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Friday, 23 September

02:51

The developer-led planning system CPRE viewpoint

One of my jobs at CPRE is to go round England cheering up our branches and regional groups. I am not sure I ever really succeed, but they often succeed in depressing me.

This is not, I hasten to say, because they are all miserabilists or because we are losing every battle. I always come away proud that CPRE has so many talented and dedicated people, and full of admiration for what they achieve with minute resources. CPRE saves countryside that would otherwise be lost and improves the quality of many developments. But our local volunteers are finding the going tough, and they are not shy about saying so.

Yesterday I gave my usual message to the CPRE South West meeting in Taunton: the Government is listening, our messages are getting through, we hope we can persuade it to change course. Very few people any longer think that weakening the planning system and releasing more land is the way to solve the housing crisis: that seven year experiment is nearing its end. Indeed, no one seriously thinks the private sector will build houses on the scale the country needs: the 37 year experiment of leaving housing to the private sector has spectacularly failed.

I genuinely think we may be at a moment for radical new thinking about housing – or perhaps a variant of old thinking, harking back to the years when Conservative governments prided themselves both on building houses and looking after the countryside.

For now, though, at a local level CPRE branches have to grapple with a system of mind-blowing, spirit sapping complexity and opacity, one that seems almost designed to discourage civil society from having its say.

For many CPRE branches, the ills of the current system are symbolised by Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs). The Coalition abolished the previous government’s regional bodies on the grounds that they were undemocratic and unaccountable. It took some genius to replace them with LEPs. These, according to the minutes of a previous CPRE South West meeting, “are not democratic, not transparent and are pushing for huge developments at all costs”. But that, I fear, is the point. I can almost hear someone in the Treasury reading that and going “tick, tick, tick”.

In opposition, the Conservatives railed against unaccountable regional bodies, but it is hard to get anyone outside CPRE too exercised by the role of (sub-regional) LEPs. They are below the radar, too obscure, too secretive – and besides, they have local government representation so they must be okay.

Across the country LEPs are driving up housing targets on the back of unrealisable growth projections. The joint core strategy for Gloucester, Cheltenham and Tewkesbury, for instance, is based on the local LEP’s aspirational target of 4.8% GVA, a rate of growth that has never consistently been achieved. It is a flimsy basis on which to release land for housing. It assumes that the area will economically out-perform other areas – but every LEP seems to think that its areas will be at the leading edge of something or other. The same logic applies to the new combined authorities. Each is competing for workers to fulfil its aspirations for growth, and each is planning to build houses for the same worker.

None of this is to deny the need for housing or economic growth, particularly in the places that need growth most. Nor is it to deny that some – a few – LEPs are relatively open and willing to engage local people or the Local Nature Partnership. What it clear, however, is that aspirational and often wildly optimistic growth targets, whether they come from LEPs or devolution deals, are no basis for calculating housing need.

The growth aspirations for the three Gloucestershire boroughs have led to the housing target being increased by 5%. The target will not be met and everyone knows what will happen: the local authority will be forced to release more land; the developers will cherry pick th...

02:50

Colombia: real peace in an era of phony war openDemocracy

While a "new Condor Plan" is rumoured to be stalking the region, Colombia might need more than a sideways glance from self-absorbed neighbours in the years to come.

FARC rebels cheer at the concert in their last conference as a rebel army, after signing the peace accord.18 September,2016. Ricardo Mazalan/Press Association. All rights reserved.On a rough count over the month of August, six coups were said to be under way across Latin America. Many of these were reported to be targeting the region’s recent or current left-leaning governments, elected in a spate of victories a little over a decade ago and now the alleged victims of a systematic campaign to eject them from power by any means available. “A new Condor Plan” is afoot, Ecuadorean President Rafael has declared, in reference to the regional extermination campaign against suspected subversives mounted in the 1970s. Polarized politics, frail institutions and economic hardship do not bring back happy memories.

Yet an event of great and undeniable significance sits oddly beside these half-dozen historical flashbacks. In Colombia, the longest-running guerrilla war of the region and the epitome of a Marxist uprising of rural outcasts against the metropolitan elite – in which the United States gave firm support to the latter, first during the Cold War and then in response to the insurgents’ links to drug trafficking and threats to the state ­– is on the verge of a peaceful and agreed end.

Four years of tireless negotiations in Cuba between government representatives and commanders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) ended on August 24 with the announcement of a final peace agreement, which will be signed on September 26. It is, without a doubt, one of the most sophisticated, comprehensive and well-wrought documents of its kind, a tribute to the search for compromise on both sides of what has been a pitiless conflict. “They were complicated, sometimes bitter conversations,” the government chief negotiator, Humberto de Calle, said upon announcing the accord, “but the result is sufficient compensation.” ...one of the most sophisticated, comprehensive and well-wrought documents of its kind, a tribute to the search for compromise on both sides of what has been a pitiless conflict.

Very great challenges remain, starting with a plebiscite on the deal on October 2: the hurdles ahead have been documented in a recent International Crisis Group report. But the divergence between the febrile disputes of Latin American political and diplomatic life and the moderation that old foes in Colombia achieved is striking. The temperance has been contagious: even if a new Condor Plan stalks the region, the entire hemisphere has united in support of the peace deal.

Cuba hosted the talks, and acted as a guarantor alongside Norway; Venezuela and Chile were witnesses. Not far behind, the United States sent an envoy to the negotiations, which the FARC des...

01:48

Cutting the number of MPs could cut democratic scrutiny too openDemocracy

Fewer MPs risks less democracy.

The House of Commons in the early 19th century by Augustus Pugin and Thomas Rowlandson.

Last week we saw the first proposals for the new constituency boundaries, drawn up by the Boundary Commission. It’s certainly caused a stir – with allegations flying around about which parties it will hit harder, whether it will even happen, and who stands to lose their seats in the shakeup.

But less commented on was the fact that this is all taking place as part of a cut in the number of MPs – from 650 to 600.

That’s an 8% reduction, which while it may not sound like a lot, could have a worrying side-effect: a corresponding cut in Parliamentary scrutiny.

There are a few reasons for this – and it matters.

Firstly, MPs jobs are going to get harder. The cut in the number of MPs means many of their constituencies will get larger – with each now having to represent up to 79,000 registers electors (and that’s excluding all the unregistered voters, under-18s and non-Commonwealth citizens they also have to be there for). That means many will have to weigh up their priorities – spending more time working for their increased numbers of constituents, or holding the government to account. Indeed, many MPs already feel like they don’t have enough time to do parliamentary business – we are in the most demanding era in terms of constituency workloads, and that’s only going to increase.

This job doesn’t get higher equally for all MPs either – the boundary redrawing is being done on the basis of only registered voters. That means those in areas with lower registration rates could have much more casework – areas with lower registration rates are typically more deprived or have a higher number of residents who are marginalised and excluded from politics. After all, everyone can knock on an MP’s surgery door, email them, call them, or need their help and advice – regardless of whether they are registered to vote. There is already an imbalance between workloads of MPs in areas of deprivation compared to those representing more affluent areas. This is only going to be exacerbated by the boundary review done on the basis of an incomplete register.

With fewer MPs, the job of scrutinising the government gets harder too: there is still the same amount of work and legislation to keep an eye on.

And it’s about to get harder after Brexit too. There are going to be a huge number of negotiations and deals to be made over the next few years – including sorting trade agreements with around 50 countries. That will require a great deal of parliamentary scrutiny. That’s on top of legislative powers coming back ‘in house’ – into parliament – once we’re out of the EU within the next few years. While EU regulations do have to go through parliament, currently most of this is done through Statutory Instruments without debate. Those directives and regulations may now have to be debated. But with fewer MPs to scrutinise...

01:28

Does the UK need a 'War Powers Act'? openDemocracy

In the wake of Chilcot, questions have been raised about the democratic accountability of the process involved in taking this country to war.

Tony Blair meets troops in the port of Umm Qasr, Iraq, 2003. Photo: Stefan Rousseau / PA Archive/Press Association Images Tony Blair meets troops in the port of Umm Qasr, Iraq, 2003. Photo: Stefan Rousseau / PA Archive/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.In the middle of a stormy night on August 4, 1964, a US Navy warship patrolling the coast of North Vietnam detected radar and sonar signals in the Gulf of Tonkin that suggested it was about to come under attack. The USS Maddox spent several hours feverishly manoeuvring over rough seas and firing shells into the darkness. In the morning no evidence could be found of the enemy, but policy-makers in Washington nonetheless decided it meant war.

President Johnson immediately sought and gained permission from the US Congress to use “all necessary measures” against North Vietnam, which resulted in almost a decade of conflict. But by 1973, Congress was not happy. Many of its members claimed that, despite the 'Gulf of Tonkin Resolution' they had passed, their permission for a wider war had never been sought. They passed the War Powers Act that year: a law designed to ensure the president had to seek Congress’s explicit consent for any decision to go to war in the future.

Britain has no such law. Here, the prime minister alone has the authority to send troops to war using Royal Prerogative Powers that were originally handed to her office during the Glorious Revolution of 1688. But even though the government poured cold water over the idea of a War Powers Act earlier this year, it’s slowly starting to creep onto the agenda. After the Chilcot report was released in July, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn stated that a US-style War Powers Act would help to prevent the UK from going to war on false pretences. He has also suggested that it could stop the government from sending special forces into secret wars without public awareness or consent.

So why not pass a War Powers Act? It worked for America, didn’t it...

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Thursday, 22 September

23:46

Deeper into democracy: The legitimacy of challenging Brexit’s majoritarian mandate openDemocracy

Would a second European referendum be democratic?

Image: @letmelooktv

In The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Aslan is slain by Jadis on the stone table in the middle of the night – the apparent climax of Narnia’s deep magic. At dawn, Lucy and Susan hear the table breaking and notice the body has gone. Could this be, they ask, more magic? Aslan appears before them, revitalised. “Yes”, he affirms, “more magic.”

In the battle for legitimacy, the only thing that can beat democracy is more democracy. This understanding is helpful for those still wounded by the EU referendum result, hoping three months on that the result might yet be undone. The result was such a shock that it seems to have eviscerated our self-belief, and I have written this piece to help us rediscover our democratic courage. 

We have to start looking deeper than the weak willed gasps of disbelief that say the process was illegitimate or the result must somehow be ignored. On the EU question we might paradoxically need to grieve for what has been lost before finding the strength to prevent the loss from occurring. The goal, then, is to ‘accept the result’ and definitely to learn from it, but not to ‘move on’. The challenge is to find a legitimate democratic solution to a result that stemmed from a democratic failure.

 

Beyond false hope

In scrambling for an intellectually coherent case for remaining in the EU I fear many are focussing on the wrong issues.

For instance, turnout was ‘only’ 72%. Around 13 million registered voters did not vote, about seven million eligible adults were not registered, 16 and 17 year olds were not allowed to vote, and nor were EU nationals whose future was being decided. That’s all painfully true. On the other hand, the referendum details were agreed through a broadly democratic process in parliament, such numbers are not unusual, and more people voted to leave the EU than have ever voted for anything in the UK.

And the margin of victory was very small, yes, but it still amounted to over a million people.  

The Leave campaign contained abundant and often toxic misinformation, yes, but the Remain campaign was full of bogus projections, and truth is a casualty in most political campaigns.

Two constituent nations of a devolved multi-national state – Scotland and Northern Ireland – voted to remain, yes, but in its relationship with the EU, the UK is effectively a unitary state.

We are a parliamentary democracy, yes, but with an established convention of direct democracy on constitutional questions. In this context, the referendum was advisory rather than binding, yes, but de-facto at least, the advice is hard to ignore.

These stock objections to the outcome remain useful as ‘surround sound’ while we come to terms with what has happened. However, none of the above arguments – alone or together – are powerful enough to override the legitimacy of the majority victory. And we need to take that idea on the chin; neither the process nor the outcome can be undone.

And yet, deciding not to enact a referendum outcome is pos...

22:44

Moving the IRA to peace: limitations of the agents of influence theory… Slugger O'Toole

There’s a fine line to be walked in judging the influence of largely unaccountable state actors and historic corollaries. Both Mark Devenport and Jen O’Leary today ask the question of whether state agents of influence were critical factors in moving the IRA to peace. The question is easier to ask than to answer. Devenport cites more...

21:13

SAS commander Blair Mayne’s reputation reviewed in an authorised history Slugger O'Toole

Well whaddya know! The last shreds of mystery have been torn away, as the UK government has authorised “Rogue Heroes,  an authorised History of the SAS” by Ben McIntyre. The Times (£) has been extracting from it as he is an assistant editor. The history is limited to the WW2 and the immediate post war more...

20:56

Are the New Labour clique deliberately trying to create a self-fulfilling prophecy? AAV


David Miliband (the New Labour stalwart who ran away from British politics when his brother beat him to the Labour Party leadership in 2010) is the latest New Labour figure to throw the "unelectable" trope at Jeremy Corbyn.

Attacking and diminishing the leader of their own party was bad enough when the divisive Labour leadership coup was going on. But now that it's clear that the coup plot, the vote-rigging and the purges were almost certainly in vain, and that Corbyn is going to win again you have to wonder what the motivation is to keep on like this.

The first suspicion is that it is just petulant foot-stamping. They right-wing of the party didn't get their own way, so now they've venting their toddler-like fury without even thinking about the consequences of what they're saying.

By continuing to repeatedly badmouth Jeremy Corbyn they're making it seem that they're unaware of the concept of a "self-fulfilling prophecy".

Of course Corbyn is going to have a tough time with the entire mainstream press demonstrably fighting a propaganda war against him. Of course he's going to have a tough time trying to reunite the party and undo some of the extraordinary damage this inept and shockingly timed coup-plot inflicted; and of course it's going to take a lot of hard work to undo the shockingly widespread public misconceptions that Tory austerity is actually good for the economy, and that Theresa May is a competent politician.

But that job is going to be made all the more difficult if a bunch of bitter sore-losers in his own party insist on repeatedly carping from the sidelines.

The other option of course is that these people know perfectly well what a "self-fulfilling prophecy" is, and that they're deliberately trying to create one. After all, their idol Tony Blair has openly stated that he'd rather see the Tories win the next General Election than a Labour Party that has returned to its democratic socialist roots. It's perfectly possible that Tony Blair's acolytes are simply doing his bidding with their persistent efforts to sabotage the Labour Party.

The problem with the strategy of trying to deliberately create the self-fulfilling prophecy that Jeremy Corbyn is "unelectable" is that if the prophecy...

20:29

Anti-aging medical research must be our top priority openDemocracy

What is medicine for? Surely an easy question, right? Apparently not. I have always believed that the purpose of medicine is to alleviate the suffering caused by ill-hea...

What is medicine for? Surely an easy question, right? Apparently not. I have always believed that the purpose of medicine is to alleviate the suffering caused by ill-health and death. One must include both, because death itself is very effective in ending the suffering caused by ill-health, and even though there is vibrant debate concerning the appropriate access to assisted suicide, society overwhelmingly adopts the policy that life is sacred and must be extended at virtually all cost.

Or does it? There is a bizarre contradiction in our collective approach to the ill-health of old age. On the one hand we are happy to allocate billions upon billions to the quixotic pursuit of extended but functionally impaired life, under the banner of geriatric medicine, but on the other hand we overwhelmingly express deep ambivalence, if not outright opposition, to the idea of future medicine that would actually work – that would entirely abolish those ailments and maintain youthful mental and physical function to much greater chronological ages. When asked to consider such a world, most people are far more inclined to raise concerns about how society would manage the likely side-effect of increased average longevity, than to pay any attention whatever to the prospective alleviation of so much suffering.

I have discussed in many other places the psychological underpinning of this phenomenon, so I will not repeat myself here. Instead I will focus on the economic imperative to hasten the arrival of truly effective anti-aging medicine, and the consequent duty of governments to allocate greatly increased resources to the effort to develop them.

The ill-health of old age currently accounts not only for over 70% of deaths worldwide but also for a similar proportion of medical expenditure. In the industrialised world, these numbers are in the region of 90%. What if we had medicine that would prevent the conditions on which all that money is spent? The money would be saved! Sure, the medicines that achieved this prevention would themselves cost money, but there is no reason (not even any hypothetical reason) why prevention should not be better (i.e. cheaper) than cure in this case as it usually is. And that’s just the start. Do you, or does anyone you know, have a parent with advanced Alzheimer’s or any other age-related chronic disease? How much productivity is lost from the burden of caregiving as a result? It’s astronomical. And beyond that, consider the wealth that the elderly could contribute to society if only they remained able-bodied. The economic benefit would be unimaginable.

How is this not completely obvious to everyone? My only explanation is that the powers that be are just as irrational about aging as the rest of society. There can be no doubt that policy-makers are acutely aware of the economic realities that I summarise above, but their decisions are based on their perceptions of the impact on their priorities. And it seems that policy-makers remain convinced that it is not in their interests to inject relatively minuscule sums into research that could pay for itself literally millions of times over. Why? Only two explanations seem available. One is that the reward is further in the future than the current electoral cycle, such that whatever the logic of such a course, it would be against the nearer-term vested interests of the political elite. The other is that...

20:19

Put public services into the hands of local governments openDemocracy

The push for public ownership of vital services should not be about a return to top-down state industries. We can’t go back to the past - and we want the public ownership of the future to be better ...
The push for public ownership of vital services should not be about a return to top-down state industries. We can’t go back to the past - and we want the public ownership of the future to be better than ever before. But also because the public ownership of the future must explicitly involve a new dimension: local public ownership. Of course, national level services like the NHS and the railways are absolutely key. But local public ownership – of energy, water, buses and council services - is just as important. Public ownership should mean more accountable, efficient services, whether that’s at the local, regional, national or international level. Locally, this involves councils running or taking over strategic public assets or contracts for services, and it has huge potential. Extreme government pressure on budgets has led to council cuts and privatisation – what Polly Toynbee calls ‘the retreat of the human face of the state’. At the same time, there’s an exciting countertrend towards more local public ownership, not just in conversations happening within Labour, but also globally and in the UK. 170 German municipalities have bought back their energy grid since 2007. 235 cities worldwide, including cities like Atlanta and Houston in the US and Paris in Europe, have taken water services into public ownership since 2000. APSE research has shown that dozens of UK councils have brought services like recycling in-house to save money and improve quality. 12 municipal companies provide excellent bus services in places like Reading and Edinburgh. We now have Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham, the first council-owned energy company. It’s no surprise that there’s been a global surge of interest in public ownership at the local level. Prices for basic needs like power and water keep rising, and private providers are often inadequate. But local public ownership is also exciting because of its potential impact on the wider economy and society. Here are five reasons to embrace it.
  • Many people feel a lack of control over their lives in the UK today. At least one reason for the Brexit vote in June is that a large group of people had a sense of political powerlessness channelled into anti-EU feeling. Local ownership brings people closer to services, restoring people power and accountability.       
  • Local ownership provides an employment boost. While nationwide unemployment dipped below 5% in mid-2016, unemployment remains high in some cities and regions.  Local ownership could be a part of a jobs strategy for these centres.      
  • ...

20:19

Growth is unsustainable. It's time to shrink the economy. openDemocracy

What would genuine economic progress look like today? The orthodox answer is that a bigger economy is always better. But this idea is increasingly strained by the knowledge that, on a fin...

What would genuine economic progress look like today? The orthodox answer is that a bigger economy is always better. But this idea is increasingly strained by the knowledge that, on a finite planet, economies can’t grow forever.

If developed nations were to grow GDP by 2% over coming decades, and by 2050 the global population had achieved a similar standard of living, the global economy would be approximately 15 times larger than it is today in terms of GDP. If the global economy grew at 3% from then on it would be 30 times larger than the current economy by 2073, and 60 times larger by the end of this century.

iIt is utterly implausible to think that planetary ecosystems could withstand the impacts of a global economy that was 15, 30, or 60 times larger than it is today. Even a global economy twice or four times as big should be of profound ecological concern.

It has been estimated that we would need one and a half Earths to sustain the existing economy into the future. Every year this ecological overshoot continues, the foundations of our existence, and that of other species, are undermined. Like a snake eating its own tail, our growth-orientated civilisation suffers from the delusion that there are no environmental limits to growth. But rethinking growth in an age of limits cannot be avoided. The only question is whether it will be by design or disaster.

This realisation has given rise to calls for economic “degrowth”. This means a phase of planned and equitable economic contraction in the richest nations, eventually reaching a steady state that operates within Earth’s biophysical limits.

At this point, mainstream economists will accuse degrowth advocates of misunderstanding the potential of technology, markets, and efficiency gains to “decouple” economic growth from environmental impact. But there is no misunderstanding here. Tthe fatal problem with the growth model is that it relies on an extent of decoupling that quickly becomes unachievable. We simply cannot make a growing supply of food, clothes, houses, cars, appliances, gadgets, etc. with 15, 30, or 60 times less energy and resources than we do today. We need to embrace renewable energy, but renewable energy cannot sustain an energy-intensive global society of high-end consumers. Some countries have shown trends of decoupling;, but under closer examination, this is generally because of them outsourcing energy and resource-intensive manufacturing elsewhere. Technology and ‘free markets’ are not the salvation they promised to be.

In order to move toward a just and sustainable global economy, developed nations must reduce their resource demands to a ‘fair share’ ecological footprint. This might imply an 80% reduction or more, if the global population is to achieve a similar material living standard. But such significant quantitative reductions cannot be achieved if we persist with the dominant economics of GDP growth. It follows that the developed nations need to initiate policies for a post-growth economy at once, followed in due course by developing nations. This is humanity’s defining challenge in coming years and decades. A degrowth society embraces the necessity of planned economic contraction, seeking to turn our environmental and social crises into opportunities for civilisational renewal. Among other things, we would tend to reduce our working hours in the formal economy in exchange for more home-production and leisure. We would have less income, but more freedom. Thus, in our material simpli...

20:19

Rebalance the economy away from London openDemocracy

London’s Garden Bridge will cost £60m of public money, and may even require a public bailout upon completion. Meanwhile, museums in Derby, Lancashire, Jarrow and Durham face closure. The cost of ke...
London’s Garden Bridge will cost £60m of public money, and may even require a public bailout upon completion. Meanwhile, museums in Derby, Lancashire, Jarrow and Durham face closure. The cost of keeping them open is a tiny fraction of the public money funnelled into the Garden Bridge. Of course, the problems with Britain’s economy don’t begin and end with the Garden Bridge, but it is a fantastic symbol of how skewed the nation’s economy, culture and infrastructure investment are towards London and the South East. It’s also an explanation for the resentment people living outside of London feel for the national overemphasis on the capital. The first thing to address when it comes to rebalancing the economy is George Osborne’s idea of 'Northern Powerhouse'. This was marketed by the then Chancellor as a way of rebalancing the economy and fueling economic growth in the North. But, as Daniel Bailey wrote for the Centre for Labour and Social Studies: “there is a great incongruence between the soaring rhetoric of devolution and the actual policy content of City Deals, such as the one in Sheffield, where only modest budgetary powers have been handed down. Moreover, an analysis of the specific powers being transferred speak to Whitehall’s existing objectives rather than an enabling of any deeper sense of decentralisation.” The emphasis on Whitehall has been demonstrated in farcical news stories about over 200 Northern Powerhouse jobs being moved from Sheffield to London. In short, the Northern Powerhouse initiative is an exercise in devolving blame but centralising power. City deals mean British regions will get the choice over how they spend an ever-decreasing pot of money, and may even end up undercutting one another if business rates are also devolved. This doesn't devolve power, it just outsources austerity. It's not solution to the problem of a London-centric economy; it is part of the problem. What the UK needs is a proper industrial strategy to develop communities across Britain. This would involve investing more in the manufacturing industries so that there are plenty of well-paid skilled jobs in areas that have previously suffered industrial decline. Part of this industrial strategy would be to invest heavily in research and development to ensure the technology Britain develops can be exported to other countries, and the revenue used to invest in the country’s future. A proper transport strategy is also needed to balance the economy away from London. By improving transport links and reducing commuting costs, the government could create a metropolis encompassing many northern cities – like a spiderweb of different economies across the north. This would be a far better solution to Londoncentricity than HS2, which is essentially a project to make commuting to London easier. Finally, some national institutions should be relocated to the north. Parliament could be moved to Newcastle, taking many journalists and lobbyists – and the money they spend – with it. The BBC already has a huge media centre in Salford, but this could be expanded further. National newspapers could be offered peppercorn rent for opening regional offices outside of London. The financial, political and media hubs of the US are spread across the country. It is absurd that the UK crams all of them into the same city at the expense of everything else. These are just a small number of ideas for a balanced economy. The government must think of more, and make enacting them a p...

20:15

An 'Affordable Urban Density Fund' to build homes openDemocracy

I’ve lost count of the infrastructure stimulus funds I’ve seen from ministers – mainly Conservatives during the last two governments, and mainly fixated on road building – so here’s my ...
I’ve lost count of the infrastructure stimulus funds I’ve seen from ministers – mainly Conservatives during the last two governments, and mainly fixated on road building – so here’s my new idea for one, and not a bypass in sight.
It starts with the housing crisis. Even most Tories agree we need new, genuinely affordable rented homes. In many cities, we now have an entire generation locked out of home ownership. For many people, so-called ‘starter homes’ are literally a non-starter as the high level of rent prevents saving for a deposit, while incomes come nowhere near paying for a mortgage at 80 per cent of market rates.

The obvious thing we need to fill this gap is new, properly affordable, homes to rent. At social rents for the lowest paid workers in shops, cleaning and delivering, and at a ‘living rent’ (around a third of take-home pay) for those the wages paid to people in the public sector. Both are essential groups of workers currently priced further and further away from our city centres. The big problem is that new housebuilding projects with a combination of social and affordable rented homes aren’t top of the list for the big companies doing most of the big development schemes in our cities. But they're a hugely important goal for housing associations, councils and long-term investment funds like pensions, and for the growing number of people getting together proposals for a new generation of co-operative housing. The government should work with such groups to promote the growth in affordable housing. In our cities there is public land that is ideal for these low- and non-profit sectors, much of it near transport services and stations. In the capital, Transport for London has already identified over 120 hectares of land in large plots, and is working on the next tranches of medium and small sites around its network and depots.

So, what can the current government do to help? I suggest they look at a good old infrastructure boost in the form of an ‘Affordable Urban Density Fund’. This could help kick-start the kind of development we need, by providing two things. First: a boost to the scarce and diminishing grants needed by housing associations and councils to build social rented homes, with a public fund specifically for mixed schemes in urban areas on unbuilt land near transport services. The administration of these grants can be handed directly to the current and new metro Mayors of our biggest cities. Second: councils in these areas should have borrowing restrictions relaxed, on condition that this is matched by other investment (from individuals setting up co-ops or from institutions) and used for long-term mixed rented schemes that will pay back over a specific time period.
This will mean councils have to include some higher ‘living rent’ units, not just social housing, to achieve this. I hope this would warm Conservative cockles just enough to make it acceptable. What’s more, combining the new fund with investment from councils, institutions, and the individual members of new co-operatives will mean its budget can be magnified several times over. This is surely what every minister wants to say they will achieve with exchequer cash?
And of course we can also make a strong transport case for this, bringing essential workers closer to where they are needed, relieving both the roads and the crowded medium-distance commuter public transport systems into our cities. It would also act as a traditional stimulus by helping...

20:05

Post-conflict in Colombia (18) Amnesty and pardon in the peace process openDemocracy

The complex system of justice created at the negotiating table in Havana will require a great deal of effort for its implementation to meet the expectations. Español Português

President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia presents a copy of a peace agreement that was forged in his country to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Sept. 19, 2016. AP Photo/Craig Ruttle.

The final agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has attracted a great deal of interest from the international community regarding the system of justice agreed by the parties. This is quite understandable, given that it is unusual for two undefeated contenders at an armed conflict to agree on an accountability mechanism under criminal law. The usual practice has been the opposite: pardon or general amnesty formulas agreed bilaterally or mechanisms where the prevailing party judges the party that has been defeated.

The system of justice created for accountability is a complex one because, on the one hand, it includes several mechanisms (a truth commission, a unit for searching missing persons, and a criminal system of justice called Special Jurisdiction for Peace - JEP). On the other hand, the system does not include final or extreme formulas since it is the result of negotiations. It does not include a maximalist compensation system (where all veterans and all those who were involved in crimes should stand trial and be put in jail), nor a general, indiscriminate amnesty. It includes accountability mechanisms in varying degrees, depending on factors such as:

  1. The seriousness of the offense (the most serious crimes are to be prosecuted and punished)
  2. The nature of the involvement (prosecution will focus on those who have been involved in a decisive way in the most serious crimes)
  3. The degree of commitment of those who are brought to justice to both the peace process and the rights of the victims (the greater their contribution and participation, the greater their chances of being granted legal benefits)

For this reason, the JEP system consists of mechanisms such as (i) accountability court rooms where judicial officers, through rapid procedures, are to grant legal benefits such as amnesties, pardons and cessation of criminal proceedings; (ii) a proper court of law responsible for ascertaining the liability of the main participants in the most serious crimes, and for imposing sanctions; and (iii) a mechani...

18:43

The Joyce Girl and the mad wives of modernism openDemocracy

Annabel Abbs' debut novel explores the life of Lucia Joyce - daughter of James - whose desire for an independent life is denied, much like those of Zelda Fitzgerald and Vivienne Eliot.

Having spent the last three years working on a novel about the women living on the 1920s Parisian Left Bank, it’s fair to say I’ve become a bit of an expert on the intricacies of these fascinating women’s lives. So it was with a great deal of interest that I picked up Annabel Abbs’ debut, The Joyce Girl.  Through my own research, I was fairly familiar with the details of her heroine Lucia Joyce’s life. I knew, for example, that she was taught ballet by Zelda Fitzgerald’s teacher; and that she was in love with her father’s literary heir Samuel Beckett.

 And, of course, I knew that she went mad.

In her novel, Abbs breathes life into Lucia - telling her story in a breathless, energetic voice. Her writing is full of the rich, sensual atmosphere of 1920s Paris, and she provides a new insight into the world of the Joyce family. Most importantly, Abbs explores the overlapping oppressions that drove Lucia, and so many women like her, into “madness”.  

The novel opens in 1934, with Lucia receiving psychiatric treatment in Dr. Jung’s office. Having remained silent during so many appointments, she has now decided to speak: 

            Three times a week I come by boat and sit with him. And still I haven’t spoken. But today something inside me stirs and my silence feels oppressive.

Silence is a theme which occurs throughout the novel - and is a common aspect of Jung’s and Freud’s psychoanalysis of women during that time. Freud and Jung noted that many of the hysterical young women they treated suffered ‘aphonia’: an inability to speak following a trauma. It’s unclear in Abbs’ narrative whether Lucia is suffering aphonia. I prefer to think that she has until this point been using muteness as a weapon. Throughout her life Lucia has been effectively silenced. Now that men demand her voice, she can exert power by refusing to give it. 

After this first meeting with Jung, Abbs transports us to the late 1920s and Lucia’s early life: a young woman launching her career as a modern dancer. Living in Paris with her father, mother and brother, Lucia bursts from the page. She’s a woman possessed with vitality and ambition. Abbs describes Lucia as always in motion - she never stops twirling and stretching and jumping. She’s an irresistible character; a young woman on the brink of a bright future: 

            I tossed the newspaper onto the sofa and began spinning around the parlour, turning in wide, emphatic circles. The applause was still ringing in my ears, the euphoria still tripping through my veins. I raised my arms and spun -

However, as the novel progresses, it b...

16:00

Video: John Akomfrah on sea-migration, borders, and art openDemocracy

Acclaimed British artist John Akomfrah speaks on his new installation Vertigo Sea and explains the impact of recent migration on his art.

Duration: 21:28

“I’m for the blur. I’m about trying to blur these boundaries and borders because I think more resonance comes out of things, narratives conversant with each other, than not.”

In Border/Talks: a conversation with John Akomfrah on sea migration, borders, and art, Maurice Stierl, an assistant professor at University of California Davis, engages in a conversation with the critically acclaimed artist and filmmaker John Akomfrah at the Smoking Dogs Films studio in East London.

Border crossings and precarious migratory journeys across the sea play a significant role in Akomfrah’s art work, and particularly so in his recent video installation, Vertigo Sea, which first premiered at the Venice Biennale in 2015. On three large screens, he juxtaposes footage and images of the sea as a resilient and stunning life-force with those that expose humankind’s violent relationship to maritime spaces.

In Vertigo Sea, the viewer also repeatedly encounters portrayals of past and present forms of human suffering and the ways in which the sea has been used to exploit, to colonise, and to disappear. Alongside contemporary practices of dangerous sea-migration, we see Vietnamese boat-people struggling to survive, Argentinian death flights during which political opponents were dropped into the sea, and enslaved populations shipped across the Atlantic.

In his video interview, Stierl enquires what Akomfrah’s intentions and inspirations were behind creating connections between elements that may at first sight seem so distant and detached from one another. How did last year’s tremendous rise in sea migration to Europe impact on his art work and its reception? What are borders for him and how does he conceive artistic practices seeking to challenge these human constructs? And does he believe in the freedom of movement for all people?

Sideboxes

10:09

Green: at what price? openDemocracy

On the shores of Lake Victoria in southern Uganda, a parcel of land is pitting a Norwegian timber company against more than 10,000 villagers.

Deep within a pine and eucalyptus forest on the shores of Lake Victoria in southern Uganda, a parcel of land is pitting a Norwegian timber company against more than 10,000 villagers who say its "green" project is costing their homes and livelihood.

The land in dispute is 500 hectares within an area of about 6,500 hectares in the Bukaleba Forest Reserve, leased for 50 years in 1996 by Uganda's government to privately-owned Green Resources, one of Africa's largest forest companies.

Green Resources, whose 2,500-strong workforce has planted 41,000 hectares of forest in Uganda, Mozambique, and Tanzania, said it was proud of its environmental credentials, harvesting logs used across East Africa and selling into the carbon credit market.

Located 120 km (75 miles) from both the capital, Kampala, and the Kenyan border, the plantation at Bukaleba is in an ideal spot for wood production for use both in Uganda and for export.

But rather than being welcomed by the local community, the Ugandan project stands accused of evicting villagers who have lived on the land for generations and depriving them of livelihoods by taking land used to grow food or graze livestock.

"When we first arrived here, life was comfortable. We were farming and harvesting enough food, but those things are no more," said Olga Akello, who has lived in the Bukaleba forest for over 30 years.

"They took away our farmland and we have become beggars."

To appease villagers, president Yoweri Museveni pledged to allocate them 500 hectares of the leased land but this "promised land" has yet to materialise, setting communities against the company in a complex land dispute echoed across Africa.

Green Resources Director Teddy Nyamaizi Nsamba said this was a matter for the government to resolve as it was not within the company's mandate to hand over this land.

The company is proud of its efforts to help the communities, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview at Green Resources offices in Jinja, Uganda's second city.

Its website refers to benefits including creating jobs, supplying medical equipment to health centres, drilling bore holes for water, sponsoring girls through secondary education, and running HIV/AIDS awareness activities.

Uncertain future

Bukaleba's villagers are among millions facing an uncertain future across Africa, where 50 million hectares of land are leased to foreign entities and 90 percent of rural land is untitled, according to a report by the Oakland Institute, in California.

Ugandan Central Forest Reserves are managed by the National Forest Authority (NFA) and are considered protected areas, but thousands of people were brought to live and work in the Bukaleba area by Idi Amin's government in the 1970...

01:25

WashPost makes history: first paper to call for prosecution of its own source openDemocracy

News organisations usually owe duties of protection to their sources. The Washington Post is making history as the first paper to call for the prosecution of Edward Snowden, its own source, after accepting the Pulitzer Prize.

Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden speaks via video conference in February 2016. Credit: Juliet Linderman Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden speaks via video conference in February 2016. Credit: Juliet Linderman/ AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.

Three  of the four media outlets that received and published large numbers of secret NSA documents provided by Edward Snowden — The Guardian, the New York Times, and The Intercept –– have called for the US government to allow the NSA whistleblower to return to the US with no charges. That’s the normal course for a news organization, which owes its sources duties of protection, and which — by virtue of accepting the source’s materials and then publishing them — implicitly declares the source’s information to be in the public interest.

This highlights a chronic cowardice that often arises when establishment figures want to denounce Snowden

But not the Washington PostIn the face of a growing ACLU and Amnesty-led campaign to secure a pardon for Snowden, timed to this weekend’s release of the Oliver Stone biopic “Snowden,” the Post editorial page not only argued in opposition to a pardon, but explicitly demanded that Snowden — the paper’s own source — stand trial on espionage charges or, as a “second-best solution,” accept “a measure of criminal responsibility for his excesses and the U.S. government offers a measure of leniency.”

READ MORE: 'Are you a traitor?' BBC's interview with Snowden

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Wednesday, 21 September

21:26

Sudan: the government and its obsession with pornography openDemocracy

"They kept asking me if I have a boyfriend; when I was kissed last …they threatened to take naked pictures of me or create a porn film featuring me." 

Sudanese police fired tear gas and beat women protesting outside a Sudanese court during the trial of a female journalist accused of violating the Islamic dress code by wearing trousers in public, 2009. Press Association/ And Raouf. All rights reserved.It was July 2012 and I was standing with an acquaintance inside the Haj Yousif court-house as we were waiting to attend the trial of several activists. The acquaintance, a young woman, had just been released from detention by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) and was telling me her story. As I took mental notes, I kept thinking of my best friend who was asked during an NISS interrogation if she was a lesbian. This was because they had seen pictures of us together on a boat on my birthday. 

In 2012 and 2013, as a wave of mass protests swept Sudan, a number of tweeps confirmed that pornography websites, which were normally blocked by the National Telecommunications Council (NTC), had been unblocked. Pornography was a tool the NTC started to use to control the masses. It was as if they were saying: stay home and get off, but don't go out and protest!

Over the past few years, one of the tools used to suppress women activists has been the threat of their images being pornographized. But it seems that this tactic has reached a whole new level.

The TRACKS trial

The courthouse was full that day, September 4, 2016. It was the second session of a long-awaited trial, one that began six months after the Khartoum Centre for Training and Human Development (TRACKS) was raided by the NISS.

This centre was one of Sudan's few remaining civil society organizations; they provided training on human rights as well as language and IT diplomas. It had also been raided the year before, in February 2015. 

For most of 2015, the centre’s director, administrative manager and a trainer, who had been conducting a workshop at the time of the raid, were embroiled in a legal battle facing capital charges. By late February 2016, the State Crimes Prosecution Office had found no evidence to continue the investigation and the director of the centre was called in to retrieve the confiscated equipment.

The honeymoon only lasted a few days. Another raid took place in February 2016, and the 2015 case was re-opened in addition to another case being filed against the director of the centre, the centre’s female administrative manager as well as two volunteers, one freelance accountant and a visitor who was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were all arrested at the time of the raid and summoned for several weeks after.

The six civil society actors, including a Camero...

Sudan: the government and its obsession with pornography openDemocracy

"They kept asking me if I have a boyfriend; when I was kissed last …they threatened to take naked pictures of me or create a porn film featuring me." 

Sudanese police fired tear gas and beat women protesting outside a Sudanese court during the trial of a female journalist accused of violating the Islamic dress code by wearing trousers in public, 2009. Press Association/ And Raouf. All rights reserved.It was July 2012 and I was standing with an acquaintance inside the Haj Yousif court-house as we were waiting to attend the trial of several activists. The acquaintance, a young woman, had just been released from detention by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) and was telling me her story. As I took mental notes, I kept thinking of my best friend who was asked during an NISS interrogation if she was a lesbian. This was because they had seen pictures of us together on a boat on my birthday. 

In 2012 and 2013, as a wave of mass protests swept Sudan, a number of tweeps confirmed that pornography websites, which were normally blocked by the National Telecommunications Council (NTC), had been unblocked. Pornography was a tool the NTC started to use to control the masses. It was as if they were saying: stay home and get off, but don't go out and protest!

Over the past few years, one of the tools used to suppress women activists has been the threat of their images being pornographized. But it seems that this tactic has reached a whole new level.

The TRACKS trial

The courthouse was full that day, September 4, 2016. It was the second session of a long-awaited trial, one that began six months after the Khartoum Centre for Training and Human Development (TRACKS) was raided by the NISS.

This centre was one of Sudan's few remaining civil society organizations; they provided training on human rights as well as language and IT diplomas. It had also been raided the year before, in February 2015. 

For most of 2015, the centre’s director, administrative manager and a trainer, who had been conducting a workshop at the time of the raid, were embroiled in a legal battle facing capital charges. By late February 2016, the State Crimes Prosecution Office had found no evidence to continue the investigation and the director of the centre was called in to retrieve the confiscated equipment.

The honeymoon only lasted a few days. Another raid took place in February 2016, and the 2015 case was re-opened in addition to another case being filed against the director of the centre, the centre’s female administrative manager as well as two volunteers, one freelance accountant and a visitor who was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were all arrested at the time of the raid and summoned for several weeks after.

The six civil society actors, including a Cameroonian student who is s...

20:27

The problems of Brexit are big enough without nurturing new grievances against the Brits Slugger O'Toole

In his eloquent contributions to the Mount Stewart conversations, (warm thanks to Alan), Fintan O’Toole in terms stated as fact that the people had exercised an irreversible act of sovereignty in approving the Good Friday Agreement enshrined in international treaty. This had been violated by the “reckless” imposition of Brexit on the Northern Ireland.  The more...

20:24

Whose revolution? openDemocracy

The Egyptian mass protests can only be classified as a reform movement that had hoped to create a liberal order. A modest goal that has degenerated into a full-spectrum military autocracy.

Nasser Nasser/AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved. Mural depicting ousted President Mubarak, right, and President Morsi, left, that reads "before the revolution, let them be amused, after the revolution, let them be paralyzed."Nasser Nasser/AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.The mass protests that erupted in Egypt in 2011, and their aftermath, were dubbed 'a revolution' by both opponents and proponents.

The label, on the one hand, has been used to discredit the protests; described as a destructive force that is the reason for the abysmal state of the Egyptian economy. On the other hand, the same label has also been used to romanticize the struggle against the Mubarak regime and its successors.

A more sober examination of the nature of these events renders a different picture. It places the upheaval within a reformist rather than revolutionary realm that had aimed to pave the way for the development of Egyptian capitalism beyond the cronyism that had plagued it for several decades. However, a distinction needs to be made between social and political revolutions in order to identify the position of Egyptian mass protests either within this continuum or outside it altogether.

A social revolution can be defined as a process of societal upheaval by which one society replaces another, and one class the other at the helm. It represents a clear rupture by which the form of society drastically changes. The classic example of which, at least based on the Marxist tradition, is the French Revolution. The bourgeoisie were able to capture the state and overhaul the political structure in a manner that removed remaining feudal fetters on capitalist development.

On the other hand, the outcome of a political revolution involves a change in the nature of government or the political system with limited impact on the society at large, and sometimes with limited popular participation. The English civil war of 1640 and the Glorious Revolution of 1688 can arguably fall within this category.

Thus, the goals as well as the outcomes of a revolutionary process classify events of mass upheaval as either political or social. However, one needs to take into account that a revolutionary process is complex and involves a large number of social forces with conflicting aims who are not always historically conscious of their mission.

The French revolution, for example, started as an inter-elite split with moderate reformist aims. Through popular participation it turned into a radical social revolution, and the task of paving the way for capitalist development was not carried out by the bourgeoisie but by the popular classes.

The same applies to the English civil war. Even though the monarchy was eventually restored, it performed a bourgeois rather than feudal role, acting as a surrogate for bourgeois rule. ...

Whose revolution? openDemocracy

The Egyptian mass protests can only be classified as a reform movement that had hoped to create a liberal order. A modest goal that has degenerated into a full-spectrum military autocracy.

Nasser Nasser/AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved. Mural depicting ousted President Mubarak, right, and President Morsi, left, that reads "before the revolution, let them be amused, after the revolution, let them be paralyzed."Nasser Nasser/AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.The mass protests that erupted in Egypt in 2011, and their aftermath, were dubbed 'a revolution' by both opponents and proponents.

The label, on the one hand, has been used to discredit the protests; described as a destructive force that is the reason for the abysmal state of the Egyptian economy. On the other hand, the same label has also been used to romanticize the struggle against the Mubarak regime and its successors.

A more sober examination of the nature of these events renders a different picture. It places the upheaval within a reformist rather than revolutionary realm that had aimed to pave the way for the development of Egyptian capitalism beyond the cronyism that had plagued it for several decades. However, a distinction needs to be made between social and political revolutions in order to identify the position of Egyptian mass protests either within this continuum or outside it altogether.

A social revolution can be defined as a process of societal upheaval by which one society replaces another, and one class the other at the helm. It represents a clear rupture by which the form of society drastically changes. The classic example of which, at least based on the Marxist tradition, is the French Revolution. The bourgeoisie were able to capture the state and overhaul the political structure in a manner that removed remaining feudal fetters on capitalist development.

On the other hand, the outcome of a political revolution involves a change in the nature of government or the political system with limited impact on the society at large, and sometimes with limited popular participation. The English civil war of 1640 and the Glorious Revolution of 1688 can arguably fall within this category.

Thus, the goals as well as the outcomes of a revolutionary process classify events of mass upheaval as either political or social. However, one needs to take into account that a revolutionary process is complex and involves a large number of social forces with conflicting aims who are not always historically conscious of their mission.

The French revolution, for example, started as an inter-elite split with moderate reformist aims. Through popular participation it turned into a radical social revolution, and the task of paving the way for capitalist development was not carried out by the bourgeoisie but by the popular classes.

The same applies to the English civil war. Even though the monarchy was eventually restored, it performed a bourgeois rather than feudal role, acting as a surrogate for bourgeois rule. ...

19:59

In Russia, some men want to watch the world burn openDemocracy

2017 is set to be Russia’s Year of Ecology. But in the south of the country, environmental activists face corrupt officials and vigilante attacks. Русский

Greenpeace activist Mikhail Kreindlin after he was attacked in Krasnodar region. Photo courtesy of Greenpeace Russia.Mikhail Kreindlin, the head of Greenpeace's protected areas programme, returned to Moscow with relief. Two weeks ago, Kreindlin was in the southern region of Krasnodar, home to the Kuban river, to fight wildfires. But the trip left Kreindlin with a broken nose, a badly cut eyebrow and possible concussion. 

Russia’s volunteer firefighters have never had to face this kind of “patriotic vigilance” before. The problem is, vigilante justice seems to be a cover for corrupt officials. 

“At about one o’clock on the night of 8-9 September, several young men in tracksuits appeared outside our camp,” Kreindlin recalls. “I happened to be on watch duty at the time and approached the fence. They said: ‘We warned you things would get rough. But you wouldn’t listen.’ And then seven or eight of them climbed the three- or four metre high fence. They wore masks and were armed with rubber truncheons, knives and traumatic pistols.”

“We warned you things would get rough. But you wouldn’t listen” 

“They rushed us. I was the nearest to the fence and tried to hold them back. I had a pepper spray canister, but they were wearing masks so it had no effect. Then three of them hurled themselves at me and beat me up badly. They were beating everybody. They slashed the tents and the tyres of our van, and kept shouting that if we didn’t leave the area straight away, we would never be seen again. Then they left, taking the phone I’d been trying to call the police with and another phone belonging to one of our volunteers.” 

“How are you now?” 

“They made a mess of stitching my head in the hospital at Primorsko-Akhtarsk and the wound became septic, so they had to clean and re-stitch it in Krasnodar.”

“What caused the wound?”

“I think it was a rubber truncheon”.

“Have the police charged anybody?” 

“I wrote a statement filing a charge for causing me bodily harm. So far we know from the media that the police have charged three people on three counts: bodily harm, death threats and theft of property”.

“Cooperation” from the authorities

On 5 September, volunteers, both local and from other parts of Russia, arrived at the Maly Beysug private hunting base to extinguish wildfires in the Akhtar-Grivenskaya estuary and lagoon system. The volunteers, attached to Greenpeace Russia and Environmental Watch on North Caucasus, were immediately subject to attempts to foil their mission, despite having permission from the regional authorities. 

“They weren’t exactly happy to see us,” Mikhail Kreindlin t...

19:47

Progressivism, populism and the left in Latin America openDemocracy

Progressivism is a disputed concept in Latin America. Between the manipulation of the populist governments and the discomposure of the Left, there is little room for understanding what it means. Español

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa, second from left, shakes hand with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. January 7, 2015. AP Photo/Andy Wong, Pool. All rights reserved.

Populists have the upper hand in this dispute. Their position is based on strong official propaganda rhetoric and on rampant political patronage which translates into popular support at the polls. Distributing the economic bonanza’s surplus without affecting the historical structure of capital accumulation has proven to be good political business.

The problem lies in the ambiguity of the term. In Ecuador, for example, it was coined as an eclectic mediation between conservatism and radical liberalism in the late 19th century, with only one purpose: stopping the revolution led by Eloy Alfaro (President of Ecuador from 1895 to 1901 and from 1906 to 1911) - even though he was, from the logic of modernity, the most conspicuous champion of progress in the country.

Historically, oligarchic domination in Latin America was always confronted with a dilemma between modernity and pre-modernity – a dilemma which was resolved, in many cases, through the idea of progress. Preserving the status quo meant not only maintaining the privileges of the elite, but advocating backwardness and inequality as identity forms. Modernizing the country became, therefore, a strategy to break away from these stale and obsolete domination structures.

The Latin American Left’s approach to entering modernity was through the most difficult – though straightforward – gate: revolution. Its strands differed in terms of the means rather than the purpose. It never questioned the idea that modernity and progress could harbour content intrinsically opposed to the ideals of equality it stood for. Unrelenting advance along the path of history was not only a doctrinal but a moral imperative. And in this winding path, all those who were heading in the same direction were its allies.

The Latin American Left’s approach to entering modernity was through the most difficult – though straightforward – gate: revolution

The limits of the radical options and the countless failures of the revolutionary struggles pushed to the Left towards more moderate formulas. Among them, leaning towards the ideological centre as an electoral necessity, not only to capture a whole new world of voters, but also to overcome old, ossified dogmas. The agreements with the so-called progressive sectors emerged from there.

This shift has had two consequences. The first is the departure from such basic principles as fighting the system - not only capitalism, but all the different systems of domination imposed by modernity (ecological, cultural, patriarchal, etc.).

The second consequence has been to take the option of populism – which has proved disastrous. Reformism has been abandoned to emb...

Progressivism, populism and the left in Latin America openDemocracy

Progressivism is a disputed concept in Latin America. Between the manipulation of the populist governments and the discomposure of the Left, there is little room for understanding what it means. Español

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa, second from left, shakes hand with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. January 7, 2015. AP Photo/Andy Wong, Pool. All rights reserved.

Populists have the upper hand in this dispute. Their position is based on strong official propaganda rhetoric and on rampant political patronage which translates into popular support at the polls. Distributing the economic bonanza’s surplus without affecting the historical structure of capital accumulation has proven to be good political business.

The problem lies in the ambiguity of the term. In Ecuador, for example, it was coined as an eclectic mediation between conservatism and radical liberalism in the late 19th century, with only one purpose: stopping the revolution led by Eloy Alfaro (President of Ecuador from 1895 to 1901 and from 1906 to 1911) - even though he was, from the logic of modernity, the most conspicuous champion of progress in the country.

Historically, oligarchic domination in Latin America was always confronted with a dilemma between modernity and pre-modernity – a dilemma which was resolved, in many cases, through the idea of progress. Preserving the status quo meant not only maintaining the privileges of the elite, but advocating backwardness and inequality as identity forms. Modernizing the country became, therefore, a strategy to break away from these stale and obsolete domination structures.

The Latin American Left’s approach to entering modernity was through the most difficult – though straightforward – gate: revolution. Its strands differed in terms of the means rather than the purpose. It never questioned the idea that modernity and progress could harbour content intrinsically opposed to the ideals of equality it stood for. Unrelenting advance along the path of history was not only a doctrinal but a moral imperative. And in this winding path, all those who were heading in the same direction were its allies.

The Latin American Left’s approach to entering modernity was through the most difficult – though straightforward – gate: revolution

The limits of the radical options and the countless failures of the revolutionary struggles pushed to the Left towards more moderate formulas. Among them, leaning towards the ideological centre as an electoral necessity, not only to capture a whole new world of voters, but also to overcome old, ossified dogmas. The agreements with the so-called progressive sectors emerged from there.

This shift has had two consequences. The first is the departure from such basic principles as fighting the system - not only capitalism, but all the different systems of domination imposed by modernity (ecological, cultural, patriarchal, etc.).

The second consequence has been to take the option of populism – which has proved disastrous. Reformism has been abandoned to emb...

18:30

Collaborating with scientists for climate justice openDemocracy

The impacts of climate change intensify existing social inequities by placing disproportionate burdens on vulnerable populations. Collaborations with scientists and community partners could lead to rights-based solutions.

In the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Louisiana, an island is washing away. Rising sea levels and flooding from storm surges have eroded 98% of Isle de Jean Charles since the 1950s, threatening the survival of the island’s inhabitants. After sixteen years of committed work by tribal leaders, in early 2016 the state of Louisiana received $48 million dollars in federal grant funding to help the Isle de Jean Charles Band of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe leave the land where they have lived for generations and resettle. They will become the United States’ first climate-displaced community.

According to Pew research, only 41% of Americans think that climate change poses an immediate threat, well below the global average. But the residents of the Isle de Jean Charles are not the only ones already suffering from the impacts of climate change. Across the United States, people of color experience over 70% more particulate pollution from greenhouse gas emitting facilities near their homes. In Los Angeles specifically, African Americans are twice as likely to die from a heat wave, in part because they have less access to air conditioning. It is no coincidence that these communities have historically been marginalized, discriminated against, and under-resourced. Indeed, climate change intensifies existing social inequalities and disproportionately affects vulnerable populations.

Climate change intensifies existing social inequalities and dis-proportionately affects vulnerable populations. To discuss this intersection of environment and human rights, scientists and human rights practitioners met recently in Washington, DC at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Given the broad consensus that the climate is rapidly changing, activists, scientists, and policy makers are increasingly focused on “climate resilience” strategies that develop the capacity of a community to withstand and recover from climate-induced stresses. Many governments, as well as international institutions such as the UN and the International Federation of the Red Cross, are now focused on building resilience as the best way to plan and prepare for the changing climate. However, human rights are often missing from resilience frameworks. This leads planners and politicians to overlook the heavy burden borne by the most vulnerable communities, as well as opportunities to work with these communities to build resilience.

Scientific data alone will not lead to viable solutions for communities who are alrea...

Collaborating with scientists for climate justice openDemocracy

The impacts of climate change intensify existing social inequities by placing disproportionate burdens on vulnerable populations. Collaborations with scientists and community partners could lead to rights-based solutions.

In the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Louisiana, an island is washing away. Rising sea levels and flooding from storm surges have eroded 98% of Isle de Jean Charles since the 1950s, threatening the survival of the island’s inhabitants. After sixteen years of committed work by tribal leaders, in early 2016 the state of Louisiana received $48 million dollars in federal grant funding to help the Isle de Jean Charles Band of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe leave the land where they have lived for generations and resettle. They will become the United States’ first climate-displaced community.

According to Pew research, only 41% of Americans think that climate change poses an immediate threat, well below the global average. But the residents of the Isle de Jean Charles are not the only ones already suffering from the impacts of climate change. Across the United States, people of color experience over 70% more particulate pollution from greenhouse gas emitting facilities near their homes. In Los Angeles specifically, African Americans are twice as likely to die from a heat wave, in part because they have less access to air conditioning. It is no coincidence that these communities have historically been marginalized, discriminated against, and under-resourced. Indeed, climate change intensifies existing social inequalities and disproportionately affects vulnerable populations.

Climate change intensifies existing social inequalities and dis-proportionately affects vulnerable populations. To discuss this intersection of environment and human rights, scientists and human rights practitioners met recently in Washington, DC at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Given the broad consensus that the climate is rapidly changing, activists, scientists, and policy makers are increasingly focused on “climate resilience” strategies that develop the capacity of a community to withstand and recover from climate-induced stresses. Many governments, as well as international institutions such as the UN and the International Federation of the Red Cross, are now focused on building resilience as the best way to plan and prepare for the changing climate. However, human rights are often missing from resilience frameworks. This leads planners and politicians to overlook the heavy burden borne by the most vulnerable communities, as well as opportunities to work with these communities to build resilience.

Scientific data alone will not lead to viable solutions for communities who are alrea...

13:03

Quiet American: Sophie Pinkham in Ukraine openDemocracy

Black Square is essential reading for anyone struggling to understand the instability on the edge of Europe — with a dizzyingly colourful cast of characters who never come across like clichés.

Kyiv, March 2014: Sophie Pinkham's new book on Ukraine retells the events of the past three years from the ground up. CC BY-ND 2.0 streetwrk / Flickr. Some rights reserved. Sophie Pinkham’s Black Square starts out seeming like a slow and leisurely book — until it causes you to have a crying fit in a fast food place selling chebureki at 1am.

That isn’t to say that the book, which interweaves analysis of modern history with intimate portraits of contemporary Ukrainians (and some Russians), ups the drama quotient halfway through. Pinkham’s calm, wry tone stays consistent throughout, even while she describes Ukraine’s 2014 revolution and the war in the east of the country that erupted later that year.

There is a saying in Russian, “It is the quiet depths that hold the devils.” As a writer, Pinkham, who first came to the post-Soviet world as a Red Cross volunteer and went on to write about the region for the New York Times and the London Review of Books, illustrates this saying well.

The “quiet depths” here are the casual stories featuring everyone from musicians who sleep on the floor in Pinkham’s apartment to earnest and not-so-earnest harm reduction NGO workers. From this mosaic of lives a disturbing portrait of Ukraine’s political and social fracturing eventually emerges.

It’s not just lands that are contested in Ukraine nowadays. Take the fact that Pinkham spells the Ukrainian capital’s name as “Kiev”, the more commonly accepted and Russian-sounding spelling, whereas this publication’s style guide demands the Ukrainian-sounding “Kyiv”. As a native of the city, I tend to use both spellings interchangeably and get angry when anyone tells me to stick to one version.

War and politics, however, dictate that such choices are no longer neutral — a shame for those of us who, like Pinkham, remember a more peaceful and occasionally even hopeful time.

Pinkham explains competing historical narratives and clashing interests that have factored into Ukraine’s current predicaments: dependence on foreign money, the loss of Crimea and a shadow war

In a manner that seems effortless but involves a lot of research, Pinkham explains competing historical narratives and clashing interests that have factored into Ukraine’s current predicaments: dependence on foreign money, the loss of Crimea and a shadow war with rebels and Russian volunteers and regulars in the east of the country.

One of her important observations is made on a trip to Rakhiv, a town located between the beautiful mountains of western Ukraine: “Many of its inhabitants spoke three or more languages,” Pinkham writes of Rakhiv. “Its small population was Ukrainian, Hungrarian, Romanian,...

Quiet American: Sophie Pinkham in Ukraine openDemocracy

Black Square is essential reading for anyone struggling to understand the instability on the edge of Europe — with a dizzyingly colourful cast of characters who never come across like clichés.

Kyiv, March 2014: Sophie Pinkham's new book on Ukraine retells the events of the past three years from the ground up. CC BY-ND 2.0 streetwrk / Flickr. Some rights reserved. Sophie Pinkham’s Black Square starts out seeming like a slow and leisurely book — until it causes you to have a crying fit in a fast food place selling chebureki at 1am.

That isn’t to say that the book, which interweaves analysis of modern history with intimate portraits of contemporary Ukrainians (and some Russians), ups the drama quotient halfway through. Pinkham’s calm, wry tone stays consistent throughout, even while she describes Ukraine’s 2014 revolution and the war in the east of the country that erupted later that year.

There is a saying in Russian, “It is the quiet depths that hold the devils.” As a writer, Pinkham, who first came to the post-Soviet world as a Red Cross volunteer and went on to write about the region for the New York Times and the London Review of Books, illustrates this saying well.

The “quiet depths” here are the casual stories featuring everyone from musicians who sleep on the floor in Pinkham’s apartment to earnest and not-so-earnest harm reduction NGO workers. From this mosaic of lives a disturbing portrait of Ukraine’s political and social fracturing eventually emerges.

It’s not just lands that are contested in Ukraine nowadays. Take the fact that Pinkham spells the Ukrainian capital’s name as “Kiev”, the more commonly accepted and Russian-sounding spelling, whereas this publication’s style guide demands the Ukrainian-sounding “Kyiv”. As a native of the city, I tend to use both spellings interchangeably and get angry when anyone tells me to stick to one version.

War and politics, however, dictate that such choices are no longer neutral — a shame for those of us who, like Pinkham, remember a more peaceful and occasionally even hopeful time.

Pinkham explains competing historical narratives and clashing interests that have factored into Ukraine’s current predicaments: dependence on foreign money, the loss of Crimea and a shadow war

In a manner that seems effortless but involves a lot of research, Pinkham explains competing historical narratives and clashing interests that have factored into Ukraine’s current predicaments: dependence on foreign money, the loss of Crimea and a shadow war with rebels and Russian volunteers and regulars in the east of the country.

One of her important observations is made on a trip to Rakhiv, a town located between the beautiful mountains of western Ukraine: “Many of its inhabitants spoke three or more languages,” Pinkham writes of Rakhiv. “Its small population was Ukrainian, Hungrarian, Romanian,...

10:00

The spectre of female otherness is haunting athletics openDemocracy

Hyperandrogenic competitors are not men, and exceptional women shouldn’t be excluded on the grounds that ‘normal’ women feel threatened by their masculine traits. 

Credit: By Tab59 from Düsseldorf, Allemagne. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

When Caster Semenya eased to victory in the women's Olympic 800 metres final in Rio de Janeiro on August 20 2016, the debate on hyperandrogenism was reopened. Semenya burst onto the world scene as an 18-year-old phenomenon at the World Athletics Championships in 2009, comfortably winning the 800 metres.

Incredibly muscular, suspicions about her gender were immediately raised. With the gossip mill in full force, it was leaked to the media that the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) had requested that Semenya undergo sex tests, and she was suspended from competing until a decision had been made. The results remain confidential, but she was cleared to begin competing in women's competitions again in mid-2010.

However, as a direct result of the Semenya case, the IAAF began developing new rules that set out acceptable natural levels of masculinizing hormones in female athletes. The IAAF's working group decided that female competitors could not have levels of testosterone above 10 nanomoles per litre of blood, which is supposedly at the bottom of the male range of testosterone levels. The IAAF’s ruling, however, along with the ‘effective therapeutic strategies’ offered to athletes deemed too masculine to compete in female competition, was highly controversial, and was eventually challenged in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

The case against the new rules was brought by Indian sprinter Dutee Chand, who was banned from competing in women's events prior to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014 because of her naturally-occurring (but supposedly male levels) of testosterone. Refusing hormone therapy and ‘corrective’ surgery, Chand won, and the court suspended the IAAF's limits on testosterone, giving the governing body two years to produce more conclusive evidence that females with androgen hormones within the “male range” have an overriding competitive advantage over other females. This ruling paved the way for Chand and other athletes with hyperandrogenism, including, perhaps, Caster Semenya, to compete without hormone therapy. 

After the Olympic final, Britain's Lynsey Sharp, who finished 6th, was interviewed by Phil Jones on the BBC. Sharp spoke of the emotional connection between herself and fellow athletes Melissa Bishop and Joanna Jóźwik, who finished fourth and fifth respectively. All three are slender athletes with what might be described as feminine features. Jóźwik, Jones and Bishop hugged at the end of the race, with Jones adding, “we know how each-other feels.”

Insiders and outs...

The spectre of female otherness is haunting athletics openDemocracy

Hyperandrogenic competitors are not men, and exceptional women shouldn’t be excluded on the grounds that ‘normal’ women feel threatened by their masculine traits. 

Credit: By Tab59 from Düsseldorf, Allemagne. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

When Caster Semenya eased to victory in the women's Olympic 800 metres final in Rio de Janeiro on August 20 2016, the debate on hyperandrogenism was reopened. Semenya burst onto the world scene as an 18-year-old phenomenon at the World Athletics Championships in 2009, comfortably winning the 800 metres.

Incredibly muscular, suspicions about her gender were immediately raised. With the gossip mill in full force, it was leaked to the media that the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) had requested that Semenya undergo sex tests, and she was suspended from competing until a decision had been made. The results remain confidential, but she was cleared to begin competing in women's competitions again in mid-2010.

However, as a direct result of the Semenya case, the IAAF began developing new rules that set out acceptable natural levels of masculinizing hormones in female athletes. The IAAF's working group decided that female competitors could not have levels of testosterone above 10 nanomoles per litre of blood, which is supposedly at the bottom of the male range of testosterone levels. The IAAF’s ruling, however, along with the ‘effective therapeutic strategies’ offered to athletes deemed too masculine to compete in female competition, was highly controversial, and was eventually challenged in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

The case against the new rules was brought by Indian sprinter Dutee Chand, who was banned from competing in women's events prior to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014 because of her naturally-occurring (but supposedly male levels) of testosterone. Refusing hormone therapy and ‘corrective’ surgery, Chand won, and the court suspended the IAAF's limits on testosterone, giving the governing body two years to produce more conclusive evidence that females with androgen hormones within the “male range” have an overriding competitive advantage over other females. This ruling paved the way for Chand and other athletes with hyperandrogenism, including, perhaps, Caster Semenya, to compete without hormone therapy. 

After the Olympic final, Britain's Lynsey Sharp, who finished 6th, was interviewed by Phil Jones on the BBC. Sharp spoke of the emotional connection between herself and fellow athletes Melissa Bishop and Joanna Jóźwik, who finished fourth and fifth respectively. All three are slender athletes with what might be described as feminine features. Jóźwik, Jones and Bishop hugged at the end of the race, with Jones adding, “we know how each-other feels.”

Insiders and outs...

09:12

Self-organised struggles of migrant care workers openDemocracy

How do migrant workers successfully enact labour and social rights? ‘Respekt’, a local network established by Polish live-in care workers in Basel, Switzerland, challenges widespread assumptions held by unions.

open Movements
The openMovements series invites leading social scientists to share their research results and perspectives on contemporary social struggles.

vpod protest, Basel, May,2015. All rights reserved.They appeared suddenly, had voices and faces: Polish women care workers tending elderly persons in Switzerland in what is a 24-hour job. At the 2014 May Day march in Basel, Switzerland, they took centre stage at the ‘expense’ of the established labour unions. Wearing self-made scarfs in the red and white colours of the Polish flag, they carried a large banner with the slogan “No more exploitation - We demand rights and respect!” Other banners read “A six hour salary for a 24-hour job?! Not on our watch!” “A six hour salary for a 24-hour job?! Not on our watch!”And as the demonstrators reached the local parliament, Bozena Domanska, a Polish care worker, climbed on stage and started to speak about her work:

“Just like thousands of other women from eastern Europe, I know what it means to work 24 hours a day and take care of elderly persons. The work itself is not the problem. The problem is the isolation we live in as women confined to the private household of others, without contact with other people, with no life of our own, responsible day and night for persons who are ill. We live a life dictated by the rhythm of others, from eating times and the kind of TV programmes we watch all the way to sleepless nights.”

In clear words she decried the practices of her employer, a private care-enterprise making large profits by exploiting their employees, women care workers.

“It is scandalous that women working around the clock earn wages on which they cannot live. Many Swiss people seem to think that because we come from Poland or Hungary these wages are sufficient. But the Swiss laws apply to us as well and so do the Swiss labour rights. Employers still think that it is somehow natural for women to do care work for free. But we have had enough of this! We established the network Respekt to give women care workers a voice in the fight against exploitation and wage dumping. As women we demand that care work is recognized across Europe as an important contribution to society. So we fight for fair wages and a better financing of care work.”

Challenges and barriers to the mobilization of migrant care workers

It is challenging to organize women care workers in labour unions. Home care workers are engaged in households in what is considered the private sphere of the family. The relation to their employers is based on strong personal ties. The contracts governing their employment and working conditions are often vague and they are geograp...

Self-organised struggles of migrant care workers openDemocracy

How do migrant workers successfully enact labour and social rights? ‘Respekt’, a local network established by Polish live-in care workers in Basel, Switzerland, challenges widespread assumptions held by unions.

open Movements
The openMovements series invites leading social scientists to share their research results and perspectives on contemporary social struggles.

vpod protest, Basel, May,2015. All rights reserved.They appeared suddenly, had voices and faces: Polish women care workers tending elderly persons in Switzerland in what is a 24-hour job. At the 2014 May Day march in Basel, Switzerland, they took centre stage at the ‘expense’ of the established labour unions. Wearing self-made scarfs in the red and white colours of the Polish flag, they carried a large banner with the slogan “No more exploitation - We demand rights and respect!” Other banners read “A six hour salary for a 24-hour job?! Not on our watch!” “A six hour salary for a 24-hour job?! Not on our watch!”And as the demonstrators reached the local parliament, Bozena Domanska, a Polish care worker, climbed on stage and started to speak about her work:

“Just like thousands of other women from eastern Europe, I know what it means to work 24 hours a day and take care of elderly persons. The work itself is not the problem. The problem is the isolation we live in as women confined to the private household of others, without contact with other people, with no life of our own, responsible day and night for persons who are ill. We live a life dictated by the rhythm of others, from eating times and the kind of TV programmes we watch all the way to sleepless nights.”

In clear words she decried the practices of her employer, a private care-enterprise making large profits by exploiting their employees, women care workers.

“It is scandalous that women working around the clock earn wages on which they cannot live. Many Swiss people seem to think that because we come from Poland or Hungary these wages are sufficient. But the Swiss laws apply to us as well and so do the Swiss labour rights. Employers still think that it is somehow natural for women to do care work for free. But we have had enough of this! We established the network Respekt to give women care workers a voice in the fight against exploitation and wage dumping. As women we demand that care work is recognized across Europe as an important contribution to society. So we fight for fair wages and a better financing of care work.”

Challenges and barriers to the mobilization of migrant care workers

It is challenging to organize women care workers in labour unions. Home care workers are engaged in households in what is considered the private sphere of the family. The relation to their employers is based on strong personal ties. The contracts governing their employment and working conditions are often vague and they are geograp...

03:53

"We need to bring back the sublime in politics." An interview with Jan Sowa openDemocracy

Sociologist Jan Sowa discusses the anti-government protests, the forgotten legacy of Solidarity and the decline and fall of politics in Poland.

Polish sociologist Jan Sowa (right). Vimeo.

Claudia Ciobanu: Prof. Sowa, I am interviewing you in an effort to find hope in the activities of the opposition to the governing Law and Justice party in Poland.

A genuine left-wing party, Razem, was born in Poland shortly before the 2015 parliamentary elections. But after an initial period of growth they seem to be stagnating.

The Committee for the Defence of Democracy (KOD), which organised mass anti-government protests in response to Law and Justice's attacks on the rule of law, is full of enthusiastic people but its rhetoric seems devoid of any impactful political content. Is there any hope?

Let's start with KOD: can something be salvaged out of the enormous energy created by this movement in the protests of late 2015/early2016?

Jan Sowa: I believe KOD are making a mistake when they distance themselves from politics, when they say 'we are not a political movement, we are a movement of civil society'. I think the 'civil society' discourse is a dead end. It has never worked in Poland despite being very widespread.

The idea of 'civil society' implies distancing from various situations and conditions: we are not men and women, rich and poor, city-dwellers and people from countryside, we are just equal citizens. The problem is that Poland is an extremely divided society, in both material and cultural terms. KOD do not take into consideration the real composition of this country: they expect a cleaning lady that makes 1,500 zloty per month and her boss who makes 15,000 zloty to come together at the weekend and march to defend the Constitutional Court. They expect people to abandon their condition and embrace a false unity.

KOD is dominated by the middle class. It's easy for the middle class to abstract from their material situation because their material situation is not so bad. They don't talk about inequality because it's not their problem. Their problem is free speech, freedom of assembly, the Constitutional Court, Poland's image in the European Union, etc. They want to present themselves as 'civilised'. The middle class rally around this post-colonial idea of introducing 'civilised' norms.

I don't want to say there are no problems with the Law and Justice attack on the Constitutional Court - there are - but the root of the problem is not at the symbolic level, it's in material predicaments.

When you look at the history of Solidarity, you find the same kind of disagreement between intellectuals and workers: for the workers the most important condition was dignity at work and material things, for intellectuals it was freedom of speech and political organisation.

Workers wanted independent trade unions and intellectuals were telling them that this was not realistic, and to infiltrate existing stru...

"We need to bring back the sublime in politics." An interview with Jan Sowa openDemocracy

Sociologist Jan Sowa discusses the anti-government protests, the forgotten legacy of Solidarity and the decline and fall of politics in Poland.

Polish sociologist Jan Sowa (right). Vimeo.

Claudia Ciobanu: Prof. Sowa, I am interviewing you in an effort to find hope in the activities of the opposition to the governing Law and Justice party in Poland.

A genuine left-wing party, Razem, was born in Poland shortly before the 2015 parliamentary elections. But after an initial period of growth they seem to be stagnating.

The Committee for the Defence of Democracy (KOD), which organised mass anti-government protests in response to Law and Justice's attacks on the rule of law, is full of enthusiastic people but its rhetoric seems devoid of any impactful political content. Is there any hope?

Let's start with KOD: can something be salvaged out of the enormous energy created by this movement in the protests of late 2015/early2016?

Jan Sowa: I believe KOD are making a mistake when they distance themselves from politics, when they say 'we are not a political movement, we are a movement of civil society'. I think the 'civil society' discourse is a dead end. It has never worked in Poland despite being very widespread.

The idea of 'civil society' implies distancing from various situations and conditions: we are not men and women, rich and poor, city-dwellers and people from countryside, we are just equal citizens. The problem is that Poland is an extremely divided society, in both material and cultural terms. KOD do not take into consideration the real composition of this country: they expect a cleaning lady that makes 1,500 zloty per month and her boss who makes 15,000 zloty to come together at the weekend and march to defend the Constitutional Court. They expect people to abandon their condition and embrace a false unity.

KOD is dominated by the middle class. It's easy for the middle class to abstract from their material situation because their material situation is not so bad. They don't talk about inequality because it's not their problem. Their problem is free speech, freedom of assembly, the Constitutional Court, Poland's image in the European Union, etc. They want to present themselves as 'civilised'. The middle class rally around this post-colonial idea of introducing 'civilised' norms.

I don't want to say there are no problems with the Law and Justice attack on the Constitutional Court - there are - but the root of the problem is not at the symbolic level, it's in material predicaments.

When you look at the history of Solidarity, you find the same kind of disagreement between intellectuals and workers: for the workers the most important condition was dignity at work and material things, for intellectuals it was freedom of speech and political organisation.

Workers wanted independent trade unions and intellectuals were telling them that this was not realistic, and to infiltrate existing stru...

Tuesday, 20 September

21:48

Drones, surveillance, population control: how our cities became a battleground openDemocracy

A new kind of warfare: how urban spaces are becoming the new battlefield, where the distinction between intelligence and military, and war and peace is becoming more and more problematic.

Drones. Gregor Hartl/Flickr. Some rights reserved.

In the late 18th century the institutional building of the so called panopticon, was designed by British Jeremy Bentham. The aim was to obtain “power of mind over mind”.[1] Since its design the panopticon has served as an inspiration for the construction of prisons since it allows for people to be observed without their knowing whether or not they are being observed. The constant uncertainty of being under surveillance serves as a behaviour changer.

Cities are becoming the new battleground of our increasingly urban world

The panoptic gaze is not limited to prisons. It is present in all sorts of public places from factories to shops, particularly settings in which people are put into groups, counted, checked and normalised.[2] While the panopticon concerns surveillance of the individual, the panspectron was designed to observe whole populations, where everyone and everything is under surveillance at all time. [3]

Such disciplinary techniques are used by governments to strengthen their sovereignty. In a world of increasing urbanisation, these projects show the interest of national states to employ military ideas of high-tech omniscience into urban civil societies. By the end of the 20th century, 10% of the world’s population lived in cities. Most of them lived in the metropolis of the global north. Today the urban population amounts to almost 50% of the world’s population, living mostly in mega cities of the global south.[4]

This rapid urbanisation matters profoundly; how cities in developed and developing countries are going to organise themselves is critical for humanity.[5] While western cities are focusing on improving their security, cities in developing countries are facing increased violence and crime rates and intensified militarisation.[6] Therefore, maintaining control and surveillance over populations and people’s movement allows state authorities to better prepare for violence and war. In the globalisation of western societies, mobility has increased significance to power and development.[7]...

21:10

A special gift from UK to Nigeria: promoting human rights or secrecy? openDemocracy

At Lagos Airport, Nigerians deported from Britain are processed out of sight in a ‘reception centre’ given by Britain.

Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos

One July day the British High Commissioner to Nigeria met with the country’s minister of interior to express “delight” at a special gift from one friendly country to another.

The gift, hidden away behind a locked fence in the cargo section of Lagos’s Murtala Mohammed International Airport, is a newly built “reception centre” for processing people forcibly returned to Nigeria by the UK immigration authorities.

Speaking at the commissioning ceremony on 13 July 2016, High Commissioner Paul Arkwright said: “Nigeria is a valued partner to the UK and we have made real progress on issues that are important to both our countries.”

He called the new centre “our gift to the Nigeria Immigration Service” and claimed it would “improve the returns process for you on the ground, but more importantly, allow a dignified return of Nigerians repatriated from the UK, which is important to both our countries.”

According to the Commissioner’s press release, the centre would provide a “safe, secure and weatherproof environment for processing returns, away from the public eye”.

That’s the official version.

Leaving families behind

We’ve gained access to the new centre and elicited confidential comment from Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) employees that tells a different story.

“The property is used to keep deportees from the public eye,” one senior immigration officer told us. “I think is an attempt by the British government to keep shut the mouth of the Nigerian immigration and maintain the relationship of having people deported from the UK to Nigeria.”

There were deeper problems that a new reception centre could not address, the officer said. “There have been recent incidents where distressed Nigerians deported have caused disruption to the runway and tried to stop other planes from leaving to attract attention. Many Nigerian people are suicidal and do not want to be returned or speak to immigration. They are upset for leaving behind their families and life in the United Kingdom.”

“People that have been in the UK for a long time, that have established private life there and have family in the UK, they should not be deported.”

Another long-serving immigration officer told us: “People are deported with bad mental health. I have spoken to many people on charter who should be in hospital in the United Kingdom not on a charter and taken to Nigeria. I have seen some women very distressed when the charter lands here. It is not safe for them here. Away from their families in the United Kingdom.”

...

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