Wednesday, 26 March 2014

The truth is out: money is just an IOU

and the banks are rolling in it
The Bank of England's dose of honesty throws the theoretical basis for austerity out the window

David Graeber                       Guardian/UK                              18 March 2014

Back in the 1930s, Henry Ford is supposed to have remarked that it was a good thing that most Americans didn't know how banking really works, because if they did, "there'd be a revolution before tomorrow morning".
Last week, something remarkable happened. The Bank of England let the cat out of the bag. In a paper called "Money Creation in the Modern Economy", co-authored by three economists from the Bank's Monetary Analysis Directorate, they stated outright that most common assumptions of how banking works are simply wrong, and that the kind of populist, heterodox positions more ordinarily associated with groups such as Occupy Wall Street are correct. In doing so, they have effectively thrown the entire theoretical basis for austerity out of the window. 

To get a sense of how radical the Bank's new position is, consider the conventional view, which continues to be the basis of all respectable debate on public policy. People put their money in banks. Banks then lend that money out at interest – either to consumers, or to entrepreneurs willing to invest it in some profitable enterprise. True, the fractional reserve system does allow banks to lend out considerably more than they hold in reserve, and true, if savings don't suffice, private banks can seek to borrow more from the central bank.
The central bank can print as much money as it wishes. But it is also careful not to print too much. In fact, we are often told this is why independent central banks exist in the first place. If governments could print money themselves, they would surely put out too much of it, and the resulting inflation would throw the economy into chaos. Institutions such as the Bank of England or US Federal Reserve were created to carefully regulate the money supply to prevent inflation. This is why they are forbidden to directly fund the government, say, by buying treasury bonds, but instead fund private economic activity that the government merely taxes.
This understanding allows us to continue to talk about money as if it were a limited resource like  petroleum, to say "there's just not enough money" to fund social programmes, to speak of the immorality of government debt or of public spending "crowding out" the private sector. What the Bank of England admitted this week is that none of this is really true. To quote from its own summary: "Rather than banks receiving deposits when households save and then lending them out, bank lending creates deposits" … "In normal times, the central bank does not fix the amount of money in circulation, nor is central bank money 'multiplied up' into more loans and deposits."
When banks make loans, they create money. This is because money is really just an IOU. The role of the central bank is to preside over a legal order that effectively grants banks the exclusive right to create IOUs of a certain kind, ones that the government will recognise as legal tender by its willingness to accept them in payment of taxes. There's really no limit on how much banks could create, provided they can find someone willing to borrow it. They will never get caught short, for the simple reason that borrowers do not, generally speaking, take the cash and put it under their mattresses; ultimately, any money a bank loans out will just end up back in some bank again. So for the banking system as a whole, every loan just becomes another deposit.
Why did the Bank of England suddenly admit all this? Well, one reason is because it's obviously true. The Bank's job is to actually run the system, and of late, the system has not been running especially well. It's possible that it decided that maintaining the fantasy-land version of economics that has proved so convenient to the rich is simply a luxury it can no longer afford.
Historically, the Bank of England has tended to be a bellwether, staking out seeming radical positions that ultimately become new orthodoxies. If that's what's happening here, we might soon be in a position to learn if Henry Ford was right.               [Abridged]

Desmond Tutu: 'I am sorry' – the three hardest words to say

The retired Anglican archbishop on what he's learned about forgiveness
Desmond  Tutu                        Guardian/UK                            22 March 2014

There were so many nights when I, as a young boy, had to watch helplessly as my father verbally and physically abused my mother. I can still recall the smell of alcohol, see the fear in my mother's eyes and feel the hopeless despair that comes when we see people we love hurting each other in incomprehensible ways. I would not wish that experience on anyone, especially not a child.
If I dwell on those memories, I can feel myself wanting to hurt my father back, in the same ways he hurt my mother, and in ways of which I was incapable as a small boy. I see my mother's face and I see this gentle human being whom I loved so very much and who did nothing to deserve the pain inflicted on her.
When I recall this story, I realise how difficult the process of forgiving truly is. Intellectually, I know my father caused pain because he himself was in pain. Spiritually, I know my faith tells me my father deserves to be forgiven as God forgives us all. But it is still difficult. The traumas we have witnessed or experienced live on in our memories. Even years later they can cause us pain
My father has long since died, but if I could speak to him today, I would want to tell him that I had forgiven him.  I would begin by thanking him for all the wonderful things he did for me, but then I would tell him how what he did to my mother affected me, how it pained me.  Perhaps he would hear me out; perhaps not. But still I would forgive him.
Why would I do such a thing? I know it is the only way to heal the pain in my boyhood heart. Forgiveness is not dependent on the actions of others. Yes, it is certainly easier to offer forgiveness when the perpetrator expresses remorse and offers some sort of reparation. Then, you can feel as if you have been paid back in some way. You can say: "I am willing to forgive you for stealing my pen, and after you give me my pen back, I shall forgive you." This is the most familiar pattern of forgiveness. We don't forgive to help the other person. We don't forgive for others. We forgive for ourselves. Forgiveness, in other words, is self-interest.
Forgiveness takes practice, honesty, open-mindedness and a willingness to try. It isn't easy. Perhaps you have already tried to forgive someone and just couldn't do it. Perhaps you have forgiven and the person did not show remorse or own up to his or her offences – and you find yourself unforgiving all over again. It is perfectly normal to want to hurt back when you have been hurt. But the only way to experience healing and peace is to forgive. Until we can forgive, we remain locked in our pain and locked out of the possibility of experiencing healing and freedom.
As a father myself, raising children has sometimes felt like training for a forgiveness marathon. Like other parents, my wife, Leah, and I could create a whole catalogue of the failures and irritations our children have served up. As infants, their loud squalls disturbed our slumber. Even as one or the other of us stumbled out of bed, the irritation at being woken and the thoughts of the fatigue that would lie like a pall over the coming day gave way to the simple acknowledgment that this was a baby. This is what babies do. The loving parent slides easily into the place of acceptance, even gratitude, for the helpless bundle of tears. Toddler tantrums might provoke an answering anger in a mother or father, but it will be quickly replaced by the understanding that a little person does not yet have the language to express the flood of feelings contained in his or her body. Acceptance comes.
As our own children grew, they found new (and remarkably creative) ways of testing our patience, our resolve and our rules and limits. We learned time and again to turn their transgressions into teaching moments. But mostly we learned to forgive them over and over again, and fold them back into our embrace. We know our children are so much more than the sum of everything they have done wrong. Their stories are more than rehearsals of their repeated need for forgiveness. We know that even the things they did wrong were opportunities for us to teach them to be citizens of the world. We have been able to forgive them because we have known their humanity. We have seen the good in them.

This is an edited copy of the first part of a long article.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Why Society Is More Unequal Than Ever

Five years after The Spirit Level, its authors argue that research backs up their views on the iniquity of inequality

By Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett            Guardian/UK          March 9, 2014

A lot has happened in the five years since we published our book, The Spirit Level. New Labour were still perhaps too relaxed about people becoming "filthy rich". And there was an assumption that inequality mattered only if it increased poverty, and that for most people "real" poverty was a thing of the past.

But so much has changed. In the aftermath of the financial crash and the emergence of Occupy, there has been a resurgence of interest in inequality. Around 80% of Britons now think the income gap is too large, and the message has been taken up by world leaders. According to Barack Obama, income inequality is the "defining challenge of our times", while Pope Francis states that "inequality is the roots of social ills".

In the past five years, we've given over 700 seminars and conference lectures. We've talked to academics, religious groups, thinktanks of both right and left, and to international agencies such as the UN, WHO, OECD, EU and ILO.  The truth is that human beings have the tendency to equate outward wealth with inner.worth.. Iinequality colours our social perceptions. It invokes feelings of superiority and inferiority, dominance and subordination – which affect the way we relate to and treat each other.

As we looked at the data, it became clear that almost all the problems that are more common at the bottom of the social ladder are more common in more unequal societies – including mental illness, drug addiction, obesity, loss of community life, imprisonment, unequal opportunities and poorer wellbeing for children. The effects of inequality are not confined to the poor. The health and social problems we looked at are between twice and 10 times as common in more unequal societies.  Inequality affects a large proportion of the population.  Research confirming both the basic pattern and the social mechanisms has mushroomed. It's not just rich countries where greater equality is beneficial, it is also important in poorer countries. Even the more equal provinces of China do better than the less equal ones.

Almost absent were studies explicitly linking income inequality to psychological states. But new studies have now filled that gap. That inequality damages family life is shown by higher rates of child abuse, and increased status competition is likely to explain the higher rates of bullying confirmed in schools in more unequal countries.

Strengthening community life is hampered by the difficulty of breaking the ice between people, but greater inequality amplifies the impression that some people are worth so much more than others, making us all more anxious about how we are seen and judged. Research has shown that greater inequality leads to shorter spells of economic expansion and more frequent and severe boom-and-bust cycles that make economies more vulnerable to crisis. The International Monetary Fund suggests that reducing inequality and bolstering longer-term economic growth may be "two sides of the same coin". And development experts point out how inequality compromises poverty reduction.  Lastly, inequality is being taken up as an important environmental issue; because it drives status competition, it intensifies consumerism and adds to personal debt.
In Britain, the coalition government has failed to reverse the continuing tendency for the richest 1% to get richer faster than the rest of society. The Equality Trust calculates that the richest 100 people in Britain now have as much wealth as the poorest 30% of households. It is hard to think of a more powerful way of telling people at the bottom that they are almost worthless than to pay them one-third of one percent of what the CEO in the same company gets. Politicians must recognise that reducing inequality is about improving the psychosocial wellbeing of the whole society.      [Abridged]
© 2014 Guardian News and Media

Richard G Wilkinson is a British researcher in social inequalities in health and the social determinants of health. He is emeritus professor of public health at the University of Nottingham and co-author, with Kate Pickett, of The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better

Religion in Schools

By Ian Harris          Otago DailyTimes       March 14, 2014

Indoctrination, instruction, education . . . the latest stir over religion in state primary schools seems largely a battle of semantics.  The Secular Education Network has conjured up a spectre of Christian zealots “indoctrinating” children with their own take on Christianity, implicitly misleading them while forcing the children of non-Christian or anti-religious parents to take refuge elsewhere. “Get religion out of secular education,” the network demands.

If religious volunteers are indeed “indoctrinating” children – and no doubt this has happened in some classes and perhaps still is, though rarely – that would be of serious concern. School boards should ensure that doesn’t happen.
But secular education doesn’t mean that teaching has to be secularist. The basic meaning of “secular” is “of this time and place; not under religious management or control”. It implies no core hostility to religion. It is neutral.

And religion is certainly relevant to this time and place, influencing deeply how billions of people in cultures around the world live their lives. Children growing into that world will be better prepared if they are aware of that. To rule religion out of education on the basis of some parents’ aversion to any or all religion would be to sell our children short. It would reflect not a secular but a secularist stance, with minds closed ideologically against religion.

Religious “instruction”, as provided for in New Zealand’s Education Act, is also not the best term. It smacks of instructing children in what they must think and do, making it only a gentler cousin of indoctrination. Some religious schools are masters at that, but instruction of that kind does not belong in a secular school system.  Religious “education” is another matter, and here it should not be hard to find common ground. For schooling should above all equip children to think for themselves about issues that will be important in their futures, including finding meaning in their lives.

This can only be helped by seeing how people in their own communities and around the world do that – which is where religion comes in. As a total mode of the interpreting and living of life, it is hugely influential in shaping people’s cultures, attitudes and behaviour, both positively and negatively. But the study of any and every culture, including our own, would be grossly deficient if it barred any consideration of religion.

A valid criticism of the present framework of religious education is that it applies only in primary schools, whereas wrestling with the great questions of life, which are also those of religion, requires the kind of abstract thinking that develops in the teens. Children who leave primary school with only a child’s perception of religion may therefore end up thinking that’s all there is to it, and reject it accordingly. At the very least, education should leave minds open to growth and further possibilities.

England has a more sensible approach, though there, too, there is pressure for change. Religious Education is compulsory in all state schools – and the British Humanist Association agrees it should be in the national curriculum.
The humanists envisage a subject “which helps young people to form and explore their own beliefs and develop an understanding of the beliefs and values different from their own; enriches pupils’ knowledge of the religious and humanist heritage of humanity and so supports other subjects such as history, English literature, art, music and geography; and allows pupils to engage with serious ethical and philosophical questions in a way that develops important skills of critical thinking, reasoning and inquiry”. One such approach, of Christian provenance, already operates in many English schools. It interweaves five strands:
 Exploring key biblical stories and themes, which help explain why the West is as it is, including so much of its literature, art and music.
 Providing the tools to think through current ethical issues, including sexuality, medical choices, racism, the environment, the “just war”.
 Exploring ideas central to religion and values, such as arguments for and against the existence of God, and problems raised by evil and suffering.
 Introducing young people to world religions other than their own, including atheism (itself “a total mode of the interpreting and living of life”).
 And, importantly, helping children to appreciate the value of stillness, providing a point of repose amid the noise and bustle of daily life.

Done well, such a curriculum would promote understanding, tolerance and compassion as children prepare for the complexities of life in a shrinking world. A pity the Secular Education Network isn’t putting its energies into achieving something like that.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

More Questions?

As you read the postings on this blog, do you sometimes exclaim: “Yes, but you are overlooking something else that is important…”  Well, let’s examine that.  Those who talk about peace must be willing to work on the tough questions and meet them head-on. 

There will certainly be a venture of faith required.  It is impossible to guarantee what will follow when we act to meet a new challenge, where age-old questions are met in a new context.  What have we learned to trust in our life’s journey thus far?  This is something that we can share.

 Matt has been following this blog for some time.  He sends us five questions to consider, the first two of these appear below, with my response.  You are welcome to join in the discussion

Matt’s Questions Part One

  1.  Are pacifists advocating an intellectually disciplined way of living, or are they lighting an ancient and eternal pathway?
Head or Heart?  Is that what this question is asking?  Which predominates among pacifists as the basis for their action in real life?  As I think back and remember the various groups who ended up in detention for refusing to serve in the army, I am struck by the great variety of experiences that combined to lead them to take this stand.  Those whose background was associated with some branch of the Christian church were strongly motivated to remain loyal to a vision which had captured them. There was usually a warmly felt bond with others who shared their vision.  Intellectual thinking was often a very minor influence.  The same applied to the majority of those who stressed social solidarity of all workers, even beyond our shores.

But for a sizable minority it was important to stake out a position that was intellectually strong and able to hold its own with those who argued for the war.  In fact, many had wrestled for some time, at least in their own thinking, against the more popular views, expressed so widely and often that they could not be ignored.  Firm intellectually tested convictions, and also heartfelt compassion for those who suffer as a result of war and violence, both these have been present in varying degrees among pacifists I have known.  And of course these qualities are found throughout every society, even where they are scorned or severely curbed when the madness of war infects our world.

2.  Are not military power and conquest essential to maintain our standard of living and security, else we fall prey to hordes of hungry people or other tyrannies?

This has been the assumption behind most Defence Department thinking in the richer Western nations.  Popular attitudes may support this, with some reservations.  But doubts increase, as hungry people multiply their numbers, and risk death to escape an intolerable situation.  Superior power can suppress this for a time, but a more permanent solution is needed.  Climatic changes are making some parts of the world unable to support their present population without help.  Only an integrated, just and humane plan can avoid widespread famine and suffering.

Our world is surely rich enough in resources and human skill to find answers to disasters such as now threaten.  The thinking which cared little about conditions beyond our shores must give way to a global cooperative and compassionate  approach, if we are not to sink amid a multiplicity of human disasters. We cannot insulate our privileged standard of living from the rest of humanity.  There is a growing awareness that this is so, though it still has to contend with forces that resist any major alteration of the status quo. 

 At present a variety of charity organisations struggle to provide some small amelioration of conditions where poverty and hopelessness dominate, and a privileged elite is in charge.  Governments must accept more responsibility to change this, and to offer hope by financing .joint development projects or in other ways.  As regards military power, I would want to see nothing beyond a glorified Armed Offenders Squad, concerned to disempower anti-social elements but not to kill, and directed by an unarmed police force trained to work in a restorative justice system.  The sooner this is established the sooner we will have a more peaceful society.

Read Part Two here

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Book review

“Pope Francis - Untying The Knots”  by Paul Vallely  

Reviewer:  Robert  Consedine   in   The Common Good           Lent  2014

The London Tablet said ‘read this book, forget the rest.’ They were right. It’s a page turner. I couldn’t put it down.

The author Paul Vallely, went back to Argentine to talk a wide range of supporters and critics of Jorge Bergoglio, now better known as Pope Francis. The author pulls no punches in describing the ‘tortured complexity’ of life under the military dictatorship- one of the most brutal in the 20th century.

In this frightening environment, among the many other atrocities, 150 Catholic priests were killed and 500 pregnant women were held prisoners until their babies were born. The babies were then adopted out to ‘good Catholic families’ and the mothers were killed. In total 30,000 people disappeared in five years.

Bergoglio is initially portrayed as a silent enigma, sitting on the sidelines, refusing to speak out; he would have been killed. Then as the story develops, we learn of his quiet, courageous, heroic acts.

In that journey the author uncovers a man of extraordinary complexity and paradox. ‘A doctrinal traditionalist and ecclesiastical reformer; an authoritarian who seeks to empower others… a radical but not a liberal… a right wing sympathizer and a humble reformer. He combines religious simplicity with political guile.’

The author traces Bergoglio’s early career as a Jesuit superior where the developed the reputation of being an unpopular, divisive, authoritarian leader who was loved and hated in equal measure.  Then he was sent to live amongst the poor- and a dramatic transformation occurred. He was converted by the poor to a new understanding of the Gospel and of Christ. When the story of Bergoglio’s conversion experience became known, it went viral.

When he was unexpectedly elected, the new Pope described himself as ‘a sinner trusting in the mercy of God’. He has been admitting his mistakes ever since.

He also described Vatican II as ‘a great work of the Holy Spirit’. This bodes well for the future of the church. As Pope he appears determined to reform and decentralize a corrupt Vatican bureaucracy and banking system. He frequently challenges all the baptised to be part of the mission of the Church, emphasising God’s closeness to the poor and marginalized.

The author, despite the limitations of time and contacts has done an impressive job in trying to balance the contrasting narratives of the life of Bergoglio- life under the military junta and his transformation into an advocate for the poorest and most marginalized.

His papacy is a breath of fresh air for the church and the world. There is a level of excitement and high expectation of change in the air. The world’s media has given him an extraordinary reception. Pope Francis will be smart enough to know the ‘honeymoon with the world and the global media won’t last.

Although there are many gaps and some repetition, this book is a very well balanced entry into the life of a remarkable man.

The CIA has brought darkness to America

After 9/11 the agency was given free rein to break the rules by fighting in the shadows

Gary Younge                    GuardianUK                9 March 2014

Little more than a week after 9/11, Cofer Black gave instructions to his CIA team before their mission. "I don't want Bin Laden and his thugs captured, I want them dead … I want to see photos of their heads on pikes.” A month later, at a meeting sponsored by Schwab Capital markets, CIA executive director "Buzzy" Krongard laid out for investors what such a war would entail. "[It] will be won in large measure by forces you do not know about, in actions you will not see and in ways you may not want to know about," he said. Laws were for the weak; for the powerful there was force. This was not just the mood of a moment; it has beenpolicy for more than a decade.

Obama's arrival offered a shift in focus and style but not in direction or substance. It was never difficult to see what could go wrong with this approach. As covert operations were shielded from oversight, so human rights violations became not just inevitable but routine.

In a 2004 report military intelligence officers told the International Committee for the Red Cross they believed between 70% and 80% of the detainees in Iraq were innocent. "The most serious thing is the abuse of power that that allows you to do," Lawrence Wilkerson, former secretary of state, Colin Powell's chief of staff, told Jeremy Scahill in his book, Dirty Wars. "You find out the intelligence was bad and you killed a bunch of innocent people and you have a bunch of innocent people on your hands, so you stuff 'em in Guantánamo. You did it all in secret, so you just go to the next operation. You say, 'Chalk that one up to experience'… And believe me that happened."This is not new. The origins of the Watergate scandal, in which President Richard Nixon bugged his electoral opponents, lies in Nixon's secret bombing of Cambodia; McCarthyism had its roots in the cold war.

But during the war on terror the process has become particularly pronounced. In recent months, it has emerged that the CIA has been spying on investigators from the Senate intelligence committee – the very committee charged with overseeing the CIA. The investigators, who were authorised to examine CIA documents relating to interrogation methods, found a withering internal review which concluded with the finding that torture techniques, like waterboarding, used in "black site" prisons had been ineffective. This was particularly troublesome because the CIA director had argued the opposite before the committee, contradicting the agency's own findings. When the CIA discovered that the investigators had the review, it started going through their computer logs to find out how they had got hold of it. In short the CIA spirited people away and tortured them, concluded this was useless, suppressed those conclusions, lied about them to elected officials and then spied on the people who had a democratic mandate to discover the truth precisely because they discovered the truth. Those black sites in far away lands have sister cities within the democratic process.

The defence for this duplicity is invariably national security. To be kept safe we must also be kept ignorant; to protect democracy it must be undermined. The unfettered phone surveillance of American citizens by the National Security Agency revealed the degree to which politicians collude in much of this – asking soft ball questions and apparently happier being fobbed off than taking on the democratic responsibilities.

But nobody can claim we weren't warned: "We've got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world," former vice-president Dick Cheney said shortly after 9/11. "A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion … That's the world these folks operate in, and so it's going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal … to achieve our objective."

Those shadows are long. They have concealed unspeakable horrors abroad. Increasingly they are casting darkness at home.                [Abridged]

Thursday, 6 March 2014

The Clash in Crimea is the Fruit of Western Expansion

By Seumas Milne                     Guardian/UK                          March 5, 2014

Diplomatic pronouncements are renowned for hypocrisy and double standards. But western denunciations of Russian intervention in Crimea have reached new depths of self parody. The so far bloodless incursion is an "incredible act of aggression", US secretary of state John Kerry declared. In the 21st century you just don't invade countries on a "completely trumped-up pretext", he insisted, as US allies agreed.  That the states which launched the greatest act of unprovoked aggression in modern history on a trumped-up pretext – against Iraq, in an illegal war now estimated to have killed 500,000 should make such claims is beyond absurdity.

It's not just that western aggression and lawless killing is on another scale entirely from anything Russia appears to have contemplated. But the western powers have also played a central role in creating the Ukraine crisis in the first place.  The US and European powers openly sponsored the protests to oust the corrupt but elected Yanukovych government, which were triggered by controversy over an all-or-nothing EU agreement which would have excluded economic association with Russia.
The president’s overnight impeachment was certainly constitutionally dubious. In his place a government of oligarchs, neoliberal Orange Revolution retreads and neofascists has been installed.  Fascist gangs now patrol the streets. But they are also in Kiev's corridors of power.  Neo-Nazis in office is a first in post-war Europe. But this is the unelected government now backed by the US and EU. And in a contemptuous rebuff to the ordinary Ukrainians who protested against corruption and hoped for real change, the new administration has appointed two billionaire oligarchs – one who runs his business from Switzerland – to be the new governors of the eastern cities of Donetsk and Dnepropetrovsk. Meanwhile, the IMF is preparing an eye-watering austerity plan for the tanking Ukrainian economy which can only swell poverty and unemployment.

From a longer-term perspective, the crisis in Ukraine is a product of the disastrous Versailles-style break-up of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.  And contrary to undertakings given at the time, the US and its allies have since relentlessly expanded Nato up to Russia's borders, incorporating nine former Warsaw Pact states and three former Soviet republics into what is effectively an anti-Russian military alliance in Europe. The European association agreement which provoked the Ukrainian crisis also included clauses to integrate Ukraine into the EU defence structure.
Western military expansion was first brought to a halt in 2008 when the US client state of Georgia attacked Russian forces in the contested territory of South Ossetia and was driven out. The short but bloody conflict signalled the end of George Bush's unipolar world in which the US empire would enforce its will without challenge on every continent.  Given that background, it is hardly surprising that Russia has acted to stop the more strategically sensitive Ukraine falling decisively into the western camp, especially given that Russia's only major warm-water naval base is in Crimea.

Clearly, Putin's justifications for intervention – "humanitarian" protection for Russians and an appeal by the deposed president – are legally and politically flaky, even if nothing like on the scale of "weapons of mass destruction."  But Russia's role as a limited counterweight to unilateral western power certainly does. And in a world where the US, Britain, France and their allies have turned international lawlessness with a moral veneer into a permanent routine, others are bound to try the same game.
Fortunately, the only shots fired by Russian forces at this point have been into the air. But the dangers of escalating foreign intervention are obvious. What is needed instead is a negotiated settlement for Ukraine, including a broad-based government in Kiev shorn of fascists; a federal constitution that guarantees regional autonomy; economic support that doesn't pauperise the majority; and a chance for people in Crimea to choose their own future. Anything else risks spreading the conflict.       [Abridged]
© 2014 Guardian News and Media

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

WW1 Objectors

Priyamvada Gopal           Guardian/UK           27 February 2014 

The question 'Do you love your country?' is not answered by blindly following politicians.

The commemorations of the first world war now under way in the media and museums will cover the roles of women, soldiers from Africa and Asia, even animals, and examine the impact of the war on everything from the economy and technology to medicine and cinema.  But there seems to be a curious exclusion. The bravery of those who rallied behind the powerful banner of nationalism will be honoured, but what about the courage of those who took the path of most resistance and dissented from the status quo by challenging the war itself?
The coalitions that organised resistance to the unfolding of the first world war did so in the face of enormous social disapproval and institutional pressures. As the War Propaganda Bureau's massive efforts kept public opinion on side, it took a special kind of bravery to query the wisdom of bloodshed before shots were fired, or call for a negotiated peace mid-carnage. Fighting for peace earned you anything from vitriolic accusations of cowardice and treachery to job loss, mob attacks, arrest, imprisonment, hard labour, courts-martial, show trials and even execution orders. As a consequence, many campaigners suffered nervous breakdowns and ill health. Their sacrifices must not go unsung.

Well before the first trenches were dug, questions were being asked about the motives for and conduct of the war by an expanding anti-war coalition, fronted by some of Britain's most distinguished people. Denounced furiously by Rudyard Kipling as "human rubbish", Britain's dissenters included Liberals, Labour supporters and socialists; a striking number were women. They ranged from the aristocratic philosopher Bertrand Russell, who lost his Cambridge lectureship over his activism, to the socialist James Keir Hardie, raised in a Glasgow slum; the lion tamer John Smith Clarke; and the train driver's daughter Alice Wheeldon. There were aristocratic pacifists like the conscientious objectors Clifford Allen and Stephen Hobhouse; feminists like Catherine Marshall and Sylvia Pankhurst and the famous exposer of Belgian atrocities in the Congo ED Morel, imprisoned on obscure charges for criticising secret diplomacy. Adam Hochschild's excellent To End All Wars tells some of their stories.

While anti-war organisations such as the Women's International League, the Society of Friends, the Union of Democratic Control, and the No-Conscription Fellowship differed on many matters, including whether it was all right to work in non-combat roles, what brought them together was a sense that behind the rhetoric of a "glorious, delicious war" for civilisation and freedom lay rather more grubby interests, not necessarily those of ordinary Britons. Some believed this was not so much a war against militarism as a war between militarisms.

As the commemorative drums of national unity start to beat again to rally us behind dominant narratives, it is time to remember that more than 20,000 men refused conscription.  Then, as now, dissidents understood that the belligerent question "do you love your country?" is not answered by blindly following politicians' commands, particularly where there is lack of consultation. The distinguished economist  JA Hobson, neither socialist nor pacifist, saw the war as rational only for those who stood to benefit from the "ever-worsening burden of armaments".  To be anti-war was to actively fight poverty, mediate for peace, build schools and workshops, undertake relief work, and provide refuge for troops and civilians alike.

Many critics of the war also understood that it was being waged for stakes outside Europe in great tracts of colonised land in Asia and Africa.  In those countries Britain was doing anything but defending freedom.  Many prominent anti-war leaders, including the feminist Sylvia Pankhurst and Labour politician Fenner Brockway, became trenchant critics of British imperialism, which believed itself better than the German brand. At a 1917 Leeds anti-war conference, resolutions were also passed calling for the independence of Ireland, India and Egypt.

Commemorating Britain's anti-war campaigners is not about fetishising the past. Many of the issues they faced remain pressing today. They were on the front lines of the criminalisation of dissent, the erosion of civil liberties and press freedom in the name of national security, and crackdowns on industrial action and popular unrest.   Then, as now, the poor were requisitioned to fight the wars which enrich the few, dying and suffering disproportionately.
The fighting spirit we need to invoke today is that which was willing to face down a small but powerful ruling class with control of state and media apparatuses complete with embedded war correspondents and close advisory relationships between politicians and press barons. Remembering that the Great War also unleashed revolution and anti-colonial rebellion, it is this spirit of principled dissent that we must seek to channel and honour.   [Abridged]

Creative Trinity

Ian Harris           Otago Daily Times        February 28, 2014

 Festivals of the arts are celebrated around New Zealand, with the current international festival in Wellington a prime offering. From music and dance to drama, the visual arts and contemporary literature, they present a dazzling display of human creativity, all up front and personal. Most of those who attend performances are likely to enjoy and evaluate them on that basis alone. It is possible, however, to add another level to the festival experience by seeing events through the lens of the Christian doctrine that humankind is created in the image of God. In fact, the idea of God as creator and the creativity of the arts are more closely intertwined than many people realise.

“God created man in his own image,” says the biblical book of Genesis, “in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” And the Hebrew word for image means just that, a likeness. The declaration in Genesis is not, of course, a scientific statement of origins. It expresses a relationship between God (or Godness) and human beings. At the very least, it says that humanity is capable of reflecting this God/Godness.

Usually the relationship is expressed as between creator and creatures, the one who initiates and those who owe their being to that act of creation: on the one hand lie divine power and will, on the other the duty to comply. For people who think of God as a being with an existence independent of humanity, that lies at the heart of their faith.

There is another way to approach the metaphor, however, and that is the way of creativity. It builds on the idea that if God is portrayed as creator, and humanity is created in God’s image, then one of the essential ways people reflect Godness is when they in turn are creative, even in quite humble ways.

Many years ago detective fiction writer Dorothy Sayers teased out the human creative process in a way that brought out remarkable parallels with the Christian understanding of God as creator. She says any artistic work begins with someone’s creative idea. The writer or artist envisages the completed work, so that in a sense the end is in the beginning; but at this stage there is nothing to show.

Time and effort, passion and sweat, false starts and endless revisions are needed to translate the idea into the appropriate outward form. An energy flows back and forth within the writer between the idea and its expression. But it is the originating idea that controls the choice of episodes or phrases or brush-strokes to make them conform to the pattern of the whole work.

Beyond that double process is a third and vital element, that of the work’s power to communicate to others. That can be known only in the reading/hearing/viewing of the finished piece – which will hinge largely on the talent of the performers and the responsiveness of the audience itself.

Wellington audiences will experience the creative power of Bach’s St John Passion, for example, or Britten’s Noye’s Fludde to the extent that they are engaged by them. Ideally, their experience of such works will have rounded out the composers’ idea and the creative activity that lie behind them, and fulfilled the works in the consciousness of those who attend them.

But while each of these three elements can be considered separately, the idea on its own is not the work, nor the activity of the composers and performers that bring it to fruition, nor its power to communicate. The dynamic interaction of all three is needed to fully realise the work.

In other words, there is a trinity to be discerned in the creative act – and, says Sayers, the remarkable thing is that this trinity mirrors in human experience what the early church sought to express through the Christian Trinity of Father (idea), Son (activity or energy expressing the idea) and Holy Spirit (communicative power).

A common mistake is to take each element of this Trinity on its own (or to use the more usual word “person”, which originally meant an actor’s mask, or role) and add them up to make three Gods instead of one. Another trap is to make the ideas so convoluted that ordinary mortals give up on them.

But as a symbol of the dynamic unity of idea, energy and power, this Trinity can be seen as both central to human experience and a window into Godness – and nowhere so clearly as in a festival of the arts.

Desmond Tutu condemns Uganda's proposed new anti-gay law

Retired archbishop accuses president of breaking promise in reconsidering law extending penalties against homosexuality

Maev Kennedy                     Guardian/UK                              23 February 2014

In condemning Uganda's proposed new law, Desmond Tutu again equated discrimination against gay people with the the horrors of Nazi Germany and apartheid-era South Africa.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu has condemned Uganda's proposed law against homosexuality, saying there is no scientific or moral basis ever for prejudice and discrimination – and accusing the Ugandan president of breaking a promise not to enact the law. The new law would extend the prohibitions and penalties in a country where homosexuality is already a crime, to include acts such as "suggestive touching" in public.

President Yoweri Museveni had first said that he would not sign the legislation, then that he would do so after seeking scientific advice, and at the weekend that he would delay it pending more advice.
The proposed law has drawn harsh criticism from US president Barack Obama and former president Bill Clinton. The US warned that such a move could "complicate" approximately £240m in annual aid to Uganda. In a statement Tutu said: "When President Museveni and I spoke last month, he gave his word that he would not let the anti-homosexuality bill become law in Uganda. I was therefore very disheartened to hear last week that President Museveni was reconsidering his position."
Tutu equated discrimination against gay people with the horrors of Nazi Germany and apartheid-era South Africa.
"We must be entirely clear about this: the history of people is littered with attempts to legislate against love or marriage across class, caste, and race. But there is no scientific basis or genetic rationale for love. There is only the grace of God. There is no scientific justification for prejudice and discrimination, ever. And nor is there any moral justification. Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa, among others, attest to these facts."
The retired archbishop recalled apartheid-era police raids: "In South Africa, apartheid police used to rush into bedrooms where whites were suspected of making love to blacks. They would feel if the bed sheets were warm, crucial evidence to be used in the criminal case to follow. It was demeaning to those whose 'crime' was to love each other, it was demeaning to the policemen – and it was a blot on our entire society."
Tutu went on to plead with Museveni to use the debate to strengthen the culture of human rights and justice in Uganda, and clamp down on sexual exploitation rather than orientation.  "To strengthen criminal sanctions against those who commit sexual acts with children, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. To strengthen criminal sanctions against all acts of rape and sexual violence, regardless of gender or sexual orientation," he said. And, if needs be, to strengthen criminal sanctions against those involved in commercial sexual transactions – buyers and sellers regardless of gender or sexual orientation. Tightening such areas of the law would surely provide children and families far more protection than criminalising acts of love between consenting adults.