Lured by marriage promises, climate victims fall into trafficking trap

Reuters reports: When the handsome young man came courting her, Sunetra could not believe her luck.

Born into a desperately poor family in India’s southern Sundarbans region – one of the parts of the world hardest hit by climate change – the lanky 18-year-old had few prospects. A flood the previous year had destroyed her home and left her family struggling financially.

A new start was what she needed, and her out-of-town suitor’s offer of marriage seemed ideal. He was content to wed without her family providing a dowry, and the pair quickly eloped.

But soon after their marriage, on a visit to Hyderabad, her new husband locked her in an apartment, in preparation for handing her to sex traffickers from Dubai. It quickly became apparent that the marriage had been a ruse.

“I had lost my face having ran away from my family, trusting this man,” she said, weeping at the betrayal of her “husband,” who she had believed was an insurance agent in Baruipur, a town about 30 km from Kolkata.

Sunetra is just one of more than 5,000 people who went missing in 2012 from the state of West Bengal, where the Sundarbans sits on a low, shifting delta where South Asia’s great rivers empty into the Bay of Bengal, crime records show.

The forested islands of the Sundarbans are increasingly considered a trafficking hotspot as climate change impacts – such as worsening cyclones, sea level rise and loss of land to erosion and saltwater – mean worsening poverty and living conditions, and more desperation. [Continue reading…]

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Silicon Valley likes to promise ‘digital socialism’ — but it is selling a fairytale

Evgeny Morozov writes: The outside world might regard Silicon Valley as a bastion of ruthless capitalism but tech entrepreneurs fashion themselves as believers in solidarity, autonomy and collaboration.

These venture humanitarians believe that they – and not the wily politicians or the vain NGOs – are the true champions of the weak and the poor, making the maligned markets deliver material benefits to those on the fringes of society. Some of the valley’s in-house intellectuals even cheer the onset of “digital socialism,” which – to quote digital thinker and environmentalist Kevin Kelly’s 2009 cover story in Wired – “can be viewed as a third way that renders irrelevant the old debates.

Leaving aside the battles over the true meaning of “sharing” in buzzwords like “the sharing economy”, one can discern an intriguing argument in all this self-congratulatory rhetoric. The magnanimous Silicon Valley really wants to be the perfect antidote to the greedy Wall Street: if the latter yields an ever greater increase in income inequality, the former helps to bridge the gap in consumption inequality. [Continue reading…]

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Silicon Valley’s fake philanthropists

Maria Bustillos reports: The Puente de la Costa Sur community center sits at the end of a quiet street in Pescadero, an isolated farming town of about 5,000 nestled amid green hills just inland from California’s Pacific Coast. It’s a beautiful, lively place to be at sunset, right before the kids will be picked up from day care.

Rita Mancero is the petite program director who assists local immigrant and migrant farm workers with learning English and preparing tax returns; the center also offers college scholarships, helps with writing resumes, getting children vaccinated, applying for citizenship, even with Zumba classes. Mancero, who holds a master’s degree in education from Universidad YMCA in Mexico City, is a Red Cross instructor certified in CPR, a paralegal, a trained tax preparer. And a ham radio operator. Her biggest priority?

“The famous ‘Education Gap,’” she says. Her affection for the children in her care is direct and immediate.

Some of the grant money that funds the Puente de la Costa Sur center comes through the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the largest such foundation in the country. Its assets have ballooned in recent years, from just over $2.9 billion in 2012 to more than $6 billion today. But the foundation’s direct grants to Silicon Valley’s surrounding communities last year amounted to just $8 million.

There have been many news stories about the vast sums contributed to philanthropy by Silicon Valley tech tycoons. Where does this money finally wind up? The short answer is that most of it stays put. Most of that $6 billion in assets at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation isn’t under the foundation’s real control, nor should the money be understood as even remotely intended to provide direct assistance to the residents of Silicon Valley. It might not even be money: It might be real estate, or stock, as in the case of the Zuckerbergs’ recent donation of 18 million Facebook shares, then valued at $991 million, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Donations like this one are, first and foremost, a wealth management tool: Assets are parked at the designated charity in order to obtain tax breaks, and these days they generally stay under the control of the donor. That is, the donor can’t take the money back, he’s “given” it, but he can direct its granting and its investment. [Continue reading…]

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Greece’s solidarity movement: ‘it’s a whole new model — and it’s working’

The Guardian reports: “A long time ago, when I was a student,” said Olga Kesidou, sunk low in the single, somewhat clapped-out sofa of the waiting room at the Peristeri Solidarity Clinic, “I’d see myself volunteering. You know, in Africa somewhere, treating sick people in a poor developing country. I never once imagined I’d be doing it in a suburb of Athens.”

Few in Greece, even five years ago, would have imagined their recession- and austerity-ravaged country as it is now: 1.3 million people – 26% of the workforce – without a job (and most of them without benefits); wages down by 38% on 2009, pensions by 45%, GDP by a quarter; 18% of the country’s population unable to meet their food needs; 32% below the poverty line.

And just under 3.1 million people, 33% of the population, without national health insurance.

So, along with a dozen other medics including a GP, a brace of pharmacists, a paediatrician, a psychologist, an orthopaedic surgeon, a gynaecologist, a cardiologist and a dentist or two, Kesidou, an ear, nose and throat specialist, spends a day a week at this busy but cheerful clinic half an hour’s drive from central Athens, treating patients who otherwise would not get to see a doctor. Others in the group accept uninsured patients in their private surgeries.

“We couldn’t just stand by and watch so many people, whole families, being excluded from public healthcare,” Kesidou said. “In Greece now, if you’re out of work for a year you lose your social security. That’s an awful lot of people without access to what should be a basic right. If we didn’t react we couldn’t look at ourselves in the mirror. It’s solidarity.” [Continue reading…]

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If France is to build a new identity, it must address its apartheid

Francis Ghiles writes: Some French intellectuals and leading figures in the media argue that terrorism is the inevitable and extreme expression of a “true” Islam which entails the denial of the other, the imposition of strict rules in the guise of sharia law and ultimately jihad. Olivier Roy, a lucid analyst of his country’s politics, says that Muslims in France today are viewed as having Qur’anic software hardwired in their sub-conscious, which renders them incapable of assimilation into French society. Their only salvation lies in repeating their allegiance to France’s Republican values, preferably when pushed to do so on a live television show.

It is little understood, however, that the Republic’s cherished values of secularism and freedom of speech historically have a darker side. The civil liberties now idealised emerged during a period of colonial rule. As the historian Arthur Asseraf reminds us, France’s iconic freedom of the press law, passed in 1881 and still enforced today, was designed in part to exclude France’s Muslim subjects. The law protected the rights of all French citizens, explicitly all those in Algeria and the colonies, but excluded the subjects who were the majority of the population. In colonial Algeria, “citizens” were all those who were not Muslims, and the terms musulman or indigène usually overlapped. Muslim was a racialised legal category stripped of any religious significance.

Maybe the banlieues of today could be best understood as the Algeria of the 19th century: the legacy of French apartheid must be borne in mind when considering the problems of minorities. In the starkest indictment ever of French society by a senior government official, Valls said on Wednesday that “a geographic, social, ethnic apartheid has developed in our country”. The furious reaction to his remark hardly augurs well for a reasoned debate. Yet, in the banlieues of Paris, more than 50% of young people, often Muslim, are unemployed. They are hitting the glass wall between them and the workplace; prisoners with a north African father outnumber prisoners with a French father by nine to one for the 18-29 age group, and six to one in the 20-39 age group. This points to a massive failure of French society to integrate minority groups. [Continue reading…]

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French PM says ‘apartheid’ is leaving minorities on the fringe

The New York Times reports: Prime Minister Manuel Valls of France on Tuesday cited a deep divide in the country, likening it to a state of “territorial, social, ethnic apartheid” that has left part of the population on the cultural fringe.

Mr. Valls, often regarded as the most popular politician in the leftist government of President François Hollande, has been known for his outspokenness and tough stance on radical Islam. A day after the end of the attacks in the Paris area that left 17 people dead at the hands of three Muslim extremists from France, Mr. Valls spoke of waging a war “against terrorism, against jihadism, against radical Islam, against everything that is aimed at breaking fraternity, freedom, solidarity.”

But during a traditional New Year’s speech on Tuesday, Mr. Valls acknowledged that France had a deeply rooted problem that, he implied, had resulted in a divided society.

“These last few days have emphasized many of the evils which have undermined our country from within, or challenges we have to face,” he said. “To that, we must add all the divisions, the tensions that have been brewing for too long and that we mention sporadically.”

“A territorial, social, ethnic apartheid has spread across our country,” he said.

Mr. Valls avoided singling out Muslims, but it was clear that his remarks were a response to the terrorist attacks this month and addressed growing concerns about the situation of “two Frances” that, he said, has relegated the poor and heavily immigrant population to ghetto-like suburbs of Paris, where many Muslims from North African backgrounds live. [Continue reading…]

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Inequality among women is rising much faster than inequality among men

Alison Wolf writes: Feminist cries for action have seen a resurgence of late, notably in calls for quotas on company boards. Large numbers of very successful women feel that life is profoundly sexist and unfair. Feminism has always and inevitably been driven by the educated and well-connected, but today’s feminists are also obsessed with their own elite, metropolitan lives. This is deeply depressing. It is also having a pernicious effect on politicians and policy-making.

Take the 30% Club – the campaign for at least 30% of board members in large public companies to be female. This has attracted huge publicity and traction. Top women campaign for it, politicians line up to sing the importance of such “diversity”. It is received wisdom that this policy is good for women in general, and important to them – and also good for the benighted companies themselves.

This is simplistic, and it is nonsense. A number of countries have introduced quotas for large public companies; but only one, to date, has enacted major sanctions for miscreants, and has a good many years’ experience with quotas. That is Norway, where 40% representation is required and enforced.

And the result? The policy has done nothing whatsoever for the female labour market generally. It has had no impact on female pay and promotion prospects in the companies concerned. It has had no positive impact on company profits either: replacing privileged men with privileged women doesn’t seem to pay any “diversity” benefits. [Continue reading…]

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Richest 1% soon to own 50% of global wealth

The New York Times reports: The richest 1 percent are likely to control more than half of the globe’s total wealth by next year, the charity Oxfam reported in a study released on Monday. The warning about deepening global inequality comes just as the world’s business elite prepare to meet this week at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The 80 wealthiest people in the world altogether own $1.9 trillion, the report found, nearly the same amount shared by the 3.5 billion people who occupy the bottom half of the world’s income scale. (Last year, it took 85 billionaires to equal that figure.) And the richest 1 percent of the population, who number in the millions, control nearly half of the world’s total wealth, a share that is also increasing.

The type of inequality that currently characterizes the world’s economies is unlike anything seen in recent years, the report explained. “Between 2002 and 2010 the total wealth of the poorest half of the world in current U.S. dollars had been increasing more or less at the same rate as that of billionaires,” it said. “However since 2010, it has been decreasing over that time.”

Winnie Byanyima, the charity’s executive director, noted in a statement that more than a billion people lived on less than $1.25 a day.

“Do we really want to live in a world where the 1 percent own more than the rest of us combined?” Ms. Byanyima said. “The scale of global inequality is quite simply staggering.” [Continue reading…]

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2014: A year of feminist insurrection against male violence

“We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” [Source]

Rebecca Solnit writes:

I have been waiting all my life for what 2014 has brought. It has been a year of feminist insurrection against male violence: a year of mounting refusal to be silent, refusal to let our lives and torments be erased or dismissed. It has not been a harmonious time, but harmony is often purchased by suppressing those with something to say. It was loud, discordant, and maybe transformative, because important things were said – not necessarily new, but said more emphatically, by more of us, and heard as never before.

It was a watershed year for women, and for feminism, as we refused to accept the pandemic of violence against women – the rape, the murder, the beatings, the harassment on the streets and the threats online.

Further into her essay, Solnit says:

Sometimes at big political demonstrations – against the war in Iraq in early 2003, for example – the thousands of placards with handwritten statements, jokes, and facts, for all their brevity, constitute a cumulative critique that covers a lot of angles. Social media can do the same, building arguments comment by comment, challenging, testing, reinforcing and circulating the longer arguments in blogs, essays and reports. It’s like a barn-building for ideas: innumerable people bring their experiences, insights, analysis, new terms and frameworks. These then become part of the fabric of everyday life, and when that happens, the world has changed. Then, down the road, what was once a radical idea becomes so woven into everyday life that people imagine that it is self-evident and what everyone always knew. But it’s not; it’s the result of a struggle – of ideas and voices, not of violence.

Strangely, in a piece that runs close to 5,000 words, the women who have been the targets of ISIS’s violence and the women who have been fighting against ISIS earned not a single mention.

Silence leaves a vacuum that can only be filled with speculation, but the reason for this omission seems to be spelt out in the terms by which Solnit describes effective political activism: it is defined by the absence of violence.

But did this Yazidi girl betray feminism by picking up an AK-47?


Since the battle for Kobane began and due to its convenient location right next to the Turkish border gained several weeks of intense international media attention — the battle continues but the media has mostly lost interest — the heroism of Kurdish women has been highlighted.

Zîlan Diyar, a Kurdish guerrilla fighter, wrote last month:

The whole world is talking about us, Kurdish women. It has become a common phenomenon to come across news about women fighters in magazines, papers, and news outlets. Televisions, news sites, and social media are filled with words of praise. They take photos of these women’s determined, hopeful, and radiant glances. To them, our rooted tradition is a reality that they only recently started to know. They are impressed with everything. The women’s laughter, naturalness, long braids, and the details of their young lives feel like hands extending to those struggling in the waters of despair. There are even some, who are so inspired by the clothes that the women are wearing, that they want to start a new fashion trend! They are amazed by these women, who fight against the men that want to paint the colors of the Middle East black, and wonder where they get their courage from, how they can laugh so sincerely. And I wonder about them. I am surprised at how they noticed us so late, at how they never knew about us. I wonder how they were so late to hear the voices of the many valiant women who expanded the borders of courage, belief, patience, hope, and beauty.

The fact that Solnit is not talking about Kurdish women, seems to imply that for her and perhaps many other activists in the West, the use of violence can never be defended.

If this interpretation is correct, this dedication to the principle of non-violence seems to me less a matter of principle than a luxury only available to those whose own lives are not under immediate threat.

I also have to wonder whether those who have chosen to ignore the Kurds, failed to notice that in Rojava — the Kurdish-controlled part of Syria — a political experiment has been underway for the last three years that deserves the interest and support of anyone who believes in the creation of an egalitarian and truly democratic society.

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Greece’s Syriza can transform the EU from within – if Europe will let it

Costas Lapavitsas writes: The Greek parliament has failed to elect a new president and the country’s constitution dictates that there should now be parliamentary elections. These will be critical for Greece and also important for Europe. A victory for Syriza, the main leftwing party, would offer hope that Europe might, at last, begin to move away from austerity policies. But there are also grave risks for Greece and the European left.

The rise of Syriza is a result of the adjustment programme imposed on Greece in 2010. The troika of the European Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) provided huge bailout loans, with the cost of unprecedented cuts in public expenditure, tax increases and a collapse in wages. It was a standard, if extreme, austerity package, with one vital difference: austerity could not be softened by devaluing the currency as, for instance, had happened in the Asian crisis of 1997-98. Greek membership of the euro had closed all escape routes.

Brutal austerity succeeded in stabilising Greece and keeping it in the economic and monetary union by destroying its economy and society. The budget deficit has been drastically reduced, the current account deficit has turned into a surplus and the prospect of default on foreign debt has receded. But GDP has contracted by 25%, unemployment has shot above 25%, real wages have fallen by 30% and industrial output has declined by 35%. The human cost has been immeasurable, amounting to a silent humanitarian crisis. Homelessness has rocketed, primary healthcare has collapsed, soup kitchens have multiplied and child mortality has increased. [Continue reading…]

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Apple ‘failing to protect Chinese factory workers’

BBC News reports: Poor treatment of workers in Chinese factories which make Apple products has been discovered by an undercover BBC Panorama investigation.

Filming on an iPhone 6 production line showed Apple’s promises to protect workers were routinely broken.

It found standards on workers’ hours, ID cards, dormitories, work meetings and juvenile workers were being breached at the Pegatron factories.

Apple said it strongly disagreed with the programme’s conclusions.

Exhausted workers were filmed falling asleep on their 12-hour shifts at the Pegatron factories on the outskirts of Shanghai.

One undercover reporter, working in a factory making parts for Apple computers, had to work 18 days in a row despite repeated requests for a day off. [Continue reading…]

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The engine of the Uber economy: inequality

Leo Mirani writes: Of the many attractions offered by my hometown, a west coast peninsula famed for its deep natural harbor, perhaps the most striking is that you never have to leave the house. With nothing more technologically advanced than a phone, you can arrange to have delivered to your doorstep, often in less than an hour, takeaway food, your weekly groceries, alcohol, cigarettes, drugs (over-the-counter, prescription, proscribed), books, newspapers, a dozen eggs, half a dozen eggs, a single egg. I once had a single bottle of Coke sent to my home at the same price I would have paid had I gone to shop myself.

The same goes for services. When I lived there, a man came around every morning to collect my clothes and bring them back crisply ironed the next day; he would have washed them, too, but I had a washing machine.

These luxuries are not new. I took advantage of them long before Uber became a verb, before the world saw the first iPhone in 2007, even before the first submarine fibre-optic cable landed on our shores in 1997. In my hometown of Mumbai, we have had many of these conveniences for at least as long as we have had landlines—and some even earlier than that.

It did not take technology to spur the on-demand economy. It took masses of poor people.

In San Francisco, another peninsular city on another west coast on the other side of the world, a similar revolution of convenience is underway, spurred by the unstoppable rise of Uber, the on-demand taxi service, which went from offering services in 60 cities around the world at the end of last year to more than 200 today.

Uber’s success has sparked a revolution, covered in great detail this summer by Re/code, a tech blog, which ran a special series about “the new instant gratification economy.” As Re/code pointed out, after Uber showed how it’s done, nearly every pitch made by starry-eyed technologists “in Silicon Valley seemed to morph overnight into an ‘Uber for X’ startup.”

Various companies are described now as “Uber for massages,” “Uber for alcohol,” and “Uber for laundry and dry cleaning,” among many, many other things (“Uber for city permits”). So profound has been their cultural influence in 2014, one man wrote a poem about them for Quartz. (Nobody has yet written a poem dedicated to the other big cultural touchstone of 2014 for the business and economics crowd, French economist Thomas Piketty’s smash hit, Capital in the Twenty-First Century.)

The conventional narrative is this: enabled by smartphones, with their GPS chips and internet connections, enterprising young businesses are using technology to connect a vast market willing to pay for convenience with small businesses or people seeking flexible work.

This narrative ignores another vital ingredient, without which this new economy would fall apart: inequality. [Continue reading…]

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Family wealth endures for centuries

Live Science: Rich families stay rich and poor families stay poor, according to a new study that finds that English people whose ancestors were elite in the 1100s are still likely part of the upper crust today.

The study echoes work in other countries that has found that social status budges little over generations, even in the face of massive social changes, said study researcher Gregory Clark, an economist at the University of California, Davis.

Clark began his research on social mobility expecting that families would generally tend toward the average — a particular surname might stand out among the elite for a generation or two, but their descendants would probably regress in notability.

“To our surprise, when we started getting the data, we found this surprising persistence,” Clark told Live Science. Names retain their status (low or high) for 500 years or more in some cases, he said. [Continue reading…]

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The whole world needs feminism, but the Middle East needs it acutely

Elif Shafak writes: After a talk I gave in London a woman in the audience approached me: middle-aged, tall, and wearing a designer dress. Although she agreed with me on various issues she could not understand why I was critical of military takeovers. “In the Middle East a coup d’état is the only way forward,” she said. “If it weren’t for [Egypt’s president] General Sisi, modern women like me, like yourself, would end up in a burka. He’s there to protect the likes of us.”

As I listened to her, I recalled scenes from my childhood in Turkey. I remembered my mother saying that we should be grateful to General Kenan Evren, who led the coup d’état in 1980, for protecting women’s rights. After the military seized power, a number of pro-women steps were taken, including the legalisation of abortion. Yet the coup would eventually bring about massive human rights violations and systematic torture in police headquarters and prisons, particularly against the Kurds, maiming Turkey’s civil society and democracy for decades to come.

Female adulation of male autocrats is widespread throughout the Middle East. I have met Syrian women who have tried to convince me that Bashar al-Assad is the best option for modern women. The Syrian regime seems aware of this rhetoric, recruiting hundreds of so-called Lionesses for National Defense , who are said to be fighting against Islamic fundamentalism and defending women’s freedom. [Continue reading…]

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Laura Gottesdiener: A tale of two cities, post-bankruptcy

It was July 1987 and I found myself in a cool, dark, completely packed movie theater, perched on the edge of my seat.  The crowd was raucous, the mood electric.  That night, I didn’t care about popcorn or soda or candy.  I was still in grammar school.  I had never seen an R-rated movie in the flesh. And this was the R-rated movie to beat all R-rated movies — ultra-violent, unbridled expletives, even fleeting partial nudity. It narrowly avoided an X rating by the Motion Picture Association of America, for god’s sake!

I had been desperate to see RoboCop since Orion Pictures began a relentless ad campaign weeks before it opened.  Part man.  Part machine.  All cop!  Only because the stars magically aligned was I not relegated to waiting the usual year to watch it through the squiggly lines, scrolling screens, and snowy interference that typified 1980s cable pay-channels that you hadn’t actually paid for.

All these years later, for good or ill, some scenes I viewed that sultry night — and again and again afterward through pay-channel snow — remain firmly lodged in my brain.  Like the one in which police officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is literally shot to pieces by the gang of criminals who rule the city of Detroit in what was pictured as a not-so-distant dystopian future. (The crucifixion!)  Or the scene at the police station shooting range leading to the big reveal: Murphy has been transformed into a cyborg cop and is being sent back to clean up the urban warzone that cost him his human life. (The resurrection!)

What really stayed with me, however, were the subversive qualities of director Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi satire, which poked fun at an imagined Reagan-era-on-steroids version of twenty-first-century America, complete with faux television commercials for a gas-guzzling luxury car that revels in its obscene size, a board game that trivializes nuclear terror, and a tasteless ad for an artificial heart clinic (in the days before real-world TV screens were overrun by ads for pharmaceuticals).  Then there were the news reports about U.S. troops fighting rebels in Mexico and a lethal malfunction of the Star Wars missile defense system.

What also stuck in my brain was Omni Consumer Products, or OCP, a malevolent mega-corporation — equal parts Lockheed, Halliburton, Cyberdyne Systems, and Soylent Industries — which plays an outsized role in the film.  A privatized prison profiteer and shameless peddler of military arms with plans to bulldoze the Motor City and construct a gleaming tomorrow-land in its place, OCP is making sky-high profits, while corporate president Dick Jones (Ronny Cox) stands to make even more by lording it over a criminal syndicate that will provide drugs, gambling, and prostitutes to the million men building the new “Delta City” on the ashes of “Old Detroit.”

OCP has also entered into a contract with the beleaguered city to run local law enforcement and Jones envisions replacing the cops with battle droids known as ED-209s.  “After a successful tour of duty in Old Detroit, we can expect 209 to become the hot military product for the next decade,” he says during a slick presentation in the corporate boardroom.  But when ED-209 proves tragically dysfunctional during a test run, a young OCP up-and-comer undercuts Jones with his RoboCop program.  And since OCP runs the cops, they can repurpose the remnants of poor Alex Murphy’s bullet-blasted body to make their electric dreams come true.

Now, I could accept the idea of a cyborg cop that lives on baby food and moves with all the subtlety and grace of a 1960s electric can opener. But a privatized Detroit police force? Come on! There’s a limit to the suspension of disbelief.

Of course, I lived to see the real Detroit fall into abject decay, go bankrupt, and have its police declare the city unsafe for visitors.  “The explosion in violent crime, the incredible spike in the number of homicides… for officers trying to work 12 hours in such deplorable, dangerous, and war-like conditions is simply untenable,” said Donato Iorio, an attorney for the Detroit Police Officers Association in 2012.  It sounded like a statement straight out of RoboCop — and in some ways, so does TomDispatch regular Laura Gottesdiener’s latest piece of striking reportage from America’s new urban wilderness.  Today, she takes us on a fantastic voyage through what Paul Verhoeven and my pre-teen self could only imagine — the real-life Old Detroit and Delta City: one being investigated by the United Nations for possible human rights violations, the other turned into a privatized, securitized, billionaire’s experiment in better living through dystopian surveillance.  Maybe she didn’t get to go on a ride-along with Robocop, but Gottesdiener’s arresting dispatch from the passenger seat of a private police force’s prowl car in the Motor City sure brings back memories of that future. Buckle up! Nick Turse 

Two Detroits, separate and unequal
A journey across a city divided
By Laura Gottesdiener

In late October, a few days after local news cameras swarmed Detroit’s courthouse to hear closing arguments in the city’s historic bankruptcy trial, “Commander” Dale Brown cruised through the stately Detroit neighborhood of Palmer Woods in a Hummer emblazoned with the silver, interlocking-crescent-moon logo of his private security company.

Brown rolled down the window to ask a middle-aged woman walking her dog whether everything was okay (it was), and whether she had seen anything out of the ordinary (she hadn’t). Satisfied, he continued on, guided by a futuristic tablet map of the neighborhood’s languid streets. These had become even more impenetrable last year when the bankrupt city paid for and constructed a series of traffic barriers on the community’s edges. On his right, he pointed out, was the Bishop’s Residence, a 30-room Tudor Revival castle originally commissioned by a family of fabulously wealthy automobile pioneers who later sold their company to General Motors.

“This is the part of Detroit that most people are not aware of,” Brown told filmmaker Messiah Rhodes and me. And indeed, the turreted neighborhood did look far more like something you would find in Detroit’s mostly white suburbs than deep inside the city itself.

[Read more…]

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Syrian Kurds give women equal rights, snubbing jihadists

AFP reports: The local government in a majority Kurdish area of Syria has passed a decree granting women equal rights in what a monitoring group called “an affront” to discriminatory jihadist moves.

Published on the local government’s official Facebook page on Wednesday, the decree states that women and men should enjoy “equality… in all walks of public and private life.”

Last year, Syria’s Kurds created autonomous governments in the three regions where they are a majority, establishing self-proclaimed rule.

Arabs also hold office, and the decrees apply to all ethnicities living in the self-governing areas.

The decree, passed by the leaders of the Al-Jazira canton — officially Hasakeh province — stipulates that women have the right to equal labour rights, including pay.

Women must be 18 years old to marry, and they are cannot be married off without their consent.

“Polygamy is forbidden,” the decree states, adding that women have the same right to bear witness in court as men, and that they have full inheritance rights. [Continue reading…]

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Rebecca Solnit: Feminism and men

In my experience, when it comes to women, young men lie to each other in grotesque ways and those lies are foundational to what, at least in my youth, was men’s culture. My own learning curve on this was uncomfortable indeed and I’ve never forgotten it. In the early 1960s, I went to Yale, an elite all-male college. It was still a time when, if you were walking along a street with a friend and your hands happened to touch, you jumped as if electricity had shot through you and reflexively began to make jokes about “fags.”

My particular problem in those years when it came to male culture, women, and of course the topic of the moment, sex, was that I was experience-impaired and quite shy about that fact. Two alternatives were then available, or so it seemed to me: lie through my teeth and be one of the boys or keep quiet. I chose the latter option, not out of any essential purity of spirit but out of embarrassment, out of a feeling that I wasn’t really your basic man’s man. The result proved curiously educational, and deeply unsettling. I regularly sat through spiraling bouts of intra-male bravado in which guys pumped themselves up while denigrating each other (and above all women) by lying outrageously, and I did so in silence. The unexpected twist was this: that silence was sometimes mistaken for knowledge, for a deeper understanding.

Here’s one vivid memory of just how this worked. Yale’s residential colleges had courtyards and one day from our third-floor window I heard a roommate, returning from spring vacation, yelling from that courtyard that he was no longer a virgin, that he had “screwed” his girlfriend. He bragged ceaselessly about this for the next 24 hours, upping the ante on what he had done, and just how spectacular it all was, while others pitched in with their own tales of sexual bravado. I said nothing. Finally, clearly because I hadn’t joined in, he pulled me aside and told me the actual story of a desperately failed encounter, a nightmare for him and undoubtedly even more so for his girlfriend. It was hair-raising. Among other things, at that age I didn’t want to know how bad it could be (and keep in mind that, back then, information about sex was in distinctly short supply in the society at large).

All of this represented a truly poisonous system that was everyday life for boys. Until I grew up, until feminism came along, I wasn’t going to be privy to just what that culture felt like from the other side of the aisle, just how grimly those lies and the “truths” that went with them often played out in women’s lives, but at least I knew in a modest sort of way just how badly it all played out in my life. When I think of the online male trolls of the present moment, I imagine a modernized version of that grim male culture of self-inflicted lies running riot in a new world of social media which is open, at least, to the rest of us to see. It’s so much clearer now just how poisonous it is when young (and not so young) men lie ceaselessly to each other and everyone else at the expense of women. Such a system is also far more open to puncturing, and so to change, and it’s that reality which TomDispatch regular Rebecca Solnit, author of the bestselling book Men Explain Things to Me (just out in a new hardcover edition with two extra essays added), considers today — and thank heaven! Tom Engelhardt

Feminism: The men arrive!
(Hooray! Uh-oh!)
By Rebecca Solnit

What do the prime minister of India, retired National Football League punter Chris Kluwe, and superstar comedian Aziz Ansari have in common? It’s not that they’ve all walked into a bar, though Ansari could probably figure out the punch line to that joke. They’ve all spoken up for feminism this year, part of an unprecedented wave of men actively engaging with what’s usually called “women’s issues,” though violence and discrimination against women are only women’s issues because they’re things done to women — mostly by men, so maybe they should always have been “men’s issues.”

The arrival of the guys signifies a sea change, part of an extraordinary year for feminism, in which the conversation has been transformed, as have some crucial laws, while new voices and constituencies joined in. There have always been men who agreed on the importance of those women’s issues, and some who spoke up, but never in such numbers or with such effect. And we need them. So consider this a watershed year for feminism.

[Read more…]

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Western fascination with ‘badass’ Kurdish women

Dilar Dirik writes: A young Kurdish woman called “Rehana” has garnered a great deal of media attention over the past few days, after reports emerged claiming that she had killed more than a hundred ISIL fighters – single-handedly. A picture of the smiling beauty, wearing combat gear and toting a rifle, is still making the rounds of social media. Even as Rehana’s circumstances remain uncorroborated, the overabundance of attention she has received raises several important questions. It adds to the plethora of reports out there glamorising the all-female Kurdish battalions taking on ISIL fighters, with little attention to the politics of these brave women.

Preoccupied with attempts to sensationalise the ways in which these women defy preconceived notions of eastern women as oppressed victims, these mainstream caricaturisations erroneously present Kurdish women fighters as a novel phenomenon. They cheapen a legitimate struggle by projecting their bizarre orientalist fantasies on it – and oversimplify the reasons motivating Kurdish women to join the fight. Nowadays, it seems to be appealing to portray women as sympathetic enemies of ISIL without raising questions about their ideologies and political aims.

At the same time, critics have accused the Kurdish leadership of exploiting these women for PR purposes – in an attempt to win over western public opinion. While there may be an element of truth to such charges in some cases, those same critics fail to appreciate the different political cultures that exist among the Kurdish people as a whole, scattered across Syria, Iraq, Turkey, and Iran. They also ignore the fact that Kurdish women have been engaging in armed resistance for decades without anyone’s notice. [Continue reading…]

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