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Archive for the ‘human rights’ Category

How We Punish People for Being Poor by Rebecca Vallas

In community, economy, human rights, North America, society on October 13, 2014 at 23:10

From: How We Punish People for Being Poor by Rebecca Vallas, Common Dreams, http://www.commondreams.org

In what seems a reprisal of the predatory practices that led up to the subprime mortgage crisis, low-income individuals are being sold auto loans at twice the actual value of the car, with interest rates as high as 29 percent. They can end up with monthly payments of $500—more than most of the borrowers spend on food in a month, and certainly more than most can realistically afford. Many dealers appear in essence to be setting up low-income borrowers to fail.

Dealers are also making use of a new collection tool called a “starter-interrupter device” that allows them not only to track a borrower’s movements through GPS, but to shut off a car with the tap of a smartphone—which many dealers do even just one or two days after a borrower misses a payment. One Nevada woman describes the terrifying experience of having her car shut off while driving on the freeway. And repossession of their cars is far from the end of the line for many borrowers; they can be chased for months and even years afterward to pay down the remainder of the loan.

Also worth noting is the criminalization of poverty and the high costs that result. In a nationwide trend documented by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, a growing number of states and cities have laws on the books that may seem neutral—prohibiting activities such as sidewalk-sitting, public urination, and “aggressive panhandling”—but which really target the homeless. (The classic Anatole France quote comes to mind: “The law in its majestic equality forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”)

Arresting a homeless person for public urination when there are no public bathroom facilities is not only a poor use of law enforcement resources, it also sets in motion a vicious cycle: The arrested individual will be unable to afford bail, as well as any fees levied as punishment, and nonpayment of those fees may then land him back in jail.

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Reposted with permission from: Common Dreams

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Social Covenants… by Seth Kaplan

In Africa, Asia, culture, ethics, Europe, human rights, political science, religion on January 12, 2014 at 00:57

From: Social Covenants Must Precede Social Contracts By Seth Kaplan, Policy Innovations, http://www.policyinnovations.org

The differences between the two ideas are stark. Social contracts are written agreements entered into on the basis of self-interest for specific purposes. Social covenants, in contrast, are sustained not by the letter of any law or by self-interest. Instead, they depend on fidelity, trust, and loyalty. As moral philosopher and religious leader Jonathan Sacks writes,

Social contract creates a state; social covenant creates a society. Social contract is about power and how it is to be handled within a political framework. Social covenant is about how people live together despite their differences. Social contract is about government. Social covenant is about coexistence. Social contract is about laws and their enforcement. Social covenant is about the values we share. Social contract is about the use of potentially coercive force. Social covenant is about moral commitments, the values we share and the ideals that inspire us to work together for the sake of the common good.

In societies riven by divisions and lacking any organization that can be relied upon to adjudicate disagreements between competing groups effectively, such as the state, some form of agreement between important groups is crucial to ending conflict and dividing up power in a way that ensures a degree of common understanding on how the state ought to work. Such agreements—between different actors within society, not between the state and society—must occur before determining the nature of government, just as the U.S. Declaration of Independence preceded the U.S. Constitution.

The power of a social covenant flows less from its conception and implementation than, as Elazar points out, from:

The way it informs culture, especially political culture, endowing particular peoples with a particular set of political perceptions, expectations, and norms and shaping the way in which those perceptions, expectations and norms are given institutional embodiment and behavioral expression.

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Reposted with permission from: Policy Innovations

Extended Interview with Vandana Shiva and Jane Goodall by Amy Goodman

In human rights, nature, politics, society, video on December 26, 2013 at 13:22

From: Extended Interview with Vandana Shiva and Jane Goodall by Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!, http://www.democracynow.org

Watch the full interview with Jane Goodall and Vandana Shiva at the recent International Women’s Earth and Climate Initiative Summit, where they discussed their decades of work devoted to protecting nature and saving future generations from the dangers of climate change. A renowned primatologist, Goodall is best known for her groundbreaking work with chimpanzees and baboons. An environmental leader, feminist and thinker, Shiva is the author of many books, including “Making Peace with the Earth: Beyond Resource, Land and Food Wars” and “Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace.” 
GUESTS
 
Jane Goodall, renowned primatologist, best known for her groundbreaking work with chimpanzees and baboons.
 
Vandana Shiva, environmental leader and thinker from India. She is the author of many books, including Making Peace with the Earth: Beyond Resource, Land and Food Wars and Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace.


Reposted according to copyright notice from: Democracy Now! website

Every Day We Put the State on Trial by Ai Weiwei

In art, Asia, culture, government, human rights, internet, technology on October 21, 2013 at 05:01

From: Every Day We Put the State on Trial by Ai Weiwei, Policy Innovations, http://www.policyinnovations.org

For ages, artists have asked difficult questions about the human condition. It is their privilege to pursue such questions without needing to yield practical results. As individuals, and as a society, we can never really say we know everything. Society allows artists to explore what we don’t know in ways that are distinct from the approaches of science, religion, and philosophy. As a result, art bears a unique responsibility in the search for truth.
Art is a social practice that helps people to locate their truth. The truth itself, or the so-called truth presented by the media, has limitations. Manipulation of the truth does not lead to a lack of truth—it’s worse than no truth. Manipulated truths help the powerful, or advance the positions of the people who publicize them. So the arts and journalistic media play completely different roles.
I think it is important for artists to see themselves as privileged, and to bear some responsibility, because their job is about communication and expression. These are the core values of life, of being individuals. Most people don’t realize that they have to fight for this, but for us artists it’s necessary.

With 140 Chinese characters on Twitter, you can write a short story or novel. It’s not like in English, where you only have room for one question or piece of information. So we’re very privileged. But at the same time, I have been censored countless times for blogging on Sina Weibo, sharing my opinions, and publishing the names and stories of children killed during the Sichuan earthquake. The authorities delete my sentences. When they find that I’m writing too much, they shut off my IP. So I have to use another one and write under another user name. Sometimes in one month I have to use a hundred different IP addresses. Still, whatever I do, they’ll try to recognize me from the way I talk and the name I take—variations on my name like “Ai Weiwei,” “Ai Wei,” “Ai” and so on.

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Reposted with permission from: Policy Innovations

On Water Scarcity and the Right to Life: Bolivia by Emma Strother

In business, community, ethics, human rights, society, South America on September 24, 2013 at 00:39

From: On Water Scarcity and the Right to Life: Bolivia by Emma Strother, Council on Hemispheric Affairs, http://www.coha.org

Water is arguably the substance most important to maintaining life on earth. At the mountainous center of South America, Bolivia’s complex struggles with the scarcity and commodification of water captured worldwide attention at the turn of the twenty-first century. Symbolizing the denial of a basic human right, privatization of water provoked mass mobilization and dramatic social reform throughout the country. Today, Bolivia’s lingering water scarcity reveals instability in the wake of the ‘Water Wars,’ and the ongoing challenge of resource allocation that the Morales Administration currently faces.

Rising water prices precipitated the conflict by denying basic human rights protection to vulnerable communities. In 1997, the World Bank refused to renew $600 million USD of debt relief to Bolivia unless the country agreed to privatize water. World Bank decision-makers reasoned that putting water in the private sector would help to broadly stimulate the Bolivian economy. [1] Shortly thereafter, officials in the city of Cochabamba sold its municipal water company SEMAPA to the transnational consortium Aguas del Tunari, controlled by U.S. company Bechtel. Bechtel increased water rates for SEMAPA customers to $20 USD monthly, a 35 to 50 percent increase. The new rates were exorbitant to many Cochabambans, who made an average of only $100 per month. [2] Tensions rose even higher when a local law extended Bechtel’s control of water resources to the city’s southern expansion and surrounding rural communities, regions outside of SEMAPA jurisdiction.

A diverse group of civilian protestors coordinated their response to these unjust policies in a historic movement that framed water privatization as a violation of basic human rights. Citizens of Cochabamba and surrounding communities formed an “alliance of farmers, factory workers, rural and urban water committees, neighborhood organizations, students, and middleclass professionals in opposition to water privatization.” [3] Early leaders of the movement included activist and writer Oscar Olivera who earned the 2001 Goldman Environmental Prize for his role in the protests. [4] Evo Morales, then an organizer of rural workers in Chapare, traveled to Cochabamba with a coalition of activists to support civic strikes, roadblocks, and vast popular assemblies. These protests expanded to include issues of unemployment and the economy, causing President Hugo Banzer to declare a “state of emergency” on April 8, 2000. [5] At the height of civil unrest, a citywide strike disrupted transportation, news media, and industry for four days. The Bolivian government offered La Paz police officers a 50 percent pay raise to encourage speedy and aggressive crackdowns on the demonstrations. Throughout the protest period, 110 protestors and 51 policemen were injured, and 200 demonstrators were arrested. Nine violent deaths were attributed to the social unrest. [6] The privatization of water in Bolivia incited these protests by making access to water, and therefore to life, conditional on wealth in a district overwhelmingly known for its poverty.

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Reposted with permission from: COHA

Edward Snowden on Why He Stood Up to the NSA with Amy Goodman

In government, human rights, information, interview, news, politics, privacy, technology, video on July 12, 2013 at 18:39

From: Edward Snowden on Why He Stood Up to the NSA: Mass Spying “Not Something I’m Willing to Live Under” with Amy Goodman, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, Democracy Now!, http://www.democracynow.org

GLENN GREENWALD: Was there a specific point in time that you can point to when you crossed the line from contemplation to decision making and commitment to do this?

EDWARD SNOWDEN: I grew up with the understanding that the world I lived in was one where people enjoyed a sort of freedom to communicate with each other in privacy, without it being monitored, without it being measured or analyzed or sort of judged by these shadowy figures or systems, any time they mention anything that travels across public lines. I think a lot of people of my generation, anybody who grew up with the Internet, that was their understanding. As we’ve seen the Internet and government’s relation to the Internet evolve over time, we’ve seen that sort of open debate, that free market of ideas, sort of lose its domain and be shrunk.

GLENN GREENWALD: But what is it about that set of developments that makes them sufficiently menacing or threatening to you that you are willing to risk what you’ve risked in order to fight them?

EDWARD SNOWDEN: I don’t want to live in a world where everything that I say, everything I do, everyone I talked to, every expression of creativity or love or friendship is recorded. And that’s not—that’s not something I’m willing to support, it’s not something I’m willing to build, and it’s not something I’m willing to live under. So, I think anyone who opposes that sort of world has an obligation to act in a way they can. Now, I’ve watched and waited and tried to do my job in the most policy-driven way I could, which is to wait and allow other people, you know, wait and allow our leadership, our figures, to sort of correct the excesses of government when we go too far. But as I’ve watched, I’ve seen that’s not occurring, and in fact we’re compounding the excesses of prior governments and making it worse and more invasive. And no one is really standing to stop it.

Watch to video & read the full transcript

Reposted according to copyright notice from: Democracy Now! website

Featured: The Holocaust & Reconciliation: An Interview with Thomas Orszag-Land

In Europe, Featured, human rights, interview, poetry, writers on June 28, 2013 at 21:28

Thomas Orszag-Land is a poet and award-winning foreign correspondent writing from London and his native Budapest. His reviews and polemics have been published by the London Magazine and The Times Literary Supplement, and his poetry by Ambit and BBC World Service.

Enjoy the interview and feel free to comment.

HG

Featured: The Holocaust & Reconciliation: Poetry may salve the wounds that have refused to heal, An Interview with Thomas Orszag-Land

The wounds inflicted by the Holocaust are still refusing to heal – but they are not the only burden of human rights abuse inherited by the 21st century. DAVID CUSCÓ I ESCUDERO, editor of the Catalan cultural magazine “El funàmbu”l (The Tightrope Walker) serving a country that endured unspeakable atrocities during the Spanish Civil War, questions THOMAS ORSZÁG-LAND, a Jewish-Hungarian poet, translator and foreign correspondent, on his attempt to look beyond the Holocaust.

David: We are about to publish some of your Holocaust poetry in Catalan translation. We are also very interested in your English translations of outstanding Hungarian Holocaust poetry. Did you write them because you thought that the Holocaust could be fathomed only through literature since the basic facts of that crime were so huge and its premises so horrible that they could be described comprehensibly only in fiction? That would be just the opposite of Theodor Adorno’s dictum that “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric” – although he later qualified that, after reading Paul Celan’s poetry.

Thomas: Adorno looked at Auschwitz and despaired. But humanity must look to its future, and cannot afford to despair. I recently attended a meeting of Holocaust survivors, old people who had looked evil in the face as young adults, somehow survived and dedicated their lives to warning the world against attempting such madness ever again. They agitate, they write, they lecture, especially to the young.

But they see that the very occurrence of the Holocaust is vociferously being denied by people who would like to repeat it. These aging witnesses know that they will be silenced soon by illness and death. They fear that, when they are gone, no-one will be left to defend the world against such renewed barbarity.

I do not fear that. I believe that, as Odysseus will sail the seven seas of imagination in Homer’s hexameters for the rest of history, so the passionate warnings of the Holocaust survivors will resound through the ages in the voices of the poets of our own time.

David: In your poem “Caution,” a child summons humanity from Auschwitz. He reminds me of Hurbinek, that unforgettable child in Primo Levi’s “The Truce” who mumbles instead of talking. Despite the pain conveyed by your poem, I sense a spark of optimism here, in the dignity of the child’s response to his own suffering… Is there, to you, room for optimism after the Holocaust?

Thomas: Probably the most important thought in that poem is “hold up your head… while you’ve got it.” It radiates optimism even beyond death. I did not invent that. I found it in a surviving poetic fragment from a slave-labour camp. I’ve just managed to identify its author as Jaroslav Ježek (not the composer of that name), to whom the poem is now dedicated.

Primo Levi and Paul Celan both committed suicide after the Holocaust, perhaps because they saw no room left for decency, let alone optimism, after Auschwitz. Both turned to poetry to shout out their astounded grief and rage at their incomprehensible humiliation and abuse at the hands of the Nazis, for which they had been totally unprepared. But the subsequent generations are not unprepared. They are all survivors, and their enduring capacity for love and decency originates from within. Read the rest of this entry »

Human Trafficking in the Western Hemisphere

In human rights, law, North America, society, sociology, South America on June 12, 2013 at 08:37

From: Human Trafficking in the Western Hemisphere: A Special Online Edition of COHA’s Washington Report on the Hemisphere by Research Associates Gabriela Garton, Suncica Habul,Darya Vakulenko, Aleia Walker, Kathleen Bacon and Jade Vasquez, Council on Hemispheric Affairs, http://www.coha.org

Marita Verón: A Catalyst in the Fight Against Sex Trafficking in Argentina

On April 3, 2002, twenty-three year-old Marita Verón was kidnapped in the northeastern Argentine province of Tucumán. Marita’s mother, Susana Trimarco, has been looking for her ever since. Ms. Trimarco’s relentless search has not only raised wide scale awareness for a nation previously ignorant of its brutal and growing sex trafficking industry but has also led to significant advances in anti-human trafficking legislation in Argentina. Even though the nation has progressed considerably in the struggle against this modern form of slavery, Argentina still has much room for improvement, especially as it faces major corruption and cooperation issues.

By: Research Associate Gabriela Garton

Guyana’s Unacceptable Stance on Human Trafficking

Guyana is a major source country for the trafficking of men, women, and children in the prostitution and forced labor industries — an illegal business widely characterized as a form of modern-day slavery. In order to understand the magnitude of the human trafficking problem in Guyana, one must identify the groups that are most vulnerable while considering how the Guyanese government has thus far tried, and failed, to address the issue.

By: Research Associate Suncica Habul

Closer to Home: Human Trafficking in the USA

As the self-anointed human trafficking police force, the United States has often forgotten to trafficking is a major issue within its own borders. Recent examples of child sex trafficking just outside the nation’s capital have led the country to reconsider the complicated definition of human trafficking and the stereotyping of victims.

By: Research Associate Darya Vakulenko

Read the full report

Reposted with permission from: COHA

Ma Jun: Information Empowers by John Haffner, Ma Jun

In Asia, ecology, economy, environment, government, human rights, information, politics, science on June 3, 2013 at 21:19

From: Ma Jun: Information Empowers by John Haffner, Ma Jun, Policy Innovations, http://www.policyinnovations.org

Sitting with Ma in his office last year, I asked him to talk about the remarkable 20-year career that propelled him to the forefront of China’s environmental movement.

Ma was lucky enough to find a job with “the privilege of asking questions.”

He took me back to 1992, the year Deng Xiaoping made his famous tour to open southeastern cities to commerce. China remained closed in many ways but Ma was lucky enough to find a job with “the privilege of asking questions.” He was a fresh journalism graduate from the University of International Relations and had landed a position as a researcher and translator in the Beijing office of the South China Morning Post, later working his way up to office manager. At the paper he found himself immersed in every kind of issue and story.

While working as a journalist Ma came to realize that China was in an environmental crisis. He had grown up learning the poems of Li Bai and Du Fu, poets who spoke of China’s lakes, rivers, and land in lyrical, beautiful images. “I grew up reading these books, knowing this landscape through the words of ancient literary giants. I had an image in my mind, but when I traveled—it was just so different.”

In 1994, he found himself at the Three Gorges Dam site covering the story for his paper. Ma was saddened to find that the trees had been clear cut, the river muddied and polluted. “Li Bai and Du Fu had both been so inspired by the landscape, by the gorge, by the torrential flow. When I saw the river, I felt such a big loss.”

When he traveled to Dongting Lake in 1996, he expected to find a place he knew from ancient literature as “vast and extremely pretty.” But when he got there, he “found that the lake during the dry season had been reduced to a few rivers. The degradation was just so obvious.”

And when he went to the Fen River in Shanxi province, Ma saw “streams coming out of different villages with different colors, representing different industries: copper green and iron red and iron brownish, and yellowish and reddish. And they all came together to form a very highly polluting flow, eventually ending up in the Yellow River.”

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Reposted with permission from: Policy Innovations

Moral Sentiment and the Politics of Human Rights by Sharon Krause

In human rights, philosophy, politics, theory on May 29, 2013 at 22:26

From: Moral Sentiment and the Politics of Human Rights by Sharon Krause, The Art of Theory: Conversations in Political Philosophy, http://www.artoftheory.com

Why do we have human rights and why are we obligated to respect them? This question provokes a certain amount of anxiety among theorists of human rights today. The difficulties of justifying human rights in the context of what one commentator has called “a world of difference” have helped to motivate the field’s turn to the political in recent years.1 Whereas philosophers and political theorists once treated human rights as applied universal ideals grounded in comprehensive moral doctrines, the dominant discourse now regards them as “political not metaphysical.”2

The political approach aims to avoid resting human rights claims on controversial moral foundations, and it (not unreasonably) sees the task of justifying human rights as intrinsically linked to such foundations. Because of this link, efforts to justify human rights frequently run up against charges of cultural imperialism.3 Yet while it is surely a good idea to refrain from exercising cultural imperialism, we cannot entirely avoid the matter of justification in human rights discourse. For we will never be able to agree on difficult questions of application if we cannot articulate why we have human rights and why we are bound to respect them. What we need is an account of the grounds of human rights that can stand firm in our world of difference.

Moral sentiment theory – the theory of judgment and deliberation found in a range of 18th-century thinkers but articulated most powerfully by David Hume – offers some valuable resources in this regard. It can be developed to suggest a non-foundationalist basis for international human rights today, one that justifies human rights with reference to the faculty of empathy and the fact of interdependence.

On the moral sentiment view I develop here, there is one fundamental and fully universal human right, the right to have one’s concerns count with others’, to be recognized as a moral equal whose interests and perspective are owed inclusion in the generalized standpoint of moral sentiment. Whatever more specific slate(s) of human rights may reasonably be derived from this basic right will reflect the deliberative engagements – and the moral sentiments – of those subject to them. And because this justification of human rights is rooted in common human sentiments rather than independent moral principles, it builds in motivational efficacy. It shows respect for human rights to be consonant with our own common concerns rather than something that threatens our interests and so demands altruism. Moral sentiment theory thus helps us to address two important challenges of human rights today: justification and compliance. In what follows, I begin with a brief account of moral sentiment theory as it was developed by Hume. I then sketch – again, very briefly – how the theory of moral sentiment might be extended to help us justify and motivate human rights today.

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Reposted with permission from: The Art of Theory

Norway and the Prisoners of Peace by F. J. Riopelle

In Europe, government, human rights, law, politics, writers on May 27, 2013 at 18:16

From: Norway and the Prisoners of Peace by F. J. Riopelle, AGNI Online, http://www.bu.edu/agni/index.html

Imagine a country, I used to tell my students of Norwegian at Harvard, of beautiful fjords and impressive coastal scenery, of extensive petroleum reserves, natural gas, minerals, lumber, seafood and fresh water, with universal health care, subsidized higher education, a comprehensive social security system and very low unemployment rate. Imagine the world’s most well-functioning and stable country, where parents have forty-seven weeks of paid parental leave and prison cells look like budget hotel rooms. And—as a final flight of Lennonesque imagination—imagine all the people, or at least some, living life in peace in these cells—because they are pacifists.

That broke the spell, didn’t it? Norway’s great international reputation is well deserved, but a student of its language and culture should also learn about the embarrassments lurking behind this utopian image of Norway. There is, for instance, a curious lack of statistics for the number of convicted pacifists in Norway—the country that administers the Nobel Peace Prize, presumably because Alfred Nobel found it even more peaceful than Sweden—a curious lack of information, on Wikipedia and elsewhere, but I know, as John Lennon says in one of his protest songs, that I’m not the only one.

According to European Bureau for Conscientious Objection’s 2011 report, Norway is one of three European countries that “prosecute conscientious objectors repeatedly for their continued refusal to serve in the army” (the other countries are Greece and Turkey). “Each year, between one-hundred and two-hundred conscripts refuse to perform both military and substitute service,” and they are thereby penalized.

I am one of them—a conscientious objector, not only to the military service, but also to the substitute civilian service. In a report of 2002, researchers in Norway’s Ministry of Defense acknowledged that the civilian service, which is labor typically performed in healthcare institutions, retirement homes, kindergartens and schools, is little more than a “sanction of men who refuse to perform military service.” It “costs about 230 million Norwegian kroner per year,” and is “obviously unprofitable based on socio-economic considerations.”

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Reposted with permission from: AGNI Online

Impressions of Gaza by Noam Chomsky

In Asia, ethics, history, human rights, politics on May 20, 2013 at 18:53

From: Impressions of Gaza by Noam Chomsky, http://chomsky.info

Even a single night in jail is enough to give a taste of what it means to be under the total control of some external force. And it hardly takes more than a day in Gaza to begin to appreciate what it must be like to try to survive in the world’s largest open-air prison, where a million and a half people, in the most densely populated area of the world, are constantly subject to random and often savage terror and arbitrary punishment, with no purpose other than to humiliate and degrade, and with the further goal of ensuring that Palestinian hopes for a decent future will be crushed and that the overwhelming global support for a diplomatic settlement that will grant these rights will be nullified.

My initial impression, after a visit of several days, was amazement, not only at the ability to go on with life, but also at the vibrancy and vitality among young people, particularly at the university, where I spent much of my time at an international conference. But there too one can detect signs that the pressure may become too hard to bear. Reports indicate that among young men there is simmering frustration, recognition that under the US-Israeli occupation the future holds nothing for them. There is only so much that caged animals can endure, and there may be an eruption, perhaps taking ugly forms — offering an opportunity for Israeli and western apologists to self-righteously condemn the people who are culturally backward, as Mitt Romney insightfully explained.

Gaza has the look of a typical third world society, with pockets of wealth surrounded by hideous poverty. It is not, however, “undeveloped.” Rather it is “de-developed,” and very systematically so, to borrow the terms of Sara Roy, the leading academic specialist on Gaza. The Gaza Strip could have become a prosperous Mediterranean region, with rich agriculture and a flourishing fishing industry, marvelous beaches and, as discovered a decade ago, good prospects for extensive natural gas supplies within its territorial waters.

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Reposted with permission from: Noam Chomsky

Boston Marathon Bombings by Philippe Theophanidis

In government, human rights, law, media, news, North America, politics, war on April 27, 2013 at 19:52

From: Boston Marathon Bombings: the Emergency Declaration as a State of Exception by Philippe Theophanidis, Aphelis, http://aphelis.net

NGUYEN_2013_Boston_manhunt-620x826Up until recently (First World War), warfare had traditionally made a clear distinction between civilian and military targets. The bombings in Boston is yet another striking reminder that things have since drastically changed. The front lines that need to be protected have moved within the most intimate spaces of the civilian sphere. The war zone extend all the way into private living rooms and backyards.

Such an inversion (further) blurs the traditional distinction between what is public and what is private. Indeed, when the front lawn of private homes becomes a theatre for military-like operations in a democratic country, two issues arise. First, the extent of a government’s authority into the intimacy of private lives become spectacularly visible. The fact that such an intervention is conducted for the population’s “own good”, as it was repeatedly argued in the past few days, does not invalidate the relevance of this observation. Second, it raises some questions regarding the democratic principle of the separation of powers.

Which brings the question of the Emergency Declaration that was signed by President Barack Obama for the state of Massachusetts on April 17, 2013. At the time of writing, there doesn’t seem to be much information available online about this presidential declaration. Mainstream media have been very generous in providing the public with various informations regarding the events, including extensive coverage about the lifting of the Miranda rule for the captured suspect in the name of a “public safety exception”. However, informed analysis about the legal aspects surrounding an Emergency Declaration are scarce. A couple of informative points relative to the exceptional character of the authorities’s response are worth highlighting.

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Reposted with permission from: Philippe Theophanidis

Afraid of the Dark in Afghanistan by Anand Gopal

In Asia, government, human rights, law, North America, politics, war on March 5, 2013 at 23:11

From: Afraid of the Dark in Afghanistan by Anand Gopal, http://anandgopal.com

One quiet, wintry night last year in the eastern Afghan town of Khost, a young government employee named Ismatullah simply vanished. He had last been seen in the town’s bazaar with a group of friends. Family members scoured Khost’s dusty streets for days. Village elders contacted Taliban commanders in the area who were wont to kidnap government workers, but they had never heard of the young man. Even the governor got involved, ordering his police to round up nettlesome criminal gangs that sometimes preyed on young bazaargoers for ransom.

But the hunt turned up nothing. Spring and summer came and went with no sign of Ismatullah. Then one day, long after the police and village elders had abandoned their search, a courier delivered a neat handwritten note on Red Cross stationery to the family. In it, Ismatullah informed them that he was in Bagram, an American prison more than 200 miles away. US forces had picked him up while he was on his way home from the bazaar, the terse letter stated, and he didn’t know when he would be freed.

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Reposted with permission from: Anand Gopal

Becoming invisible by Adam Yosef

In community, culture, ethics, human rights, politics on March 5, 2013 at 22:55

From: Becoming invisible by Adam Yosef, Part 1 and 2, the Pavement magazine, http://www.thepavement.org.uk

There are thousands of people out there in the world who are doing this all the time. The majority don’t even realise they are ignoring another person, the reason for which is simple: they no longer recognise the ones they’re ignoring as ‘people’.

When I was younger, the sight of homeless people very much intrigued me. Encountering individuals sleeping rough in shop doorways after closing time, on park benches covered in newspaper or on pavements reaching out to passers-by for some “spare change” would no doubt stir curiosity in any untapped innocent mind.

Indeed, the dehumanisation of the homeless is what makes it harder for many of them to find their way towards meeting their personal needs. As a society we need to accept that those who live on the streets are there for a number of reasons and their circumstances, appearance or dwelling do not determine their role in society or their standing in the social spectrum. Whether it’s health or financial situations that have led someone onto the streets; whether it’s escape from a harsher environment or whether they’re there for a standing of political principle, public opinion has to be rewired to realise and reassess prejudices against those who have become invisible to the masses. The idea that individuals sleeping on streets are different to the individuals that sleep in beds, simply for that reason, has to be eliminated.

Part 1 at http://www.thepavement.org.uk/story.php?story=1438

Part 2 at http://www.thepavement.org.uk/story.php?story=1467

Reposted with permission from: the Pavement magazine

The Humanist Interview with Gloria Steinem by Jennifer Bardi

In gender, government, human rights, interview, media, religion on February 24, 2013 at 00:53

From: The Humanist Interview with Gloria Steinem by Jennifer Bardi, The Humanist, http://thehumanist.org

The Humanist: So let’s talk a little about women in secularism. I attended the first-ever Women in Secularism conference in May, and I’m wondering if it would surprise you to learn that there are problems with sexist behavior within the secular movement, including in online forums and at conferences.

Steinem: No, it doesn’t surprise me to learn that there is bias and sexism everywhere, just like there are problems of racism and homophobia stemming from the whole notion that we’re arranged in a hierarchy, that we’re ranked rather than linked. I think we’ve learned that we have to contend with these divisions everywhere.

There might have been more surprise, say, in the 1960s and ’70s when people were active in the antiwar movement or in the Civil Rights movement, only to discover that women sometimes had the same kinds of conventional positions there. But I think there’s a much deeper understanding now of how widespread patriarchy is, on the one hand, and that it didn’t always exist, on the other.

The Humanist: So, if humanists and secularists consider themselves enlightened individuals—reasonable, progressive, and so forth—shouldn’t we hold these men up to a higher standard in terms of sexist behavior?

Steinem: Yes. But, it’s not only holding humanist men up to a higher standard, it’s saying you can’t win unless you’re a feminist. Because the patterns that are normalized in the family—the whole idea that some people cook and some people eat, that some listen and others talk, and even that some people control others in very economic or even violent ways—that kind of hierarchy is what makes us vulnerable to believing in class hierarchy, to believing in racial hierarchy, and so on.

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Reposted with permission from: The Humanist

What Hangs on Trees: Legacy and memory in the southern landscape by Glenis Redmond

In ethnicity, history, human rights, literature, North America, poetry, politics on January 19, 2013 at 00:13

From: What Hangs on Trees: Legacy and memory in the southern landscape by Glenis Redmond, Orion Magazine, http://www.orionmagazine.org

It was at this port of entry that my ancestors embarked on a life of servitude. I began to quake with awareness. The Atlantic holds the story of my lineage, fragmented by the Middle Passage. Reckoning with the land and all that it holds means peering into the shadow side. The shadow side permeates everything I do and write. It is in something as simple as being referred to as a southerner.

Slaves and descendants of slaves had to be creative and resourceful in order to survive treacherous circumstances. These qualities are embedded in our legacy of dance and song, in spirituals and ring shouts. Such art forms were expressions of the soul, meant to empower the participants to transcend the daily grind of slavery, punishment, and unbearable labor. As a writer, I dance the limbo. I am negotiating that “tight space.”

Russell calls those who live in the mainstream world but who have been brought up in the African-American community “the placeless.” A foot in each world, they have the burden and the privilege of translating our heritage, language, and understanding to the dominant culture. Former poet laureate Rita Dove calls it the “burden of explanation.”

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Reposted with permission from: Orion Magazine

Climate Change, Forest Privatization, and Apocalyptic Prophesies in the Mayan Zone of Quintana Roo, Mexico by José E. Martínez-Reyes

In anthropology, biology, community, culture, ecology, economics, human rights, politics, sociology, South America on December 16, 2012 at 16:54

From: Climate Change, Forest Privatization, and Apocalyptic Prophesies in the Mayan Zone of Quintana Roo by José E. Martínez-Reyes

The Maya of central Quintana Roo and their environment have undergone enormous transformations in recent years. Pressures not only from tourism development, but also from land tenure changes and land speculation are beginning to create increased tensions within Mayan communities between people that want to continue the current system of communal land tenure (“ejido”) and those that feel pressure to sell their ejido rights to potentially offer land for development or for a recent biodiversity conservation scheme that is happening in the communities around the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.

On top of the conservation restrictions to comply with REDD+, the Maya are facing increased periods of drought associated with climate change. These changes are putting enormous pressure on their resources, the forest, forest wildlife, their traditional agriculture, and make them more dependent on government subsidies. It also has the effect of promoting migration to try and find one of the relatively few jobs that the tourism industry provides. Facing this array of difficulties, local leaders, including the Mayan dignitaries associated with the Church of the Talking Cross, continue to question what prospects look like for their future generations.  As a people that have endured profound struggles, including invasion and war, they continue to respond with an apocalyptic sentiment (that has nothing to do with the 2012 nonsense that the media perpetuates).

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Reposted with permission from: Cultural Survival

Democracy – Édgar Morales interviews Martha Nussbaum

In art, books, culture, economics, history, human rights, humanities, interview, philosophy, politics, social sciences on December 12, 2012 at 18:56

From: Democracy: A Noble But Sluggish Horse We Need the Sting of Critical Reasoning… Édgar Morales interviews Martha Nussbaum, Literal Magazine, http://www.literalmagazine.com

Édgar Morales: Some of the topics you take on in your recent book, Not For Profit, were also addressed a decade ago at Cultivating Humanity. What has changed since then concerning your views on liberal education?

Martha Nussbaum: My views about the relationship between liberal education and democracy have not changed at all. I still believe that a healthy democracy needs an education that focuses on (1) Socratic self-examination and critical thinking; (2) the capacity to think as a citizen of the whole world, not just some local region or group, in a way informed by adequate historical, economic, and religious knowledge; and (3) trained imaginative capacities, so that people can put themselves in the position of others whose ways of life are very different from their own. Four things are new about the current book. First, it focuses on primary and secondary education, as well as university education. Second, it focuses on the arts as well as the humanities. Third, it is international, taking its detailed case studies from India and the U.S., but alluding more briefly to problems faced by other nations. Fourth, it is written in response to a different problem. Cultivating Humanity was an attempt to answer conservative American critics of new “multicultural” approaches in education; the opponents agreed wholeheartedly with me that the humanities were central; they disagreed only about how they should be taught. The new book is addressed to opponents who would rather bypass the humanities entirely, in favor of profit-making skills.

EM: At the beginning of your book, you state that “We are in the midst of a crisis of massive proportions and grave global significance”, a silent crisis, deeper than the international economic crisis. Why talking about a crisis? What were the first symptoms?

MN: I didn’t say it was deeper than the international economic crisis. I said that the economic crisis was recognized as a crisis, and this one has not been so recognized. The crisis is the drastic decline in support for the humanities, the arts, and even the social sciences as ingredients in both school and university education. The symptoms of this decline are subtle here in the U. S., where we still have an entrenched system of liberal education in top universities, supported by a longstanding tradition of private philanthropy, that sends signals to schools; however, even here the state universities, in particular, are cutting in subjects that appear not to contribute directly to the state’s economic growth. In most other nations of the world, liberal education was never favored at the university level, so it is even easier to cut departments and programs that are not perceived to be economically productive, and correspondingly easy for schools to focus on marketable skills.

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Reposted with permission from: Literal Magazine

Longing for ‘normality’ by Cynthia Cockburn

In culture, ethnicity, Europe, gender, government, history, human rights, law, politics, religion, society, war on December 8, 2012 at 22:02

From:  Longing for ‘normality’: women’s experience of post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina by Cynthia Cockburn, OpenDemocracy, http://www.opendemocracy.net

Many of the women I spoke with used the word ‘normality’ to express what they pine for, strive for, dream of. They used the word to allude to another time and place where things were or would be very different from present reality they deemed profoundly abnormal. In one sense the normality referred to a ‘fairer’ and less class-riven society, and one in which women have equality with men. More often, though, they were using the notion of normality and abnormality to characterize relations between the three ‘constituent peoples’ of Bosnia-Herzegovina. They were comparing modern BiH, flawed by extremes of religious and national identification and hatred with an ideal community in which ethno-national difference is, was or could be, de-emphasized, of minimal significance. Thus Edita Ostojic referred to ‘people who think normally’, i.e. people who ‘don’t want to be infected by this nationalist way of thinking.’

Many remembered pre-war Federal Yugoslavia in this light. I had met Amira Frljak when she was a gynaecologist in Medica during the war. Now she has her own clinic in Sarajevo. She said, ‘We were normal in Yugoslavia.’ It had not been normal Yugoslavs who had brought about the disaster that ruined the country. Rather, ‘it was crazy people who started the war.’ Vahida Mustafic was a kindergarten teacher in Medica during the conflict. She agreed with Amira. What happened in Bosnia-Herzegovina had been brought about by people from outside, many from the diaspora. These women remember Yugoslavia and its ‘normality’ with a great sense of loss. Vahida said, ‘We didn’t have a lot of material goods, but there was love, respect and freedom. I felt safer. It was safe to walk around on the street. And we could travel a lot’. They recall how shocked and disbelieving they had been when the country they had taken for granted collapsed into division and war.

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Reposted according to CC copyright notice from: OpenDemocracy

A city for women only by Natasha Mitchell and Adel Abdel Ghafar

In Asia, audio, gender, human rights, politics, sexuality, society on November 5, 2012 at 21:16

From: A city for women only by Natasha Mitchell and Adel Abdel Ghafar, Life Matters, ABC Radio National, http://www.abc.net.au

A new women-only industrial city dedicated to female workers is set to be built in the so-called shrouded kingdom of the Middle-East: Saudi Arabia.

It may come as a surprise to some, given Saudi Arabia attracts much criticism from human rights groups for its systematic discrimination against women. Saudi women are subject to the kingdom’s strict customs which mean they are unable to vote, drive or sign a legal document.

So does the proposed development represent a move by the government toward achieving independence for women, or is there another incentive?

Listen to the broadcast

Reposted with permission from: ABC Radio National

Alice Walker: “Go to the Places That Scare You” by Valerie Schloredt

In books, film, history, human rights, literature, nature, North America, politics, society, war, writers on October 27, 2012 at 20:17

From: Alice Walker: “Go to the Places That Scare You” by Valerie Schloredt, yes! Magazine, http://www.yesmagazine.org

Alice Walker is a poet, essayist, and commentator, but she’s best known for her prodigious accomplishments as a writer of literary fiction. Her novel The Color Purple won the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award in 1983 and quickly became a classic of world literature. Set in an African-American community in the rural South during the decades before World War II, the novel is told in letters written by Celie, a woman who survives oppression and abuse with her spirit not only intact, but transcendent.

Walker’s writing is characterized by an ever-present awareness of injustice and inequality. But whether describing political struggle—as in Meridian, which deals with the civil rights movement—or meditating on the human relationship to nature and animals, as in her latest book, The Chicken Chronicles, her work conveys the possibility of change. In Walker’s vision, grace is available through love and a deep connection to the beauty of the world.

Walker was born in the segregated South, the eighth child in a family who made their living as sharecroppers in Georgia. She came of age during the civil rights movement, and emerged early in her career as a defining voice in feminism and an advocate for African-American women writers. She is a prominent activist who has worked, marched, traveled, and spoken out to support the causes of justice, peace, and the welfare of the earth.

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Reposted with permission from: yes! Magazine

Call for Action: V-Day Until the Violence Stops

In human rights, video on October 20, 2012 at 23:30

Please visit the V-DAY website or One Billion Rising for more information.

Warning: This video contains scenes of violence and may not be suitable for young audiences.

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