, those who advocate a boycott of Israel (or of the settlements only), the indictment of Israeli officers accused of war crimes in international courts, and more. All this while immense sums are flowing from abroad to the settlements and their supporters. Much of it comes from American Jewish billionaires of dubious repute.

This is the face of an international phenomenon. All over Europe, extreme fascistic parties are flourishing. Small despised fringe groups suddenly expand into large parties with a national impact. From Holland to Greece, from France to Russia, these parties propagate a mixture of super-nationalism, racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and immigrant-hatred. A deadly witches’ brew.

The explanation? All over the place, the economic crisis has hit the people hard. Unemployment is high. Young people cannot find jobs. The victims look for a scapegoat on which to vent their anger. They choose the foreigner, the minority, the helpless. That’s how a failed painter named Adolf Hitler became a historic figure. For politicians without vision or values, this is the easiest way to success and prominence. It is also the most despicable.

LAST WEEK, we saw a spectacle that would have shaken our grandparents to the core. Some 300 black people, many of them barefoot in the biting cold of an exceptionally severe winter, were walking dozens of kilometers on a central road. They were refugees who had managed to flee from Sudan and Eritrea, to walk all the way through Egypt and the Sinai and had crossed the border into Israel. There are now about 60,000 such African refugees in Israel. Thousands of them are crowded in the most run-down slums of Tel Aviv and other cities, causing deep resentment among the locals. This has proved a fertile breeding ground for racism.

Looking for a solution to the problem, the government built a large prison in the middle of the desolate Negev desert, unbearably hot in summer and unbearably cold in winter. Thousands of black refugees have been crowded there without trial for three years. Israeli human rights associations applied to the Supreme Court, and the imprisonment of the refugees was declared unconstitutional. The government thought again and decided to circumvent the decision. Not far from the forbidden prison a new prison was built, and the refugees were put there for one year each. No, not a prison. Something called “Open Live-in Facility”. We are good at naming things. We call that “verbal laundry”.

This “open” desert prison is closed during the night, but inmates are free during the day. However, it is far from anywhere. The inmates must register three times during daytime – thus making it impossible to go anywhere, not to mention finding work. It is from this “open” prison that the valiant 300 have walked out and marched all the way to Jerusalem, some 150 kilometers, in order to demonstrate in front of the Knesset. It took them three days. They were accompanied by a few Israeli human rights activists, mostly female. In front of the Knesset they were brutally attacked by specially trained riot police. Each demonstrator was surrounded by half a dozen bullies and violently thrown into a bus, which brought them to the old non-open prison.

A hundred memories float into our minds. Of Jews being hounded from country to country. Of the mighty  USA rejecting Jewish refugees on a German ship, fleeing from Nazi persecution. And later exterminated in the death camps. Of the Swiss pushing back Jews escaping from the concentration camps who had made it to their border.

The Bible commands us to treat the stranger in our midst as we would want to be treated ourselves. “Also, thou shalt not oppress a stranger, for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt!” (Exodus 23:9)   Amen!   [Abridged]

America’s Child Soldiers

JROTC and the Militarizing of America
Ann Jones           Pub. by             Common Dreams         Dec.16, 2013

It should be no secret that the United States has the biggest, most efficiently organized, most effective system for recruiting child soldiers in the world.  With uncharacteristic modesty, however, the Pentagon doesn’t call it that. Its term is “youth development program.” Pushed by multiple high-powered, highly paid public relations and advertising firms under contract to the Department of Defense, the program is a many splendored thing. Its major public face is the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps or JROTC.
What makes this child-soldier recruiting program so striking is that the Pentagon carries it out in plain sight in hundreds and hundreds of private, military, and public high schools across the U.S.
Unlike the notorious West African warlords Foday Sankoh and Charles Taylor (both brought before international tribunals on charges of war crimes), the Pentagon doesn’t actually kidnap children and drag them bodily into battle.  It seeks instead to make its young “cadets” what John Stuart Mill once termed “willing slaves,” so taken in by the master’s script that they accept their parts with a gusto that passes for personal choice. To that end, JROTC works on their not-yet-fully-developed minds, instilling what the program’s textbooks call “patriotism” and “leadership,” as well as a reflexive attention to authoritarian commands.

The scheme is much more sophisticated than any ever devised in Liberia or Sierra Leone. The result is the same, however: kids get swept into soldiering, a job they will not be free to leave, and in the course of which they may be forced to commit spirit-breaking atrocities. When they start to crack under pressure, in the U.S. as in West Africa, out come the drugs. The JROTC program, still spreading in high schools across the country, costs U.S. taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars annually. It has cost some unknown number of taxpayers their children.
The Acne and Braces Brigades   I first stumbled upon JROTC kids a few years ago at a Veterans Day parade in Boston. Before it got underway, I wandered among the uniformed groups taking their places along the Boston Common. There were some old geezers sporting the banners of their American Legion posts, a few high school bands, and some sharp young men in smart dress uniforms: greater Boston’s military recruiters.

Then there were the kids. The acne and braces brigades, 14- and 15-year-olds in military uniforms carrying rifles against their shoulders.  Some of the girl groups sported snazzy white gloves. Far too many such groups, with far too many underage children, stretched the length of Boston Common. They represented all branches of the military and many different local communities, though almost all of them were brown or black in hue: African Americans, Hispanics, the children of immigrants from Vietnam and other points South. Just last month in New York City, I watched similarly color-coded JROTC squads march up Fifth Avenue on Veterans’ Day.
In Boston, I asked a 14-year-old boy why he had joined JROTC. He wore a junior Army uniform and toted a rifle nearly as big as himself. He said, “My dad, he left us, and my mom, she works two jobs, and when she gets home, well, she’s not big on structure. But they told us at school you gotta have a lot of structure if you want to get somewhere. So I guess you could say I joined up for that.”
A group of girls, all Army JROTC members, told me they took classes with the boys but had their own all-girl (all-black) drill team that competed against others as far away as New Jersey. They showed me their medals and invited me to their high school to see their trophies. They, too, were 14 or 15. They jumped up and down like the enthusiastic young teens they were as we talked. One said, “I never got no prizes before.”
Their excitement took me back. When I was their age, growing up in the Midwest, I rose before daybreak to march around a football field and practice close formation maneuvers in the dark before the school day began. Nothing would have kept me from that “structure,” that “drill,” that “team,” but I was in a marching band and the weapon I carried was a clarinet. JROTC has entrapped that eternal youthful yearning to be part of something bigger and more important than one’s own pitiful, neglected, acne-spattered self. JROTC captures youthful idealism and ambition, twists it, trains it, arms it, and sets it on the path to war.
Officially, the Pentagon claims that JROTC is not a recruiting program. Privately, it never considered it to be anything else. Army JROTC now describes itself as having “evolved from a source of enlisted recruits and officer candidates to a citizenship program devoted to the moral, physical, and educational uplift of American youth.” Yet former Defense Secretary William Cohen, testifying before the House Armed Services Committee in 2000, named JROTC “one of the best recruiting devices that we could have.” 
With that unacknowledged mission in hand, the Pentagon pushed for a goal first advanced in 1991 by Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: the establishment of 3,500 JROTC units to “uplift” students in high schools nationwide. The plan was to expand into "educationally and economically deprived areas.” The shoddy schools of the inner cities, the rust belt, the deep South, and Texas became rich hunting grounds. By the start of 2013, the Army alone was recycling 4,000 retired officers to run its programs in 1,731 high schools. All together, Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine JROTC units now flourish in 3,402 high schools nationwide -- 65% of them in the South -- with a total enrollment of 557,129 kids.

Here’s how the program works. The Department of Defense spends several hundred million dollars to provide uniforms, Pentagon-approved textbooks, and equipment to JROTC, as well as part of the instructors’ salaries. Those instructors, assigned by the military (not the schools), are retired officers. They continue to collect federal retirement pay, even though the schools are required to cover their salaries at levels they would receive on active duty. The military then reimburses the school for about half of that hefty pay, but the school is still out a bundle.
Local schools have no control over the Pentagon’s prescribed JROTC curricula, which are inherently biased toward militarism. What else but inferior quality might be expected from self-serving textbooks written by competing branches of the military and used by retired military men with no teaching qualifications or experience? For one thing, neither the texts nor the instructors teach the sort of critical thinking central to the best school curricula today. Instead, they inculcate obedience to authority, inspire fear of “enemies,” and advance the primacy of military might in American foreign policy.
Civic groups have raised other objections to JROTC, ranging from discriminatory practices -- against gays, immigrants, and Muslims, for example -- to dangerous ones, such as bringing guns into schools (of all places). Some units even set up shooting ranges where automatic rifles and live ammunition are used. JROTC embellishes the dangerous mystique of such weapons, making them objects to covet, embrace, and jump at the chance to use.

In its own defense, the program publicizes a selling point widely accepted across the United States: that it provides "structure," keeps kids from dropping out of school, and turns boys (and now girls) of "troubled" background into "men" who, without JROTC to save them would become junkies or criminals or worse. No evidence exists to prove these claims, however, apart from student testimonials like that offered by the 14-year-old who told me he joined up for “structure.”  That kids (and their parents) fall for this sales pitch is a measure of their own limited options. The great majority of students find better, more life-affirming “structure” in school itself through academic courses, sports, choirs, bands, science or language clubs, internships, in schools where such opportunities exist. Yet it is precisely in schools with such programs that administrators, teachers, parents, and kids working together are most likely to succeed in keeping JROTC out. It is left to the “economically and educationally deprived” school systems targeted by the Pentagon to cut such “frills” and blow their budgets on a colonel or two.

School Days  In one such Boston inner city school, predominantly black, I sat in on JROTC classes where kids watched endless films of soldiers on parade, then had a go at it themselves in the school gym, rifles in hand. Since those classes often seemed to consist of hanging out, students had lots of time to chat with the Army recruiter whose desk was conveniently located in the JROTC classroom.

They chatted with me, too. A 16-year-old African American girl, who was first in her class and had already signed up for the Army, told me she would make the military her career. Her instructor -- a white colonel she regarded as the father she never had at home -- had led the class to believe that “our war” would go on for a very long time, or as he put it, “until we’ve killed every last Muslim on Earth.” She wanted to help save America by devoting her life to that “big job ahead.” Stunned, I blurted out, “But what about Malcolm X?” He grew up in Boston and a boulevard not far from the school was named in his honor. “Wasn’t he a Muslim?” I asked. “Oh no, ma’am,” she said. “Malcolm X was an American.”
A senior boy, who had also signed up with the recruiter, wanted to escape the violence of city streets. He joined up shortly after one of his best friends, caught in the crossfire of somebody else’s fight, was killed in a convenience store just down the block from the school. He told me, “I’ve got no future here. I might as well be in Afghanistan.” He thought his chances of survival would be better there, but he worried about the fact that he had to finish high school before reporting for “duty.” He said, “I just hope I can make it to the war.”
What kind of school system gives boys and girls such “choices”? What kind of country?         [Abridged]

© 2013 Ann Jones                     

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Mandela was the world's most revered public figure

The years he spent in the belly of the apartheid beast deepened his compassion and capacity for empathy

Desmond Tutu                                      Guardian/UK                                    8 December 2013

Never before in history was one human being so universally acknowledged in his lifetime as the embodiment of magnanimity and reconciliation as Nelson Mandela was. He set aside the bitterness of enduring 27 years in apartheid prisons – and the weight of centuries of colonial division, subjugation and repression – to personify the spirit and practice of Ubuntu. He perfectly understood that people are dependent on other people in order for individuals and society to prosper.  That was his dream for South Africa and the hope that he represented the world over. If it was possible in South Africa, it was possible in Ireland, it was possible in Bosnia and Rwanda, it was possible in Colombia. It is possible in Israel and Palestine.

In the spirit of Ubuntu, Madiba was quick to point out that he alone could not take credit for the many accolades that came his way; that he was surrounded by people of integrity who were brighter and more youthful than himself. That is only partially true.  The truth is that the 27 years Madiba spent in the belly of the apartheid beast deepened his compassion and capacity to empathise with others. On top of the lessons about leadership and culture to which he was exposed growing up, and the experiences of developing a voice for young people in anti-apartheid politics, and physically prosecuting the struggle – prison seemed to add an understanding of the human condition.
He embodied what he proclaimed – he walked the talk. He invited his former jailer to attend his presidential inauguration as a VIP guest and he invited the man who led the state's case against him at the Rivonia trial, calling for the imposition of the death penalty, to lunch at the presidency. He visited the widow of the high priest of apartheid, Mrs Betsy Verwoerd, in the white Afrikaner-only enclave of Orania. He had a unique flair for spectacular, hugely symbolic acts of human greatness that would be gauche carried out by most others. Who will forget the electrifying moment in the 1995 rugby World Cup final when he stepped out on the Ellis Park pitch with captain Francois Pienaar's No 6 on the Springbok jersey he was wearing?  It was a gesture that did more for nation building and reconciliation than any number of preacher's sermons or politician's speeches.

When th Truth and Reconciliation Commission published its findings, some of which the ANC strongly opposed, Madiba had the grace to accept the report publicly. Another example was the establishment of South Africa's first rural Aids treatment site, by his foundation, at a time when the South African government was dithering and obfuscating in response to the pandemic.

When one of the TRC commissioners was accused in an amnesty hearing of being involved in the case before the commission, President Mandela appointed a judicial commission to investigate. Later, the president's secretary called me to get the contact details of the commissioner. I realised that the president wanted to put him at ease, but I told the secretary that as the chairperson of the commission I should know the findings of the judicial commission first. Within minutes, the president himself was on the line saying: "Yes, Mpilo, you're quite right. I'm sorry." Politicians find it almost impossible to apologise. Only truly great persons apologise easily; they are not insecure.
Can you imagine what would have happened to us had Nelson Mandela emerged from prison in 1990 bristling with resentment at the gross miscarriage of justice that had occurred in the Rivonia trial? Can you imagine where South Africa would be today had he been consumed by a lust for revenge, to want to pay back for all the humiliations and all the agony that he and his people had suffered at the hands of their white oppressors? Instead, the world was amazed by the unexpectedly peaceful transition of 1994, followed not by an orgy of revenge but by the wonder of forgiveness and reconciliation epitomised in the processes of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Was he a saint? Not if a saint is entirely flawless. I believe he was saintly because he inspired others powerfully and revealed in his character, transparently, many of God's attributes of goodness: compassion, concern for others, desire for peace, forgiveness and reconciliation. Thank God for this remarkable gift to South Africa and the world.
May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

Desmond Tutu is an archbishop emeritus and human rights activist

Pope slams capitalism as ‘'new tyranny"

”Not to share wealth with poor is to steal”

By Reuters                 November 26, 2013                       Part 2

Pope Francis has taken aim at capitalism as "a new tyranny" and is urging world leaders to step up their efforts against poverty and inequality, saying "thou shall not kill" the economy. Francis calls on rich people to share their wealth. The existing financial system that fuels the unequal distribution of wealth and violence must be changed, the Pope warned. "How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?" Pope Francis asked an audience at the Vatican.

The global economic crisis, which has gripped much of Europe and America, has the Pope asking how countries can function, or realize their full economic potential, if they are weighed down by the debts of capitalism. “A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules,” the 84-page document, known as an apostolic exhortation, said.

"To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which has taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits", the pope’s document says. He goes on to explain that in this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which has become the only rule we live by.

Shameful wealth

Inequality between the rich and the poor has reached a new threshold, and in his apostolic exhortation to mark the end of the “Year of Faith”, Pope Francis asks for better politicians to heal the scars capitalism made on society.

"Just as the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills," Francis wrote in the document issued Tuesday.

His calls to service go beyond general good Samaritan deeds, as he asks his followers for action “beyond a simple welfare mentality". "I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor,” Francis wrote. A recent IRS report shows that the wealth of the US’s richest 1 percent has grown by 31 percent, while the rest of the population experienced an income rise of only 1 percent.

The most recent Oxfam data shows that up to 146 million Europeans are at risk of falling into poverty by 2025 and 50 million Americans are currently suffering from severe financial hardship.

"As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation, and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world's problems or, for that matter, to any problems," he wrote.

Named after the medieval saint who chose a life of poverty, Pope Francis has gone beyond general calls for fair work, education, and healthcare. Newly-elected Pope Francis has stepped up the fight against corrupt capitalism that has hit close to home - he was the first Pope to go after the Vatican bank and openly accused it of fraud and shady offshore tax haven deals.

In October, Pope Francis removed Vatican bank head Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, after revelations of alleged mafia money laundering and financial impropriety.

Pope Francis describes Unfettered Capitalism as Tyranny

Pontiff's first major publication calls on global leaders to guarantee work, education and healthcare

By Reuters                      November 26, 2013                     Part 1

Pope Francis has attacked unfettered capitalism as "a new tyranny", urging global leaders to fight poverty and growing inequality in the first major work he has authored alone as pontiff. The 84-page document, known as an apostolic exhortation, amounted to an official platform for his papacy, building on views he has aired in sermons and remarks since he became the first non-European pontiff in 1,300 years in March. In it, Francis went further than previous comments criticising the global economic system, attacking the "idolatry of money" and beseeching politicians to guarantee all citizens "dignified work, education and healthcare".

He also called on rich people to share their wealth. "Just as the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills," Francis wrote in the document issued on Tuesday. "How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?"

The pope said renewal of the church could not be put off and the Vatican and its entrenched hierarchy "also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion". "I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security," he wrote.

In July, Francis finished an encyclical begun by Pope Benedict but he made clear that it was largely the work of his predecessor, who resigned in February. Called Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), the exhortation is presented in Francis's simple and warm preaching style, distinct from the more academic writings of former popes, and stresses the church's central mission of preaching "the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ". In it, he reiterated earlier statements that the church cannot ordain women or accept abortion. The male-only priesthood, he said, "is not a question open to discussion" but women must have more influence in church leadership.

A meditation on how to revitalise a church suffering from encroaching secularisation in western countries, the exhortation echoed the missionary zeal more often heard from the evangelical Protestants who have won over many disaffected Catholics in the pope's native Latin America. In it, economic inequality features as one of the issues Francis is most concerned about. The 76-year-old pontiff calls for an overhaul of the financial system and warns that unequal distribution of wealth inevitably leads to violence.

"As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world's problems or, for that matter, to any problems," he wrote. Denying this was simple populism, he called for action "beyond a simple welfare mentality" and added: "I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor."

Since his election, Francis has set an example for austerity in the church, living in a Vatican guest house rather than the ornate Apostolic Palace, travelling in a Ford Focus, and last month suspending a bishop who spent millions of euros on his luxurious residence. He chose to be called Francis after the medieval Italian saint of the same name famed for choosing a life of poverty.

Stressing co-operation among religions, Francis quoted the late Pope John Paul II's idea that the papacy might be reshaped to promote closer ties with other Christian churches and noted lessons Rome could learn from the Orthodox church such as "synodality" or decentralised leadership. He praised co-operation with Jews and Muslims and urged Islamic countries to guarantee their Christian minorities the same religious freedom as Muslims enjoy in the west.

Britain is up to its neck in US dirty wars and death squads

The war on terror is now an endless campaign of drone and undercover killings that threatens a more dangerous world

Seumas Milne                              Guardian/UK                         4 December 2013

You might have thought the war on terror was finally being wound down, 12 years after the US launched it with such disastrous results. President Obama certainly gave that impression earlier this year when he declared that "this war, like all wars, must end". In fact, the Nobel peace prize winner was merely redefining it. There would be no more "boundless global war on terror", he promised. By which he meant land wars and occupations are out for now, even if the US is still negotiating for troops to remain in Afghanistan after the end of next year.

But the war on terror is mutating, growing and spreading. Drone attacks from Pakistan to north Africa, are central to this new phase. And as Dirty Wars – the powerful new film by the American journalist Jeremy Scahill – makes clear, so are killings on the ground by covert US special forces, proxy warlords and mercenaries in multiple countries.

Scahill's film noir-style investigation starts with the massacre of a police commander's family by a US Joint Special Operations Command (Jsoc) secret unit in Gardez, Afghanistan.. It then moves through a murderous cruise missile attack in Majala, Yemen, that killed 46 civilians, including 21 children; the drone assassination of the radical US cleric Anwar al-Awlakiand his 16-year-old son; and the outsourced kidnappings and murders carried out by local warlords on behalf of Jsoc and the CIA in Somalia.

The assumption that they were taking out the bad guys, armed or unarmed, clearly trumped the laws of war. The same goes for the war on terror on a far bigger scale. Drone strikes are presented as clean, surgical attacks. In reality, not only does the complete absence of risk to the attacking forces lower the threshold for their use. But their targets depend on intelligence that is routinely demonstrated to be hopelessly wrong.
In many cases, far from targeting named individuals, they are "signature strikes" against, say, all military-age males in a particular area or based on a "disposition matrix" of metadata, signed off by Obama at his White House "kill list" meetings every Tuesday. Which is why up to 951 civilians are estimated to have been killed in drone attacks in Pakistan alone, and just 2% of casualties are "high value" targets.

 At best, drone and special forces killings are extrajudicial summary executions. More clearly, they are a wanton and criminal killing spree. The advantage to the US government is that it can continue to demonstrate global authority and impunity without boots on the ground and loss of US life.

They also create precedents. If the US and its friends arrogate to themselves the right to launch armed attacks around the world at will, other states now acquiring drone capabilities may well follow suit. Most absurdly, what is justified in the name of fighting terrorism has spread terror across the Arab and Muslim world and provided a cause for the very attacks its sponsors are supposed to be defending us against at home.

The US-led dirty wars are a recipe for exactly the endless conflict Obama has promised to halt. They are laying the ground for a far more dangerous global order. The politicians and media who plead national security to protect these campaigns from exposure are themselves a threat to our security. Their secrecy and diminished footprint make them harder than conventional wars to oppose and hold to account – though the backlash in countries bearing the brunt is bound to grow. But their victims cannot be left to bring them to an end alone.           [Abridged]       Twitter: @seumasmilne

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Locked Up Warriors

Al Jazeera                    08 Nov 2013

Why does New Zealand have one of the highest rates of incarceration in the developed world?
New Zealand ranks as one of the world's most peaceful countries in the Global Peace Index every year. Yet despite a strong reputation for social justice and equality, the South Pacific nation has the second highest rate of imprisonment rates in the western world.

In the past two decades, the jail population has doubled. One international study examining law and order across western nations attributes it to a "tough on crime" approach by New Zealand's political parties since the 1980's, even though crime rates are low.  Today each prisoner costs on average $94,000 to lock up and the current government has described New Zealand's prison problem as a moral and fiscal failure.

One in two prisoners is indigenous Maori even though they only account for just 15 percent of the population. Maori are overrepresented in all sectors of the criminal justice system due to soaring rates of child poverty, school dropout, unemployment and family breakdown within indigenous communities.

Many say going to prison has become normalised in Maori society because every child has a relative who is locked up. They also claim that government agencies are failing the children of Maori prisoners, leaving them vulnerable to becoming a new generation of offenders.

Gang affiliations also play their part, providing surrogate families to disenfranchised youth. Since the 1960's, young Maori have joined the ranks of patched gangs like the Mongrel Mob and Black Power who were modelled on US bikie gangs like the Hells Angels.

Over the decades the gangs have been involved in violent crime, drug trafficking and brutal gang rapes. Both the Mongrel Mob and Black Power retain a strong presence across the country but many Maori youth are also forming their own smaller American-style street gangs.

Recently, the New Zealand prison system has introduced cultural units and innovative programmes that try to connect Maori with their families instead of the gangs and to encourage prisoners to get back in touch with their cultural ancestry by learning traditions like the Haka, a famous warrior dance.

But only half of the men in these units speak with their family and reestablishing that bond is not an easy task.
Maori leaders who have seen these programmes at work say they have little effect unless they connect inmates with community projects on the outside. New Zealand's indigenous population is also overrepresented in reoffending rates. With half of the prisoners returning to jail within two years of their release, the government has introduced more education and addiction programmes in jail.  

US push on intellectual property conflicts with international norms

Revelation of secret agreement shows need for transparency and accountability
By Carolina Rossini and  Burcu Kilic                     al Jazeera               1 December 2013
WikiLeaks has once again provided key insight into the secret workings of governments. In a Nov. 13 release, the anti-secrecy organization published the draft text of the intellectual property chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP).
One of the most controversial pieces of international law in recent years, the TTP is President Barack Obama’s signature Asia-Pacific economic project aimed at protecting American interests in the region. The current negotiations include twelve countries: the U.S., Japan, Australia, Peru, Malaysia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Chile, Singapore, Canada, Mexico, and Brunei. Over time, the U.S. hopes to expand TPP’s reach to incorporate all members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum — comprising roughly 40 percent of the world’s population, 55 percent of global GDP, and some of the world’s fastest growing economies. It is possible that South Korea, Thailand and even China might join the TPP in the future.
Since Wikileaks made the intellectual property (IP) chapter public, multiple organizations have provided extensive and detailed critiques. According to these analyses, the text demonstrates U.S. preference for increasing protections on existing copyrights and patents over balanced policies that promote global innovation, creativity and political freedom. The disclosures especially suggest the inordinate influence of the motion picture and pharmaceutical industries. In the first brief interview commenting on the leak, the U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman defended the proposal saying it is within the bounds of U.S. law.
Further analysis of the IP chapter shows that it violates international consensus on several important issues. First, the U.S. is pushing provisions that conflict with the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Development Agenda, which requires that development concerns be a formal part of global IP policy. Second, the chapter also takes a controversial approach to the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Doha Declaration on the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and Public Health. TRIPS sets the standards for intellectual property protection in the world today, which are binding on all members of WTO. The Doha Declaration affirms that TRIPS signatories should interpret and implement TRIPS in a manner supportive of their own rights to protect public health and, in particular, to promote access to medicines for all. Although the IP chapter makes explicit reference to the Doha Declaration, the IP chapter is designed to narrow its scope, thereby limiting access to medicines and restricting what governments can do to protect public health.
Third, U.S. proposals also contradict the current policy discussions on access to medicines and on research & development at the World Health Organization and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. Fourth, the TPP chapter also jeopardizes the flexibilities guaranteed under fair use doctrine by pushing for strict enforcement of copyrights online. 
The significance of the leak.  The secretly negotiated trade deal symbolizes the consolidation of a “forum shifting” — a strategy designed to establish an international norm while evading multilateral and more transparent international agreements on intellectual property and internet policy negotiations, and the rights they grant to the public sector.  In addition to reinforcing the secret environment normally preferred by private interests, the closed-door negotiation of TPP disregards broader international efforts, takes advantage of power imbalances against the developing world and limits citizens’ freedoms as internet users, patients and consumers. 
The current effort to rebrand the talks as “trade” and make the deals non-transparent also counters progress made through decades of cooperation between civil society organizations and governments to create room for public engagement on IP policy.  In the current disclosures, Canada, Chile and New Zealand pushed back strongly against U.S. demands on IP, patents and copyright, while the U.S dominated the list of proposals pushed by a single country. This is further evidence that the strong campaigns from civil society, both through engagements at TPP negotiating rounds and through protests, has had some impact even while being aggressively excluded.    [Abridged]

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Talk for Rotary Convention

Green Lane, Auckland    Arthur Palmer  16 Nov. 2013        

Thank you for inviting me to talk about peace.

It is true that I do have a strong concern for peace.  But that is not so uncommon. Peace is a beautiful word.  It’s a concept that has a long history of songs, poems, hymns and lyrics in every language, with peace as the theme.  And yet we still live in a very violent world. Why is peace so elusive? Why was the 20th century so full of wars and violence? And now we are continuing in the same fashion, with peace as elusive as ever.  Do we have to get used to a succession of conflicts which peter out when we reach a stalemate? Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan.  There is so much to regret as we repeat those names and remember the losses. On both sides. It has been a very costly way of dealing with the political differences of opposing ideologies. Costly not only in lives, but in attitudes to life.

One of the problems is that we live on a small crowded planet with not unlimited resources.  We have to find a way of facilitating change in the direction of justice for all, and it is becoming increasingly obvious that the competing empires of the past are not a helpful model for the future. That way lies endless conflict and death.
The old pattern was for the strong nations to subdue, or at least control, weak and so-called ‘backward’ societies, and install an Empire loyalist, either indigenous or from home base, and give him the power to rule and keep order. We sometimes tried to convince the world that there were benefits for those whom we ruled, and when there was some idealistic vision present, some did manage to make gains.  I think we can say that NZ had a better transition than most. We were given something to build on when the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, and we are still working on it.  But that was not typical. More common was the corruption and cruelty that comes with absolute power.  My generation grew up with the conviction that the British Empire was better than the rest, and many men died to honour that belief. Not a few others, many of them dark-skinned, died because they challenged the regime that had kept them in servitude.

We are now part of a world vastly different from the one which we inherited. But the old model of Empire is still very much alive. Contending forces jockey for position, as in the past.  And New Zealand is a very small player in that environment.  Small does not mean insignificant.  When NZ rejected nuclear weapons as an acceptable basis for a peaceful future, the world took notice.  We were saying that threatening whole cities, or even nations, with instant nuclear death was not justifiable in any circumstances. NZ was seen by millions of people as offering a sign of hope. The shadow of a war of unimaginable horror was moved a little further away.

Right now we see another weapon that lays claim to being the answer to those who may harbour ideas of violently challenging the status quo. These weapons, unmanned aerial vehicles, UAVs in military jargon, commonly known as drones, can inflict death from thousands of miles away, with no cost to the Empire or its servants. That’s the claim. But actually the cost is huge.  Those killed may well include dangerous men with loyalties that we question. Also killed are many bystanders, including women and children, and not a few who were targeted because of mistaken identity, or for the money given for “information”. And for almost every one of these victims there exists a family network that grieves, and imagines who and what manner of human beings have sanctioned and carried out this cruel deed.

Sir Winston Churchill is lauded as a great wartime leader, and he certainly knew how to handle the English language in the service of his country’s war.  But long before those dark days, he made this perceptive comment. This quote is from one of his books, “My Early Life”.  It went like this: ”The Government that can win a war can seldom make a good peace; and the Government that could make a good peace would never have won the war.” 

That’s worth thinking about.  To fight a war effectively one has to demonise the enemy. This always happens in wartime, and becomes more intense the longer the conflict continues. So that by the time we write a peace treaty most of us are in no mood to be generous or forgiving. Too much bad stuff has happened.  Too many have been grievously hurt.  On both sides.  The qualities most needed for a lasting peace are generosity and recognition of our common humanity. But these qualities have spent the war years confined to our citizens and those of some, not all, of our allies. Necessarily confined, Churchill would say, because we could not afford to let them hamper military victory.

But when victory finally comes and peace is declared, then the problems arise.  And Churchill was proved right. The qualities which enabled a coalition of unlikely allies to defeat the powers of Germany, Italy and Japan were not helpful in planning a peaceful future.  Strong nationalist sentiment had fuelled the fighting forces of each nation. Now we needed to plan internationally and think globally.

 But old habits are hard to break. The victors are likely to write a treaty that disempowers those whom they have fought, and who may wish to challenge them in the future. And there we have the seeds of more conflict.  Our new peace is based to a large extent on negatives and conditions, rather than positives and racial harmony. How do we break out of this recurring dilemma? . Especially when there is a lot of distrust in the mix.  War breeds distrust. Old allies begin calling each other bad names. A poem in the New Statesman caught the tone of the times in 1948: Worth recalling.   Verse one…

1.  On V-Day just three years ago we cheered our brave allies
     Who helped to sweep the hated foe from earth and seas and skies. 
     We hung the banners out to greet our Gurkhas and our Sikhs, 
     Our Fighting French, our Czechs, our Poles, our Jugoslavs, our Greeks. 

2.  But Europe’s skies are overcast since that victorious day. 
     Our Gurkhas and our Greeks have passed from Britain’s sovereign sway. 
     And yet another menace in his conscript ranks enrols 
     His Czechs, his Greeks, his Jugoslavs, his Prussians and his Poles. 

It’s all getting a bit hazy now, sixty years later.  And so much has happened since.  But it is instructive to study that period of high hopes for many of the world’s people.  Hopes for peaceful development. Why has that been so patchy? And especially this: why are we now still fearful of what could happen if opposing forces unleashed the lethal weapons that are now held in so many unsteady hands?

There were two more verses to that poem, and they were looking ahead.

3.  Now democratic nations in another anxious pause 
     Are making preparations for another common cause.
     Though peace is highly spoken of, the post-war world divides, 
     And possible belligerents are busy changing sides. 

4.  So when our next V-Day is due, for those alive to see, 
     With fighting friends of WW2 opposed in WW3, 
     Though old allies have fallen out, new ranks will fill the gaps – 
     We’ll maybe cheer our Germans, our Italians and our Japs.

That was published on 8th May, 1948, as Britain was celebrating a third anniversary of victory in WW2. And it was prophetic.  Quite a lot of effort, and billions of dollars, went into arranging for something like that to happen in terms of military forces. The Cold War replaced the hot one. Communism was the new enemy.  Our leaders concentrated on a form of peace based on dominance and superior nuclear power.  And finally settled for a stalemate - Mutually Assured Destruction.    Yes, M A D spells MAD. There can be no winner in an exchange of nuclear missiles. 

We now have seven or eight nations with nuclear weapons, and more nations planning to join the club in which membership ensures that you will be listened to.  It’s a very unstable peace we have now.  The US empire is keen to enlarge its role as Supreme Controller, along with a group of compliant satellite nations. How much confidence can we have in that as a basis for peace, as we look at the history of past empires? In fact our world is already in crisis.  Those who are labelled “terrorists” multiply their numbers.  The new Empire with the most powerful army in the world pulls back and leaves a broken society in Vietnam, then in Iraq, and now in Afghanistan, with more conflict and suffering to come. 

So let’s try to be positive.  We are still needing an answer to the question: how can we build a peace that is creative, forward-looking and with promise of hopeful developments. We do have the tools. It has been estimated that in recent years roughly half of the world’s scientific expertise has been devoted to inventing new and more powerful weapons. Just think of the possibilities if that skill was harnessed for something else.  For example, discovering new sources of energy, countering climate change, educating and improving the lot of millions who live out a bare and uncertain existence. 

That poem was prophetic as regards another aspect of our life today.  How many would have dared to imagine in 1948 that Rotary International, a world-wide community organisation promoting social welfare across boundaries, would be led by a Japanese President, Mr Sakuji Tanaka, during the 2012-13 year.  And no doubt with the memory of those war years in his mind he has made PEACE a central focus for Rotary throughout the world. Symposiums in Berlin, Hiroshima and Pearl Harbour, (inspired choices, don’t you agree?) have wrestled with this question of how we can help to build a strong and peaceful interconnected world.

I repeat what I said before: NZ is a small player in all this. But we have the right, and, I dare to say, even the duty, to advocate, and practice, a better way of building a future. We need a creative future, an inclusive future. How do we go about building that? 

I think Bougainville offers some clues.  I recently listened to Major Josh Wineera, of the NZDF, talk about the Peace Process there eleven years ago. The mission that he headed, under the auspices of the UN, had the task of persuading former enemies, who had fought for a decade over the issue of the huge copper mine there, to reach an understanding that could bring a stable and peaceful society. How did they do it? Major Wineera explains:

First, the mission was impartial, neutral and respectful. It was their peace, not ours, and we were helping them to decide.
Second, they took time to visit a host of villages and communities to explain the peace process, and to listen to doubts and hurts. The mission came without weapons and the Bougainvillians agreed to hand in all their guns. They learnt to trust the mission.
Third, the mission members had a wide range of skills, including diplomats, police, and also members from Vanuatu, Fiji and later Australia.  And, most important, there was a gender mix on both sides. With patience a peaceful future opened up and grew. Peace continues after 10 years. And hopefully the trust is growing.

Can we learn from this story and apply these lessons to problems in a larger context? I think we can.
Let’s imagine for a moment.  What about the military bases which are now dotted all over the world. A century ago it was our own British Empire setting the pace. Now it’s the U.S, with 750 bases in 130 foreign countries, so we are told.  Those who work there are proud to be posted overseas, to safeguard and extend the power of the US empire, and all other concerns are very minor.  That makes them suspect to many small nations, especially those who have reason to feel exploited by external forces, such as powerful trans-national corporations linked to the US.  But what if those bases were staffed instead with experts on education and health, and competent exponents of relevant social skills, ready and equipped to be invited by people living in deprived communities. Almost certainly there would be more requests than could be met immediately, and the rule would be never to go anywhere uninvited. 

Yes, of course there will be stresses.  Almost all change offends some whose dominant or comfortable position is threatened.  And often there is widespread unemployment and little hope of improvement without help, which means we have a breeding-ground for corruption and crime.  But listening to those whom we are trying to help, and offering grounds for hope, that is the key to peaceful change.

I suggest that we are at a crucial point.  Our world is finding that more lethal weapons are not the way to peace.  In fact they are hindering, increasing our fears and creating new hatreds.  Can we now step up with a positive way forward that will move us towards building a stable peace?  Rotary has already shown, in a small way, what can be done, both locally and internationally.  But this is where Governments are needed, and billions of dollars as well as the thousands, to meet the huge need.

I believe we have been given the outlines of a vision that is greatly needed at this time.  That vision is too easily brushed aside by Governments, when it is articulated by individuals, or by peace groups and Churches.  But when it comes from business leaders with a social conscience and solid evidence, then it is much harder to label as idealistic and naive.  New Zealand, and Rotary, are names that are respected. When they engage in dialogue with powers in society, including the world of media and politics, they are listened to.   We have a duty not to be silent in the face of what ails our world.

And finally: what is the fuel that will empower us?  Not just cheap expediency.  There’s no power in that.  Not political or commercial advantage.  The changes that we are talking about here will only come, I believe, when we push for them because they are right, because they are just, and because they serve humanity.  Our world desperately needs this larger vision, inspired by compassion and empathy.  That’s the language we must learn.  Our children and our grandchildren depend on us to work hard to enable this to happen. . And Peace will slowly cease to be as elusive as it is at this moment.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Drone Strikes in Pakistan: Reapers of Their Own Destruction

By Medea Benjamin                Common  Dreams                       November 25, 2013
"We will put pressure on America, and our protest will continue if drone attacks are not stopped," said an angry Imran Khan, leader of Pakistan’s third largest political party, the PTI (the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf). He was speaking on Saturday, November 23, to a crowd of over 10,000 protesters who blocked the highway used by NATO supply trucks taking goods in and out of Afghanistan. The latest protests in Pakistan show that even when the US hits its mark, as in the case of the last two strikes in Pakistan that killed key leaders of two extremist cells, they’re still counterproductive.

Most Pakistanis reject the Taliban and other extremists. But they also reject the American drones that violate their sovereignty and operate with impunity. The Pakistani resistance, along with growing opposition within the United States, has had an impact: the number of Predator and Reaper drones strikes in Pakistan has been steadily declining, from a high of 122 in 2010 to 48 in 2012, and even fewer this year.
But the strikes have not stopped, and each strike now receives greater scrutiny and opposition. This is the case of the two attacks that took place in November.  On November 1 a Hellfire missile from a Predator drone killed Hakimullah Mehsud and at least four others. Mehsud was head of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a group responsible for the killing of thousands in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The Pakistani Taliban also claimed responsibility for the failed bomb plot at New York's Times Square in 2010, and was connected with the killing of seven CIA employees in Afghanistan in 2009.
The Pakistani government was incensed by the drone attack. They certainly had no love for Hakimullah Mehsud, but Pakistani negotiators had been carefully working for months to bring the TTP militants to the negotiating table to end more than a decade of violence. In fact, the peace talks were scheduled to begin the very next day, November 2.  Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan charged that the drone attack that killed Mehsud also blew up the government's efforts at negotiations, and that peace talks could not move forward until there was an end to drone attacks in Pakistan.
But the CIA, which carries out the strikes in Pakistan, ignored the Pakistani government’s wishes and launched another strike on Thursday, November 21. This time the missiles hit a religious seminary, killing at least six people and wounding eight. Among the dead were militants belonging to the Haqqani network, including senior leader Ahmad Jan. The Haqqani network used to be part of the U.S.-backed forces fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The U.S. accuses the Haqqani network of orchestrating the 2011 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul that killed 16 people, and an assault on the Intercontinental Hotel in the Afghan capital the same year that killed more than 20.
 The November 23 attack was particularly embarrassing for the Pakistani government because it came just one day after foreign minister Sartaj Aziz told parliament the US had agreed to suspend drone attacks while the Pakistani government was in peace talks with the Taliban.
Imran Khan also used the rally to attack Prime Minister Sharif’s government for failing to force the Americans to halt drone strikes. Sharif has been outspoken against the strikes. After becoming prime minister in June, he publicly ordered the military to end its policy of “condemning drones in public while being complicit in them. During an October meeting in Washington with President Obama, Sharif reiterated his belief that drone strikes were counterproductive and should end.
The two drone strikes in November show that these attacks don’t just kill and maim individuals. They also blow up peace talks. They weaken democratically elected governments. They sabotage bilateral relations. They sow hatred and resentment.
In response, the world community is rising up with mass demonstrations in Pakistan, solidarity protests in London, and hundreds gathering at the 2013 Drone Summit in Washington DC. The 10-year drone-induced killing spree has unleashed the seeds of its own destruction: a nonviolent resistance movement.       [Abbrev.]