Category Archives: activism
Bruce Fein & Associates, Inc.
722 12th Street, N.W., 4th Floor
Washington, D.C. 20005
July 26, 2013
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500
Re: Civil Disobedience, Edward J. Snowden, and the Constitution
Dear Mr. President:
You are acutely aware that the history of liberty is a history of civil disobedience to unjust laws or practices. As Edmund Burke sermonized, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
Civil disobedience is not the first, but the last option. Henry David Thoreau wrote with profound restraint in Civil Disobedience: “If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth certainly the machine will wear out. If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.”
Thoreau’s moral philosophy found expression during the Nuremburg trials in which “following orders” was rejected as a defense. Indeed, military law requires disobedience to clearly illegal orders.
A dark chapter in America’s World War II history would not have been written if the then United States Attorney General had resigned rather than participate in racist concentration camps imprisoning 120,000 Japanese American citizens and resident aliens.
Civil disobedience to the Fugitive Slave Act and Jim Crow laws provoked the end of slavery and the modern civil rights revolution.
We submit that Edward J. Snowden’s disclosures of dragnet surveillance of Americans under § 215 of the Patriot Act, § 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments, or otherwise were sanctioned by Thoreau’s time-honored moral philosophy and justifications for civil disobedience. Since 2005, Mr. Snowden had been employed by the intelligence community. He found himself complicit in secret, indiscriminate spying on millions of innocent citizens contrary to the spirit if not the letter of the First and Fourth Amendments and the transparency indispensable to self-government. Members of Congress entrusted with oversight remained silent or Delphic. Mr. Snowden confronted a choice between civic duty and passivity. He may have recalled the injunction of Martin Luther King, Jr.: “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it.” Mr. Snowden chose duty. Your administration vindictively responded with a criminal complaint alleging violations of the Espionage Act.
From the commencement of your administration, your secrecy of the National Security Agency’s Orwellian surveillance programs had frustrated a national conversation over their legality, necessity, or morality. That secrecy (combined with congressional nonfeasance) provoked Edward’s disclosures, which sparked a national conversation which you have belatedly and cynically embraced. Legislation has been introduced in both the House of Representatives and Senate to curtail or terminate the NSA’s programs, and the American people are being educated to the public policy choices at hand. A commanding majority now voice concerns over the dragnet surveillance of Americans that Edward exposed and you concealed. It seems mystifying to us that you are prosecuting Edward for accomplishing what you have said urgently needed to be done!
The right to be left alone from government snooping–the most cherished right among civilized people—is the cornerstone of liberty. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson served as Chief Prosecutor at Nuremburg. He came to learn of the dynamics of the Third Reich that crushed a free society, and which have lessons for the United States today.
Writing in Brinegar v. United States, Justice Jackson elaborated:
The Fourth Amendment states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing
the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
These, I protest, are not mere second-class rights but belong in the catalog of indispensable freedoms. Among deprivations of rights, none is so
effective in cowing a population, crushing the spirit of the individual and putting terror in every heart. Uncontrolled search and seizure is one of the
first and most effective weapons in the arsenal of every arbitrary government. And one need only briefly to have dwelt and worked among a people possessed of many admirable qualities but deprived of these rights to know that the human personality deteriorates and dignity and self-reliance
disappear where homes, persons and possessions are subject at any hour to unheralded search and seizure by the police.
We thus find your administration’s zeal to punish Mr. Snowden’s discharge of civic duty to protect democratic processes and to safeguard liberty to be unconscionable and indefensible.
We are also appalled at your administration’s scorn for due process, the rule of law, fairness, and the presumption of innocence as regards Edward.
On June 27, 2013, Mr. Fein wrote a letter to the Attorney General stating that Edward’s father was substantially convinced that he would return to the United States to confront the charges that have been lodged against him if three cornerstones of due process were guaranteed. The letter was not an ultimatum, but an invitation to discuss fair trial imperatives. The Attorney General has sneered at the overture with studied silence.
We thus suspect your administration wishes to avoid a trial because of constitutional doubts about application of the Espionage Act in these circumstances, and obligations to disclose to the public potentially embarrassing classified information under the Classified Information Procedures Act.
Your decision to force down a civilian airliner carrying Bolivian President Eva Morales in hopes of kidnapping Edward also does not inspire confidence that you are committed to providing him a fair trial. Neither does your refusal to remind the American people and prominent Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate like House Speaker John Boehner, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann,and Senator Dianne Feinstein that Edward enjoys a presumption of innocence. He should not be convicted before trial. Yet Speaker Boehner has denounced Edward as a “traitor.”
Ms. Pelosi has pontificated that Edward “did violate the law in terms of releasing those documents.” Ms. Bachmann has pronounced that, “This was not the act of a patriot; this was an act of a traitor.” And Ms. Feinstein has decreed that Edward was guilty of “treason,” which is defined in Article III of the Constitution as “levying war” against the United States, “or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.”
You have let those quadruple affronts to due process pass unrebuked, while you have disparaged Edward as a “hacker” to cast aspersion on his motivations and talents. Have you forgotten the Supreme Court’s gospel in Berger v. United States that the interests of the government “in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done?”
We also find reprehensible your administration’s Espionage Act prosecution of Edward for disclosures indistinguishable from those which routinely find their way into the public domain via your high level appointees for partisan political advantage. Classified details of your predator drone protocols, for instance, were shared with the New York Times with impunity to bolster your national security credentials. Justice Jackson observed in Railway Express Agency, Inc. v. New York: “The framers of the Constitution knew, and we should not forget today, that there is no more effective practical guaranty against arbitrary and unreasonable government than to require that the principles of law which officials would impose upon a minority must be imposed generally.”
In light of the circumstances amplified above, we urge you to order the Attorney General to move to dismiss the outstanding criminal complaint against Edward, and to support legislation to remedy the NSA surveillance abuses he revealed. Such presidential directives would mark your finest constitutional and moral hour.
Counsel for Lon Snowden
When Lady Liberty Wept
By Gary Corseri
“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,” she recalled,
“With conquering limbs astride from land to land””
And yet, even so, it had come to pass,
With every military base, with drones
Hovering everywhere, in the drowned dreams
Of exiles, “refuse,” “yearning to breathe free.”
And what freedom now in the Surveillance State
Where every thought was subject to review
And “newsmen” scurried to assess the threat
From hydra-headed, huddled masses–lost,
Renditioned, imprisoned, killed at the behest
Of elected, cowardly Pinocchios,–
Smiling before drug-induced amnesiacs?
They could not remember who they claimed to be;
Nor why; nor how it mattered to posterity.
Only a looming sense of dread embalmed
Them in a kind of amber ghosts might study
In the years ahead–if there were years” ahead.
And so, she wept” as some say Mother Mary weeps;
As some say Rachel wept for her lost children.
Copper-colored tears from cupreous eyes;
Copious tears from her iron skeleton.
And the wind blew the tears upon her torch.
And the light went out.
By Gary Corseri – Copyright, 2013. Permission is granted for reprint in blog, or web media if this credit is attached and the title and contents remain unchanged. Gary Corseri has published novels and collections of poetry, and his dramas have appeared on Atlanta–PBS and elsewhere. He has taught in US public schools and prisons, and at US and Japanese universities. His work has appeared at periodicals and websites worldwide, and he has performed his work at the Carter Presidential Library.
MARIJUANA has gone mainstream. We’ve yet to see weed adverts on the side of F1 vehicles, as we have for cigarettes and booze, but NASCAR fans heading to the 2013 Brickyard 400 races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will get to see a TV advert hailing cannabis.
It will, however, not improve your driving:
Photo: Bobby Allison poses at New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel with the Winston Cup trophy, Dec. 8, 1983. Allison, winning his first Winston Cup will receive $150,000 from the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., which sponsors the NASCAR series.
Some cynics write off citizen action including petitions and sign-carrying protestors. They don’t believe such small efforts can make any big difference. But the more than 600,000 people of Dutch city Rotterdam disagree. Their efforts, which began with a petition, have led to a “green initiative” in their city including the banning of Roundup, Monsanto’s flagship product.
The petition campaign was called “Non-toxic Sidewalks for Our Children.” With support from that country’s Green Party, concerned citizens were able to make a significant change for their city and their future.
As we know, Roundup (glyphosate) is a dangerous pesticide that is used all over the world. Though its maker, Monsanto, would have you believe there’s nothing to be afraid of, research says differently. As a matter of fact, glyphosate has been connected to numerous health problems including respiratory distress, cellular damage, and even cancer. Check out this article which outlines just 7 nasty effects of pesticides.
“It is bad stuff and I’m glad we’re giving it up,” says Emile Cammeraat, Green party leader in the council. “The producer Monsanto also provides genetically engineered seeds, Monsanto’s own plants are the only thing RoundUp doesn’t kill. In such a business district as you want to be, no Roundup is simply necessary, as there are organic alternatives.” (Translated by Fritz Kreiss)
Global consumers are getting wise to the dangers of Roundup and the GMO seeds designed to resist it. They don’t want Monsanto and other GMO-seed giants taking over the global food supply and have started grassroots resistance movements around the world. The problem lies in getting enough people to take actual action against the seed giants and local, state, and federal lawmakers who support them in one way or another.
Collectively, the people of Rotterdam were able to make their voices heard, essentially eliminating glyphosate from their local environment. There’s no reason similar cities in other areas of the world couldn’t do the very same thing.
Comically, the U.S. government has recently decided to increase the allowable amount of glyphosate in U.S. food crops, just as another place bans the substance. The new rule allowing for even greater use of this damaging ingredient would take existing limits on glyphosate and dwarf them with new, higher ones. These limits would truly only work to benefit the interests of one, and it’s not the American people, but Monsanto – the giant corporation who is making millions off of genetically modified crops and the destruction of agriculture and human health.
In addition to the Roundup ban, Rotterdam’s green initiative will provide new parks and play areas, and even get the city involved in planting fruit trees. There will be more flowers and environments to support bees and wildlife, and more places for the urbanites to take in nature without fear of contamination by Monsanto’s evil poster child
“The republic that was created from the ashes of the rising was a perversion of the human rights ideals of 1916,” the outgoing Ombudsman and Information Commissioner Emily O’Reilly has said.
Addressing the first evening of the MacGill Summer School in Co Donegal, she said people were not yet fully aware of what a real republic looked like. Delivering the 13th annual John Hume lecture, Ms O’Reilly said it was particularly appropriate that the lecture was named after the Nobel peace prize winner as he was a “pre-eminent human rights defender”.
She criticised the successors of the 1916 leaders, accusing them of franchising the State “to a private organisation called the Catholic Church, shedding in particular its responsibility for the education and health systems, and thereby allowing little actual space for the elected leaders of this republic to play their role in pursuing the happiness and prosperity of the nation”.
It was difficult for citizens to remind themselves that “we are actually the ones in charge”.
This was a difficulty, she added, that the executive and judiciary also struggled with. Referring to former attorney general Peter Sutherland, she said his core assertion made in a speech earlier this year, that the courts were “inappropriately forced to decide not alone what our values in this republic are or should be, but also to divine what the elected representatives of the people think about those values”.
She said that while the courts had too much unwanted power, parliament spent “much of its time ducking and diving and pretending it has no power whatsoever”. She accused the executive of “planting its boot far too firmly on the neck of the parliament and wielding power in a manner never envisaged by the Constitution.”
Quoting President Michael D Higgins, she said: “There is a deep-seated anti-intellectualism prevalent in Irish life,” and that our political and cultural life was marked by the false notion that one person’s ignorance was as good as another’s knowledge. She turned to the Constitution, quoting article 28.4.1 which states that the Government “shall be responsible to Dáil Éireann”.
“Quite clearly this is not the case. The nub of the problem is that parliament does not take itself seriously,” she said. “Our failures are essentially human rights failures and we should be particularly alive to the fact that, never more so than at a time of recession and austerity, are bodies such as a Human Rights Commission and an Equality Authority needed to make sure that in a decade’s time we won’t be weeping our way through another pitiful cataloguing of State-inflicted abuse, albeit with a modern twist.”
In his opening address, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he looked to 2016 and the centenary of the Easter Rising. “To be a real republic, Ireland has to be a sovereign republic,” he said. “We will strive . . . and work even harder so that we will become the best small country in the world for business, to raise a family and to grow old with dignity and respect. This will be the republic of 2016.”
The time is ripe—if not for the full-blown revolution, then at least for a transformative backlash to recenter the imperatives of social justice that have lately become so attenuated.
ZAGREB, CROATIA—What is often described in media, political and financial circles as the global “debt crisis” actually poses even more insidiously widespread dangers than the ubiquitous doom-filled reports commonly inform. “The greatest catastrophe threatening Greece and Europe is not the economic crisis,” says Costas Douzinas, professor of law at Birkbeck, University of London, “but the total destruction of the social bond, the way we see ourselves, the way we see our relation to the community. This is long-term. Economic crisis, fiscal deficits, can be restored in the medium term. But once you lose the social ethos, then there is no way back.”
That was the takeaway in May as scholars, writers, politicians and activists came together at Zagreb’s sixth annual Subversive Forum to plumb the depths of the current malaise, but also to propose remedies for the five years of European economic upheaval that has produced personal hardship, civic unrest, governmental instability and a general sense of paralysis.
For two weeks every year, Zagreb’s civic festival welcomes hordes of progressive lecturers and audiences to a program of films, debates, roundtable discussions and protest-planning sessions. Running past midnight in the city’s elegant 1920-vintage movie house Kino Europa, standing-room-only keynote speeches attract staunch partisans for advancing the interests of the public sphere against the authoritarian mediocracy that now prevails.
The cataclysm of human and social devastation in Europe is this generation’s defining moment. But calling it a debt crisis, as Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis explains, is like going to the hospital with advanced inoperable cancer and having the doctor diagnose your suffering as a pain crisis.
Yes there is pain, but the pain is symptomatic of bigger problems. The “debt crisis” is also a food crisis—people can’t afford to buy enough to eat. It’s a housing crisis, an education crisis, an unemployment crisis, an immigration crisis, a human rights crisis. In Greece, the New York Times reports, prostitution has surged 150 percent in the last two years as a direct result of social desperation, with supply-and-demand dynamics driving prices for sex work as low as five euros.
The Left rightly rejects austerity, despising it as collective punishment of citizens who had nothing to do with the financial collapse. Public health scholars David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu explain in The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills that such spending cuts drastically lower life expectancy due to a higher prevalence of suicide, HIV, alcoholism, heart disease and depression.
Underlying all these other crises is the steady transformation of the over-bureaucratized European Union into a democracy-free zone. Voter turnout is in decline (especially for European Parliament elections, but also in national contests), as constituencies manifest apathy or disenfranchisement. Decisions that people should be able to make for themselves and that are consequential for their lives—how much society spends on healthcare, on education, on defense—emanate instead from afar by EU administrators. A “Merkiavellian” regime, some call it; a secular empire of finance.
The principles of democratic self-determination are hamstrung by the powerful Troika—the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission (the EU’s legislative and operational council)—which a disempowered citizenry increasingly views as an automaton that squelches democracy as it protects the interests of the power elite.
A teachable moment
But as many Europeans grow resigned to the “new normal,” a passionate movement of social democrats and subversive activists aims to recast a fatalistic narrative of inevitable capitulation. From the rubble of this financial catastrophe, they are extrapolating a systemic critique of how this mess came to pass and more importantly, how to use the collapse as a teachable moment. The time is ripe—if not for the full-blown revolution, then at least for a transformative backlash to recenter the imperatives of social justice that have lately become so attenuated.
The EU had been promoted as a strong “single market” (by many reckonings, the world’s largest economy) that would defuse Europe’s centuries of conflict: shared economic prosperity would generate cooperative unity. But clearly the EU has not delivered the promised transnational harmony. Capitalism is, after all, inherently a competition, which means there are winners and losers. Labor, always a weak player in this competition, loses the most in a race to attract foreign investment. Consequently, the labor movement fears a descent into what Slavoj Žižek calls a tyrannical “capitalism with Asian values.”
“Peripheral countries,” a label that has become so prevalent in the EU discourse, typifies the fault lines in the “union.” At the Subversive Forum, I noticed how keenly language highlights these tensions and fissures. Not surprisingly, people don’t like being thought of as peripheral—a lesson that might have been learned in light of the offense that the “third world” has always felt about that similarly condescending term. They also don’t appreciate being called PIIGS, the acronym that lumps together Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain (the extra “i” doesn’t soften the blow). The term is outdated anyhow as more countries slide into severe downturns. With France and the United Kingdom falling into recession and Cyprus imploding, we can expect even coarser acronyms in the future.
It’s not just about nomenclature. The discourse of “othering” reveals old and supposedly effaced neocolonialist prejudices at their worst. In the minds of those who oppose humane terms of support, the “pigs” are lazy and corrupt, unsophisticated and out of date. They have brought their troubles on themselves and forced austerity will do them good.
The idea of Europe and even the word itself, has become toxic, unstable; co-opted by the bureaucrats’ failed vision, nobody knows exactly what it means. Is the UK in Europe? What about other EU but non-Eurozone countries—like Poland or Sweden? Is Iceland, the canary in the coal mine for financial meltdown, European? Euro-Asiatic hybrids such as Russia and Turkey? Non-EU countries like Norway and Switzerland? Can a country be expelled from Europe?
“Europe” is uttered with a sneer or a spasm of abjection. “Euro,” which once denoted simply a strong cosmopolitan currency, is now a root that has spawned a more cynical vocabulary: Eurocritic, Euroskeptic, Europhobe. But if the establishment’s lexicon is becoming degraded, the radical retorts are more fiercely honed. “Union” and “unity” have been exposed as feckless in the face of European inability to sustain these, inspiring a more rousing synonym, “solidarity,” that resounds among those who are focused on social equality rather than financial technicalities. Paradoxically, the counter-rhetoric of the Left has expanded the context of the crisis by contracting the terminology. What was originally construed as “the global economic crisis” morphed into “the Eurozone crisis,” or “the Eurocrisis,” then became more tightly compressed into “the crisis,” and finally—stripping away everything else to convey simply a primordial vortex of personal agony and social decrepitude—the definite article dropped off, leaving just “crisis.”
“Crisis” has mobilized a radical critique of European capitalism. It’s not as simple as debating whether countries should leave the EU, or the euro—as bad as things are now, the alternative is probably catastrophic. But the Left has embarked upon a deep analysis of what sort of society has grown out of the EU’s financial autocracy. “Criminals, disguised as statesmen, were robbing us blind,” says Slovenian poet and critic Aleš Debeljak. “Crisis made us realize this truth.”
The radical mission is to uncover and expose the roots of this incompetence and institutional corruption, to question the motives and hidden agendas lurking beneath the “bankruptocracy” (another salient coinage), to educate and motivate suffering masses, and to reform the system.
“We can’t leave economic issues to the experts any longer,” says Maja Breznik, from the Slovenian Peace Institute. “It’s time for amateur investigations.”
These investigations, an end-run around the self-interested strategies of bankers and other EU cronies, begin from the premise that the vicious circle of debt is not the fault of immoderate spending by governments or households. Instead the primary goal of “recovery” has been a non sequitur: protecting the interests of private moneylenders and multinationals and refilling their coffers after their financial miscalculations and chicanery. The problem as it is being addressed bears little relation to the actual predicament, so society has plunged into deep recession.
As Europe tries to emerge from crisis, an exclusive focus on debt represents a class struggle designed by financiers to transfer losses from their books on to the taxpayers. Troubled countries are forced to sell off their economies to foreign investors. The Troika arranges bailouts under the harshest terms, with the heaviest burdens borne by agencies that support public welfare, because reducing social spending allows countries to pay more money, more quickly, back to the banks.
Privatization of the commons en- sues: everything that can be liquidated is sold, then rented back to the most disempowered classes. Much of the population is perpetually indebted and the idea of “permanent work” becomes a rarity, replaced by piece-work, part-time work and frequent lay-offs. The social contract has been broken.
We “amateur investigators” must ask questions about real value, as opposed to the merely monetary expressions of value that the Troika fetishizes. It seems reasonable to proclaim “bankrupt” (figuratively and literally) the discourse of valuation that culminated in the exotic, abstruse financial products that precipitated the crash.
It is our turn to open the discussion of what is valued from the perspective of the victims of fiscal malfeasance. (By “us” I refer to non-bankers, non-wealthy, non-functionaries and for good measure a healthy cadré of academic fellow travelers.) GDP itself is a subjective measure of value, a war-accounting mechanism that is not the only way to count. A euro is not just a euro: not every use of money is equally valuable. A different model of social accounting—one that focuses on the bottom, the workers, the poor and middle class, and starts with wages, taxes, social security—will produce a very different economic narrative than the one that has predominated for the last five years.
“We demand a new right,” argues Franco “Bifo” Berardi, a Marxist scholar from Milan’s Academy of Fine Arts, “The right to insolvency. We are not going to pay the tax. If I am insolvent, I don’t have money, so I won’t pay the debt.” Instead, there should be a moratorium on interest payments, some debt should be canceled and some repaid with a growth clause (as Germany did in the 1950s). Countries would pay as they grow, and as they can afford it.
Žižek—the Subversive Forum’s patron saint since its inception—warns that the radical Left has historically had a proclivity to sit on the sidelines: “They prefer sometimes not to take power so that when everything goes wrong they can write their books explaining in detail why everything had to go wrong. There is some deeply rooted masochism of the radical Left. Their best books are usually very convincing stories of failure.”
But today there is an especially high onus to take action, to engage in political reform. Leftist activists and politicians do have a concrete agenda for fixing the crisis. In Greece, defying the eulogies of democracy, Alexis Tsipras’ Syriza coalition has shown impressive strength in the last few elections and stands within grasp of parliamentary victory and a majority coalition in the near future. Nearly destroyed by crisis, Greece may soon emerge as the most advanced site of resistance. “The future of Greece is the future of Europe,” Tsipras proclaims, providing a heartening reverberation for the slogan that protestors chant across the continent, “Nous sommes tous des grecs”: We are all Greeks.
The Left’s challenge is to reorganize in a more cooperative, collective way: reclaiming the commons, reappropriating the wealth that is now in the hands of the state and the banks, and reconstituting the social fabric that was destroyed by economic restructuring.
Political platforms like Syriza’s draw on a wealth of theoretical foundations and strategic visions for reform.
Erik Wright, a University of Wisconsin sociologist who wrote Envisioning Real Utopias, is one of many academic subversives who offered Zagreb audiences a sophisticated array of fresh ideas for transcending the status quo of capitalism and replacing it with an emancipatory alternative, a democratic egalitarian pathway that empowers people to take control of their own destinies. Wright described a range of innovations that can be introduced “inside of capitalism” but that embody non-capitalistic principles and more fully reflect the values of democracy: worker-owned cooperatives, participatory budgeting (where citizens help determine civic priorities), freely provided public services like transportation and libraries (which we can think of as anti-capitalist ways to give people mobility and books), and unobstructed access to the commons of intellectual property. Peer-to-peer collaborations like Wikipedia illustrate how a non-capitalist means of production can flourish within capitalism and ultimately displace capitalism altogether (as evidenced by the recent demise of the print edition of that imperialist icon, the Encyclopedia Britannica).
Urban farms organized through community land trusts can support food production divorced from agribusiness. Crowd-sourcing finance like Kickstarter sidesteps the entrenched hegemonies of cultural production. The gift economy in music from the Internet allows people to download songs for free and pay whatever they want. (Wright believes these musicians actually make more income than they would in a conventional sales model because they have created a more palatable moral economy with their fans.)
The crisis of capitalism offers, as a silver lining, the opportunity for us to reconceptualize more democratic and sustainable systems of social and commercial existence. It’s a moment that is uniquely receptive to new ideas, as the old ones have proven so worthless. A subversive smorgasbord can be created in the world as it is, prefiguring things that might be in the world as it could become. Are these just utopian fantasies? A questioner at Wright’s lecture asked whether a smattering of such small-scale interventions could really inspire fundamental social change, to which the sociologist responded sublimely: “We don’t know for sure. The day before Wikipedia was invented, it was impossible.”
ABOUT THIS AUTHOR
Dr. Randy Malamud is regents’ professor and chair of the department of English at Georgia State University. He is the author of eight books, including Reading Zoos: Representations of Animals and Captivity (NYU Press, 1998) and An Introduction to Animals and Visual Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). He can be reached at rmalamudgsuedu.
The following editorial in today’s Irish Examiner is worth reproducing in full.
The header asks: Why are we pathetically complacent?
I don’t’ think the Irish people are complacent. I think rather they have, over the decades, being rendered totally powerless by the sheer weight of corruption within the political/administrative system.
Irish citizens can see the corruption, they are extremely angry about it, particularly since September 2008, but because the governing system is so infected with the disease it is, short of a revolution, almost impossible to make any serious challenge to the power of state corruption.
Challenging corruption – Why are we pathetically complacent?
Friday, July 26, 2013
It is not an exaggeration to say that the country was convulsed in the run up to the passage of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill through the Oireachtas.
Tens of thousands of people marched, every media platform was dominated by debate on the issue. Croziers were dusted off and swung like broadswords in a way that once commanded obedience. Taoiseach Enda Kenny showed an unexpected ruthlessness to get the legislation passed.
We had, in Irish terms at least, a spectacular and almost unheard of form of protest — politicians risking careers on a point of principle.
It was, whichever side of the debate you stood on, a matter of right or wrong. A position had to be taken, remaining neutral was not an option.
Yet, and though the ink is barely dry on the abortion legislation, another manifestation of this society’s justice system’s dysfunction and ongoing failures, our seeming indifference to allegations of corruption — or the innocence and good name of those accused of it — presents itself and there’s hardly a game-changing ripple across the public consciousness.
There is certainly no prospect of 40,000 people marching through the streets of our capital to protest at yet another Irish outcome to an Irish problem.
Is it that we don’t care? Is it that five years after our banking collapse and not a single conviction to show for society-breaking years of Wild West banking that we are a beaten, abject people who have come to accept that for some people accountability is as remote and unlikely a prospect as levitation?
The collapse of the planning and corruption trial earlier this week because a witness is too ill to give evidence has served nobody well, not even the businessman, the councillor and the two former councillors in the dock. Though the principle of innocent until proven otherwise must always apply, too many important questions remain unanswered.
This one case may put the issue into a sharp, if fleeting, focus but there are myriad examples of our failure to adequately deal with the whiff of corruption.
Speaking to the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee, former financial regulator Matthew Elderfield put it in the gentlest terms when he chided that we do not have a system capable of holding individuals to account or tackling white-collar crime.
How could it be otherwise? A report from that committee suggests that fewer than 60 state employees are focussed on white-collar crime. This figure includes all relevant gardaí, Central Bank officials and the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement staff assigned to the problem. We probably have more dog wardens.
It is surely, despite the occasional protest from cornered politicians, naive to imagine this is accidental. If it is, like our tribunals, it is profoundly under-whelming and utterly unequal to the challenge. More likely it is another example of our enthusiasm for rules but our fatal distaste for implementing them.
There is great, chest-filling talk about political reform, about a new political party even and changing the culture of how a citizen interacts with the state. Sadly, all of that will stand for nothing more than a cynical diversion unless we have a policing, regulatory and justice system capable of, and most importantly, enthusiastic about, investigating allegations of corruption.
It is said that a society gets the politicians it deserves and that may well be true, but it is absolutely certain that a society must suffer the consequences of the behaviours it tolerates. The evidence is all around us.
SYDNEY, Australia — Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, formally inaugurated a new political party bearing the name of his antisecrecy organization on Thursday and declared his own unorthodox candidacy for a seat in the Australian Senate in national elections to be held later this year.
In a telephone interview, Mr. Assange said he had every confidence in his ability to run a campaign from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. He has been living under asylum there for more than a year to avoid being extradited to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning on sexual assault accusations.
“It’s not unlike running the WikiLeaks organization,” he said. “We have people on every continent. We have to deal with over a dozen legal cases at once.”
“However, it’s nice to be politically engaged in my home country,” he added.
Mr. Assange, 42, an Australian computer hacker who rose to prominence as an evangelist for radical government transparency and a critic of United States foreign policy, is a deeply polarizing figure. Many believe that the WikiLeaks Party is simply a vanity project for Mr. Assange, although several polls conducted since plans to establish the party emerged earlier this year suggest that it could fare better than expected.
The Australian Senate has a long history of successful protest candidates, John Wanna, a political-science professor at Australian National University in Canberra, said in an interview. Mr. Assange is probably hoping to trade on his name recognition and follow in the footsteps of other rabble-rousing, single-issue senators, Professor Wanna said.
“He’s basically a nuisance candidate who may attract a bit of attention, because he’s not really about governing and sitting in Parliament,” he said. “He’s not standing to do the work, he’s standing for the nuisance value.”
If elected, Mr. Assange said, his party will work to advance “transparency, justice and accountability.”
“My plans are to essentially parachute in a crack troop of investigative journalists into the Senate and to do what we have done with WikiLeaks, in holding banks and government and intelligence agencies to account,” Mr. Assange said.
Supporters of Mr. Assange laud him as a hero for what they see as his dogged pursuit of government transparency, but prominent critics have described his releasing of classified information as a reckless act.
Mr. Assange is perhaps best known for WikiLeaks’ 2010 release of a huge trove of American diplomatic cables. His supporters maintain that the United States and its allies have fabricated the sexual assault case against him in Sweden to hamper his ability to release further classified materials and to punish him for those already released.
Under Australian law, Mr. Assange would have to take his seat within one year of being elected, although the Senate could technically grant him an extension if he is unable to physically take his seat. The British government has stated its intention to arrest him if he leaves the embassy in London.
Although he is best known for his views on international affairs, Mr. Assange was eager on Thursday to offer WikiLeaks’ position on the most contentious issue in contemporary Australian politics: the record number of people trying to reach Australia each year in rickety boats to claim political asylum.
Mr. Assange assailed a tough policy announced last week by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, under which all asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat are to be sent to refugee-processing centers in Papua New Guinea.
He compared his own situation, and that of Edward J. Snowden — the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked documents about American surveillance programs — with the plight of those trying to reach Australia by boat.
“I am a political asylum seeker, awarded political asylum by the Ecuadorean government, and another state, the United Kingdom, and other states are interfering with that,” he said.
The following statement was issued to the media in Cork this morning, on behalf of Cork’s ‘for DEMOCRACY!’ group.
A serious issue arises from the weekend’s events in Cork that should concern everyone. A concerted effort was made by officials claiming to represent Cork City Council to stop the activities of the ‘for DEMOCRACY!’ group. The group have organised an Anti-Austerity / Pro-Democracy stall in Patrick’s Street every Saturday for nearly a year, distributing leaflets and speaking with the public.
On Saturday, in successive incidents, up to six individuals approached the group’s information table to demand that the leaflet distribution stop, also demanding that the group stop speaking with the public. Diarmaid Ó Cadhla, spokesperson for the group, said that “despite being advised that we were entitled to be on the street the officials demanded that we ‘move on’, they claimed authority from Cork City Council for doing so.”
At one stage the speaker at the stall was man-handled while addressing the public, at other stages the officials lined up in front of the stall, face to face with members of the group – invading personal space in a threatening manner.
Ó Cadhla said, “Thankfully the Gardaí came to the scene and after some discussion they advised the officials that we were acting within our rights and our work continued uninterrupted.”
Mr. Ó Cadhla says that the ‘for DEMOCRACY!’ group will be lodging an official complaint and is already in contact with City Hall in this regard.
Ó Cadhla said “apparently City Council decided that last Saturday was a ‘festive day’ and for ‘fun’, our likes were not wanted … street performance was organised for entertainment and public money spent on it.”
Diarmaid Ó Cadhla noted that “the incidents on Saturday follow a number of earlier attacks on our work against Austerity made by Councillors and Management at City Hall”. He continued, “whether these incidents are related or just some officials ‘going maverick’, it remains a most serious matter – either way we want clarification and an apology from City Council”.
Mr. Ó Cadhla asked “Why does City Council feel it should stop citizens discussing the lack of democracy in our country/city and the unjust imposition of policy on the people?”
He also asked “Why does City Council feel that the people of Cork need more ‘festive’ and ‘fun’ days while so many thousands of families are facing destitution?”
Given that the Constitutional role of Local Government is to provide a “forum for the democratic representation of local communities” why isn’t City Council providing such a forum for the people? rather than distract them with trivia and try to silence anyone who speaks out?
Diarmaid Ó Cadhla 086-3805005
Cork for DEMOCRACY! c/o Ionad an Phobail, 99 Sráid na Dúghlaise, Corcaigh.
Note: It is understood that the event organising was undertaken by a Dublin based company, Emergent Events, who were sponsored and assisted by Cork City Council
BOGOTA – Negotiators for rebel group FARC — engaged now in historic peace talks with the Colombian government — received an interesting visit in Havana last month. During a pause in negotiations with Bogota officials in the Cuban capital, FARC loyalists met with a group of former members of the IRA.
Indeed, the veterans of Northern Ireland’s Irish Republican Army would have worthwhile experiences to share with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the guerrilla “people’s army” in search of a peace deal after a decades-long war with the Colombian government.
Putting emphasis on their disarmament strategy implemented in the early 2000s, which eventually led to the success of the Northern Irish peace process, IRA members shared their experience.
Of course, the transition to a post-conflict Northern Ireland was by no means easy. In his paper The IRA disarmament process in Northern Ireland: lessons for Colombia, Vicença Fisas, director of the School for the Culture of Peace at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, warns that the Good Friday Agreement — signed in 1998 and marking the official start of the Irish peace process — did not explain in detail how to proceed with regard to disarmament. Instead, the agreement limited itself to expressing the advisability of disarmament, and inviting the parties to collaborate with the International Independent Committee for Disarmament (IICD).
There was much skepticism, Fisas recounts, even though it was clear that resolving the problems surrounding disarmament was essential to the negotiations. The IICD was led by Canadian General Jon de Chastelain, who was responsible for overseeing the gradual disarmament process and the destruction of collected weapons. In total, the IICD supervised four IRA disarmament acts between October 2001 and September 2005.
Guerillas weigh in
But it is not just former IRA members who have been in discussions with the FARC negotiators. There has also been talk about the continued presence of former Central-American guerrillas — from the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front in El Salvador, now one of the country’s two main political parties following the 1992 peace process, and from the Sandinista National Liberation Front in Nicaragua, also now a main political party — as well as others from South Africa.
To advance discussions about demobilization and disarmament, the FARC has also made enquiries about another sensitive topic: pardons and reparations to victims. “The simple fact that we are discussing these topics already enables us to move negotiations forward and, for this reason, there are some who dare to say that the final agreement could be very close,” says a source close to the negotiating process.
Regarding the thorny issue of disarmament, one proposal purportedly gaining favor is the possibility of surrendering weapons to the custody of an international or humanitarian organization. The FARC may have warmed to this idea after their meeting with the IRA, particularly if they have taken into account the fact that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has signalled that he won’t allow the group to enter politics while they are still armed. The government has viewed very positively the fact that the guerrilla group is taking an interest in successful peace processes from around the world.
The FARC aims to re-enter politics
Whatever route the negotiations may take, everything is pointing toward a single overarching objective: establishing political participation. This would be the logical next step following disarmament and the signing of an agreement to end the conflict. And the government’s recent decision to return legal status to the Patriotic Union (UP), the FARC’s political wing, is intricately linked to what is happening in Havana. In fact, according to sources consulted by El Espectador, the FARC has apparently started to solidify plans to fully re-enter the political arena, focusing on the local and regional elections in 2015.
This is why many people have not been surprised that the discussion about peasant reserve zones — one of the points still waiting to be discussed, now that the first topic on the agenda, namely agricultural policy, has been closed — has migrated from Cuba to Catatumbo in the blink of an eye, becoming one of the most important issues for protest leaders in that region. Next week Catatumbo protestors will be joined by more striking miners, and it is believed that other agricultural sectors will also go on strike. These sectors are key for the guerrillas, who are trying to establish new topics for discussion to help guide their position at the negotiating table in Havana.
The aim is for these protests to mark the beginning of the FARC’s agenda for the elections to Congress next year — if negotiations reach a final agreement in time — or the local and regional elections in 2015. That said, the FARC must convince the other side to allow different conditions for its political wing, given that the law currently requires any movement or party to collect almost 450,000 votes in order to maintain its legal status. This figure is almost certainly unattainable for the FARC, but there is talk of creating a “special peace circumscription” that would aim to guarantee its political survival at a national level.
Regardless of how the situation is resolved, both the government and the FARC are well aware that the decision from the Council of State (which advises the Colombia government on administrative matters) to legalize UP has enabled the talks in Cuba to take several gigantic steps forward. And although nobody will admit it, discussions about the international “blind eye” — which needs to be turned to crimes against humanity, drug trafficking and money laundering for the sake of the peace process — have been underway for a little while.
U.S. looks to be on board
Peace is the ultimate goal, and it is believed that the United States would be willing to respect the compromises made to end the conflict in Colombia. For the time being, it is understood that the negotiations in Havana must cover many points and pass through many sets of hands, but the FARC wants to enter politics, and legally.
Speaking to El Espectador from Havana, leader of the FARC Jorge Torres Victoria — better known by his alias Pablo Catatumbo — declined to comment on any progress that may have been made on the topics of demobilization, disarmament or legal immunity for the guerrilla leaders. “Those issues will be discussed in depth in the future,” he says. “What we have said is that we will talk about them very seriously — but when the moment to do so arrives, according to the timetable established for the talks. For now, those topics aren’t on the table.”
But the FARC negotiator did mention the current crisis caused by the peasant strikes in Catatumbo in the north of Colombia: “We are concerned by the way the government has handled the protests, because it openly contradicts the message about laying down our weapons in order to defend our ideas in the public space. But when the peasants protest, they are stigmatized and repressed.”
The Israeli Knesset (parliament) has approved the first reading of the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev. More commonly known as the Prawer-Begin Plan, the bill allows for mass forced expulsions of the Palestinian Bedouin community from the Naqab (the Arabic name for the Negev desert).
According to the Israeli human rights group Adalah, if the plan is fully implemented it “will result in the forced displacement of up to 70,000 [Palestinian] Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel and the destruction of 35 ‘unrecognised’ villages”.
Approximately half of the Palestinian Bedouin population – around 90,000 people – live in 46 towns and villages located on just 5 percent of the land in the Naqab region. Israel currently recognises only 11 of these villages, despite the fact that they have existed since prior to the establishment of Israel in 1948.
Palestinian Bedouin living in these villages are treated as “trespassers on State land” and are denied access to infrastructure including water, electricity, sewage, education, health care and roads. These services are deliberately withheld by the Zionist state as part of a war of attrition that seeks to “encourage” Palestinian Bedouin to leave their land. As a result, the Palestinian Bedouin community is one of the most socially and economically disadvantaged within Israel. According to Adalah, 67 percent of Palestinian Bedouin were classified as “poor” in 2009.
The original Plan was conceived by Ehud Prawer, the former Deputy Chair of Israel’s National Security Council, in 2011 – without any consultation with the Palestinian Bedouin community. In January, amendments to the bill were made by Benny Begin, the son of former Israeli PM Menachem Begin who had been a leader of the Zionist terror militia known as the Etzel (Irgun).
Begin’s amendments resulted in the removal of some of the more offensive language from the bill, which deemed Bedouins “squatters” on their own land, as well as legitimising the use of “reasonable force” to evict them. Both the original plan and the amended bill have been rejected by the Palestinian Bedouin community.
In 1948, Zionist terror militias carried out attacks on the Palestinian Bedouin living in the Naqab. Then the newly created Israeli military launched a full scale ethnic cleansing operation to expel Palestinian Bedouin from the region for “military reasons”.
Over the next two years between 70,000 and 90,000 Palestinian Bedouin were expelled from the region. This systematic ethnic cleansing would continue throughout the 1950s.
While the vast majority were pushed outside the boundaries of the Zionist state, approximately 10 percent would remain. They were evicted to the Siyag (meaning “fence” in Arabic) in the northern Naqab, where they were forced to live under military rule until 1966.
However, since the 1950s the Palestinian Bedouin have continually sought to return to their traditional lands. Israel has prevented their return both militarily and also by planting trees via the Jewish National Fund. While the JNF claims that it is rehabilitating the land, the main purpose of the tree planting is to ensure control of the land.
Haneen Zoabi, one of the 12 Palestinian Arab members of the Knesset, told the Jerusalem Post on 28 May that “This is not how a normal state or even a dictatorship treats its citizens because it is very obvious that the aim of this plan is to expel the Palestinian citizens from their land and develop the land for the Jewish population.”
“We didn’t immigrate to Israel, it was Israel that immigrated to us,” she added.
Since the Prawer Plan was first announced, Israel has demolished more than 1,000 Palestinian Bedouin homes in the Naqab, while at the same time announcing plans to plant forests, build military centres and establish new Jewish settlements in the place of Palestinian Bedouin villages that will be ethnically cleansed