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Amnesty, not apology

Fri, 2018-04-20 13:49

In a free and fair society, amnesty for all migrants stuck within yet excluded from our dysfunctional system, is the only workable reparation for the government’s hostile environment immigration policies. 

Migrants Organise members at a Strangers Into Citizens march. Beth Crosland. All rights reserved.Over the last few weeks we have witnessed yet another expression of hostile immigration policies – this time directed at Windrush immigrants, citizens who have spent decades living and working in this country. The majority were British subjects when they arrived, and now they are being told they no longer belong. Repatriation – once considered a fascists’ ‘wet dream’, and excused by freedom of speech, apparently including hate speech – is now becoming the stark reality of deportation for thousands of people declared to be ‘illegal’. 

‘Illegal immigrants’, are the most dehumanised population in the construction of the narrative of ‘fear’ and its associated propaganda. The use and abuse of undocumented people and the myths generated around them has had serious consequences for democratic societies from Brexit to the US presidential election. On a daily basis we are told that there are hundreds of thousands of ‘illegals’ and we should all be afraid for our jobs, houses, and hospital beds as they are coming here to take them.  

When the Oxford Migration Observatory looked into newspaper coverage of immigration in the UK, they found that over a 10 year period, the term most frequently associated with ‘immigrant’ is ‘illegal’. 

More recently, in the aftermath of Grenfell, we at Migrants Organise were besieged by journalists looking for a story on the ‘illegals’, assuming that there must have been at least 50 undocumented people residing in the Tower. Many found it hard to believe that we have only been able to identify five, of whom two were actually underdocumented or in the process of regulating their status. 

The reality is that people without immigration status are already here and it is impossible to tell how many there are, where they’re from and when they arrived. They are invisible, and contrary to popular belief have not ‘sneaked’ into the country when no one was watching. 

Although clandestine entry feeds the imagination of right-wing populists and their press, the majority of undocumented migrants are overstayers. At the time of entry they had some form of status as students, visitors, workers or spouses and they were able to establish themselves in the community.  And then things got complicated - they suffer from a lack of knowledge about immigration rules or are misled and exploited by unscrupulous employers, lawyers and family members. Very little is known about their daily life and the exploitation, fear, shame and isolation they face. Inevitably, many people are subjected to blackmail, sexual abuse and modern slavery. 

Academic studies and government commissioned research over the past decade estimates the number of undocumented migrants in the UK to be between 300,000 and 800,000.  Around 120,000 are children and young people.

The majority of these people are hiding in plain sight, and are able do so because they are just like us, trying to make the best life for themselves and their families. They survive not because they have super powers, but because our economy is structured in a way to depend on cheap labour to deliver higher profits. 

Those complaining that undocumented migrants enter the country with the intention to overstay refuse to acknowledge that economic hardship and global inequality – often the result of colonialism – is also life-threatening. Economic injustice, corruption, violence and environmental destruction is forcing people to leave their homes; put their lives at risk; and search for a job, however exploitative, to enable them to support their families. 

In receiving countries such as the UK, undocumented people are maintaining industries that would not survive without them. They end up working for less than the minimum wage in terrible conditions, because they have no choice. The welfare state does not exist for them and laws and unions provide little protection for the invisible. 

Frequently, as in the case of the Windrush scandal, and potentially for EU citizens too, these people become ‘illegal’ by one stroke of the government’s pen, when politicians change laws to appease xenophobic sentiment. 

The ‘hostile environment’ and rhetoric of ‘border control’ reinforces the myth that our social problems – from lack of housing to long NHS waiting times, and of course terrorism – is caused by immigrants. In reality the hostile environment policy is punishing people across an intersection of vulnerabilities. In reality the hostile environment policy is punishing people across an intersection of vulnerabilities.

That hostile environment

Being tough on immigration masks government incompetence, poor leadership, and disregard not only for immigrants, but also for the rest of society. Its implementation ushers damaging and divisive racial profiling practices into our daily lives, for those on the receiving end of it and for those expected to perform the checks. Doctors, teachers, school nurses, and social workers did not sign up for this when they chose their honorable caring professions, and neither did landlords, bank staff or employers. 

How can we fix this in an unequal world, exhausted by traumas of war, natural disasters, and the rise of right-wing populism, while we are impoverished by recession and fearful about the future?  

The solution is not just in actions of resistance to the ‘hostile environment’ or support for vulnerable people, but what needs to change structurally.

In addition to anger over the inhumanity and injustice of the impact of hostilities, we need to accept that migrants are here, that no government measure will close the borders completely or manage to deport them all, and that our government cannot cope with the demands of exiting the European Union. We need to accept that the Home Office immigration service, re-branded so many times in recent years, is still not fit for purpose. 

If we accept the reality of the situation, the only right, pragmatic, humane, fair and positive step for any government to take, is amnesty, or regularisation of immigration status.

Amnesty

This restart button has been used before in many different countries, and by governments across the political spectrum – from Spain to Italy, from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama. Those who have had the courage to regularise their undocumented have all seen positive results. 

In 1986 Ronald Reagan delivered amnesty for 3 million people in the US so that they can all pay taxes, and in 2005 the Spanish socialist government granted amnesty to 700,000 immigrants as a way to improve integration and deal with unscrupulous employers.  

In Britain, civil society spoke up for amnesty in 2007, when the Strangers Into Citizens campaign was launched and was supported by politicians across the spectrum, including Boris Johnson. He first called for amnesty when he was the Mayor of London and did so again more recently when he became the Foreign Secretary. 

What would happen in Britain now, if there was an amnesty? 

Firstly we would finally find out how many undocumented as well as underdocumented people are here. As they are already here and are surviving, mostly being exploited in the shadow economy, in one stroke of amnesty the government would deal with employers who are breaking the law and would collect a huge amount in taxes. 

Huge amounts of money wasted on enforcement and detention would be saved. The amnesty would also deal with the backlog of asylum applications, and would help finally restore functioning to the immigration system. 

EU citizens and their families would be able to live their lives free from fear and anxiety. 

There would of course be the cost to employers who would now have to pay the Living Wage to people they exploited, but that would also deal with the perception of ‘immigrants taking jobs from British workers’ and would in some industries lift an entire workforce as well as their families out of poverty. 

Women especially would benefit from increased protection from domestic violence and sexual exploitation. Domestic workers would be able to leave their abusive employers without losing their right to work. Children, sometimes born in the UK, would be able to access further education and live without the shame of being labeled ‘illegal’.  

Doctors, nurses, teachers, social workers, police officers, landlords and bank staff could get on with their jobs instead of being forced to racially profile people they ought to serve and protect. Immigration officers could be deployed to cut the queues for all the tourists we want to welcome, instead of persecuting a grandmother who lived in the UK for 50 years. We would be able to welcome refugees and proudly provide protection for them in a dignified manner. 

Common sense

As a free, democratic, and sane society, we need to think about fair, workable, logical, and pragmatic ways out of the situation we are in. Regularisation of undocumented people as well as those stuck in the system is the first step on the road back to that common sense. 

If we could find the courage to deliver the amnesty, the world would not be perfect, but our country would be less divided and we could focus our resources and energies on repairing the damage that fear and hate have caused us. 

Finally, politicians would have to focus on real solutions for real problems. There would no longer be that mythical ‘other’ to blame – we would all be just ‘us’, in it together. 

Rights:  CC by NC 4.0

Darkest Hour: another film about 1940

Fri, 2018-04-20 12:17

Is this film any better at history than Dunkirk? Does it matter when you have such a multi-faceted central character as this ‘real war leader ’? Review.

Darkest Hour poster.Quite why two films about the same few dramatic weeks in British history in 1940 should have been released in 2017 is one of the quirks of the movie industry.

Dunkirk was a massive box-office and critical success, and won three Oscars (all in technical categories). Darkest Hour cost much less – and earned much less – but snared a more coveted Oscar for Gary Oldman as best actor: his remarkable performance carrying the entire film, and fully compensating for his lack-lustre turn as Smiley in the big screen re-make of Le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

How do the films compare as history? I was unimpressed by Dunkirk’s technical conceits but even more disappointed by the central historical errors, so puzzling in such a compressed time-frame. In point of fact, Darkest Hour covers a longer period, and commits far more errors: but even if the key historical events are consistently misrepresented, at least we have an impressively multi-faceted portrait of its central character, eschewing the clichés of jutting bulldog jaw in search of a deeper emotional truth. How true that portrait is to the real Churchill – and his behaviour in those crucial weeks – is another matter, but probably not one that will worry its cinema audience.

John Lukacs – who was well into his 70s when he published “Five Days In London: May 1940”, nearly 20 years ago – is the historian who pioneered the focus on those crucial days, and the attempt, led by Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax, to induce Churchill to open talks with Mussolini with a view to negotiating peace with Hitler. Lukacs is credited as an (or “the”?) historical consultant for Darkest Hour, but would surely cringe at the film’s opening and closing captions, not to mention the many howlers in between: that said, a 94-year-old can surely be forgiven.

Less indulgence can be expected by Anthony McCarten, the film’s writer. He artfully injects into the script a wide range of Churchillian references and quotes, even if not always in the right context. But he also gives much greater emphasis to the Halifax manoeuvre (and supposed support for it from Neville Chamberlain, still in the War Cabinet after relinquishing the premiership) than it merits.

Chamberlain actually largely supported Churchill’s policy, and the supposed option of persuading Mussolini to use his good offices to spare Britain from the fate of France had a minimal possibility of succeeding, reflecting essentially Halifax’s limited vision.

David Owen’s recent book (Cabinet’s Finest Hour), incorporating all the relevant cabinet documents of those days, traces the genesis of the idea, but also exposes its unreality. Churchill was never really in any danger of being dislodged by “the holy fox”. He and Chamberlain enjoyed a good relationship. It was aided by his generosity in allowing his predecessor to stay on in 10 Downing Street, and in entrusting him with the chairmanship of the War Cabinet during frequent Prime Ministerial forays into France, as he attempted to bolster resistance to the nerve-shattering German invasion.

Those documents debunk a risible scene in the movie where Churchill apparently watches a film presentation, ostensibly assembled by the chiefs of staff, demonstrating how the German army could successfully invade Britain, using high-speed motorboats, somehow evading the Royal Navy and the RAF. Of course, there was no such film, and the pessimistic briefing document that presumably inspired this invention was rapidly replaced by a more realistic version, as Owen’s assemblage reveals.

McCarten’s script compounds the foolishness by blurring the difference between General Ironside, who had been involved in the drafting of the first document, and General Dill, who replaced him the next day as Chief of the Imperial General Staff, and signed the amended text – which was itself immediately and vigorously challenged by Churchill for over-stating the favourable German ratio in fighter aircraft at 4:1 (Churchill argued that it was more like 5:3, and that British combat superiority would quickly even that out.) According to McCarten’s script, Ironside was still attending the War Cabinet a week after he had been replaced – and Dill is never mentioned.

The problems of historical accuracy, of course, begin much earlier in the movie: right at the start, actually. Somehow, the German invasions of Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark and Norway are merged with the impending assault on Luxembourg, Holland, Belgium and France, which has not yet begun, and about which British politicians knew nothing. Yet the script tells us that, on May 9, the “search is on for a new leader”, as “Hitler is poised to conquer the rest of Europe”.

The captions in the film itself are actually a little different from those in the published script. “Hitler has invaded Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark and Norway. 3 million German troops are now poised to conquer the rest of Europe. In Britain, Parliament has lost faith in its leader. The search for a replacement has already begun.” (The significance of the 3 million – other than to sound menacing, and match accompanying shots of marching German troops – is not clear: the combined totals of French, Belgian, British and Netherlands troops available to repel German attacks significantly exceeded 3 million.)

We then come to one of the director Joe Wright’s favoured top shots, this time of a packed and stormy House of Commons debate, with Clement Attlee speaking on behalf of the opposition. Despite the caption telling us that we are already at May 9, what we are seeing in fact happened on May 7. The debate that day was about the failed British attempt to seize Norway, foiled by a pre-emptive German strike (turning Chamberlain’s taunt that Hitler had “missed the bus” against him).

The Navy’s operation at Narvik had achieved significant success – arguably inflicting enough damage on the German fleet to make all the difference, in Admiral Raeder’s view, to his ability to assure Hitler that he could mount an invasion of Britain later that summer. The naval success had been Churchill’s responsibility, as First Lord of the Admiralty; but the Army assault on Trondheim had been improvised and muddled, and quickly failed.

As it happened, it was Arthur Greenwood, not Attlee, who made the most effective speech for Labour on the first day of the Norway debate (just as he had on the eve of war, when Attlee was away ill, with his “speak for England, Arthur” speech); and it was Herbert Morrison who led for Labour on the second day.

But the key speeches (ignored by the film) actually came from Conservative backbenchers, most notably Admiral Sir Roger Keyes and former Colonial Secretary Leo Amery. It was Amery who famously cited Oliver Cromwell, telling Chamberlain “in the name of God, go”. When the vote came, 60 Tories abstained, and 41 opposed their own leader, so reducing the government’s majority of over 200 to just 81. Chamberlain had appealed to his “friends” for support: the appeal backfired, as his friends deserted him.

At one point, director Wright (or, more accurately, writer McCarten, as can be seen from the script, which is available online) chooses to show an empty seat next to Chamberlain, and we hear the question “where’s Winston?”, implying that Churchill had abandoned his leader. Far from it: Churchill intervened in the debate, and wound up for the government, so forcibly that Lloyd George advised him not to continue acting as Chamberlain’s air-raid shelter.

The vote was taken at the end of the second day, May 8, and effectively torpedoed Chamberlain’s premiership. With Labour making clear it would not serve under him in any new, broadly-based national government, his fate was sealed.

There are many versions of how Churchill came to succeed him: in episode 2 (Alone) of The World At War, I used R A Butler’s account of the meeting on May 9 between Chamberlain, Halifax and Churchill (Tory chief whip David Margesson was also there). According to Butler, Chamberlain assumed that Halifax would take over, but Halifax demurred (ostensibly because a peer would have difficulty in leading a government essentially answerable to the Commons, though Butler mischievously suggested he also had a stomach ache). Churchill, on advice, said nothing, and stared out of the window: he was, by default, the only alternative.

The film’s version of the handover of power – far less dramatic and revealing – is a white tie dinner attended by Chamberlain and Halifax (but not Churchill), where Halifax sidesteps the question, saying his time has not yet come. In point of fact, Chamberlain briefly contemplated staying on, as news of the German attack on Luxembourg, Holland and Belgium came through on the morning of May 10, but he was dissuaded from doing so, and by the evening Churchill was Prime Minister.

One of Wright’s best touches in the movie is a beautifully lit scene between the King (who has just recited to Chamberlain all the reasons why Churchill should be mistrusted – Gallipoli, India, the Russian Civil War, impaling Britain on the gold standard) and the man who had for so long urged his older brother not to abdicate the throne.

What Churchill did not do – as portrayed in the movie – is move in to 10 Downing Street (he allowed Chamberlain to stay on, for more than a month, and continued to work from the Admiralty). Least of all did Anthony Eden – not even in the War Cabinet – greet him inside 10 Downing Street: why on earth would the Secretary of State for the Dominions do that?

Nor – contrary to the film – did the War Cabinet at this time meet in the underground war rooms: that happened much later, once systematic bombing of London and other cities began. Downing Street was the normal location. But then, nor did Miss Layton – the ingénue typist through whose eyes we observe Churchill’s eccentric work habits – join his staff till some after the film’s time frame concludes.

Not much of this matters, of course. Sensibly, McCarten and Wright choose where possible the dramatic over the actual. Even the most criticised scene in the film – an entirely fictitious encounter in the London Underground between Churchill (who never travelled on the tube) and a select bunch of ordinary passengers – has entertainment value that exceeds its absurdity.

We do not see Churchill buy a ticket. He travels one stop on the District Line, the only passenger to get on at St James’ Park and get out at Westminster. And that journey, normally lasting barely sixty seconds, takes five minutes in the film, as he engages with this artfully chosen cross-section.

One of them (the only black passenger), hearing Churchill quote Macaulay’s epic poem Horatius (“and how can man die better than facing fearful odds”), duly and improbably responds “for the ashes of his fathers and the temples of his gods”. A mother, nursing an infant, allows the writer to inject another famous Churchill quote (“all babies look like me”). Collectively – and spuriously – they encourage him to stand up to the appeasers (as does the King, in another apocryphal scene).

The truth was rather more prosaic. We see Churchill rehearse the speech he is about to give in the Commons (“we will never surrender”) on June 4 before a group of Conservative junior ministers and backbenchers (the actual meeting, in his Commons office, was just with the “outer” cabinet, and took place a week earlier). He is seen citing the non-existent people in the tube who had encouraged him to express defiance. We have watched Halifax and Chamberlain apparently trying to trap him into formally refusing to open a form of negotiation with the Italian ambassador, which would then be the trigger for their joint resignations and an expected ejection of Churchill from office.

This, indeed, is the central conceit of the film, and does not really stand up to any close examination. The idea that Chamberlain was trying to force Churchill out within three days of his becoming Prime Minister, when his actual relationship with Churchill at this time was cordial and sympathetic, is far-fetched. It is true that Chamberlain remained (after discussion with Churchill) leader of the Conservative Party (not chairman, as the script says), and had great sway over his parliamentary colleagues. But when illness forced Chamberlain’s resignation in October, the Party duly elected Churchill in his place. It is easy to exaggerate the significance of the Party’s suspicions about Churchill in May 1940. And the notion that the Labour Party would accept Halifax as Prime Minister on May 14 when it had not called for his appointment on May 10 has no basis.

Unfortunately, the film effectively deletes the Labour War Cabinet members – and other Labour ministers – from the action, though they do feature, briefly and inaccurately, in the script as “all having lost faith in Churchill” before the end of May: a complete fabrication. Even the scene where Chamberlain tells Halifax he is dying of cancer is wrong: the diagnosis of the cause of his “trouble with his insides” – as he described it to his sisters – was not made till two months later.

As for talks with ambassador Bastianini, these had barely got past the preliminary formalities (which Churchill had reluctantly approved): anything substantial, involving Mussolini and then Hitler, was a remote gleam in Halifax’s eye – indeed, by June 4, Mussolini was less than a week away from joining the war, anxious to seize some territory in the south of France before Germany wrapped up the whole campaign.

In other words, the underlying premise of the film is deceptively simplistic, and has been dragged out of context. The early exchanges between Churchill and Halifax over Italy had been quickly resolved, and the more heated debate actually took place in nine cabinet meetings across just three days, much later in the chronology, from May 26 to May 28. This debate was very much within the context of French appeals for Britain to join in trying to persuade Roosevelt to invite mediation from Mussolini before French resistance collapsed, or even for Britain to offer Italy major concessions, such as joint sovereignty over Gibraltar, in order to trigger such mediation. The former was just about imaginable: the latter, almost certainly unacceptable.

Halifax wanted to support the French Prime Minister, Reynaud, by at least sounding out Italy. Churchill felt that any approach risked being seen as a sign of British weakness, but did not finally resist the idea. However, the surrender of the Belgian army on the morning of the 28th further imperilled the hundreds of thousands of British troops now surrounded at Dunkirk. He preferred to wait until the results of an evacuation operation were visible, as success there would indicate that we had good grounds for believing that British air superiority was sustainable.

When Halifax’s draft to the Italian ambassador was discussed by the War Cabinet, even he conceded that an approach “holds out only a very slender chance of success”, and noted that his own ambassador in Rome judged “that any further approach would only be interpreted as a sign of weakness and would do no good”. Chamberlain’s concern was that France might blame Britain for its defeat if the idea of an approach were refused: or, as Churchill summarised that view, Chamberlain believed “nothing would come of the approach, but that it was worth doing to sweeten relations with a failing ally”. Churchill, by contrast, felt that France would be better served by Britain taking a firm stance, rather than “ruin the integrity of our fighting position” – “let us not be dragged down with France: if the French were not prepared to go on with the struggle, let them give up”.

The debate between Halifax and Churchill was largely hypothetical (or “probably academic” as Halifax put it). Churchill had acknowledged that the key issue was retaining Britain’s independence. Suppose, said Halifax, Hitler guaranteed that, but, after a French military collapse, would not offer terms to France unless Britain was also involved. Would we still insist on “fighting to the finish”? Churchill’s reply: “if told what the terms were, I would be prepared to consider them”.      

By May 28, with a message from the Italian embassy that it was still waiting for Britain to indicate whether it sought mediation, the argument over a draft letter to Bastianini (seemingly prepared by Chamberlain) reached its climax. Greenwood dismissed Reynaud as “too much inclined to hawk around appeals – this was another attempt to run out”. Churchill wanted to avoid “the slippery slope”. After Mussolini had “taken his whack out of us”, Hitler’s terms “would put us completely at his mercy”: and if we started a negotiation, and then walked out, “all the forces of resolution which were now at our disposal would have vanished”.

Halifax said “he still did not see what there was in the French suggestion of trying out the possibilities of mediation which the Prime Minister felt so wrong”. Notably, Chamberlain – far from being part of a plot to oust Churchill – disagreed with Halifax: “it was right to remember that the alternative to fighting on nevertheless involved a considerable gamble”. Halifax persisted: “nothing in his suggestion could even remotely be described as ultimate capitulation” – to which Churchill riposted that “the chances of decent terms being offered to us at the present time were a thousand to one against.”

It was at this point that the War Cabinet adjourned so that Churchill could meet the outer cabinet. An hour later, at its third meeting of the day, Churchill reported to the War Cabinet that the outer cabinet “had expressed the greatest satisfaction when he had told them that there was no chance of giving up the struggle” – and they had done so “emphatically”.

One of the ministers, Labour’s Hugh Dalton, described Churchill that day in his diary as “quite magnificent” – “the man, the only man we have, for this hour – no-one expressed even the faintest flicker of dissent”. He recorded Churchill’s hope that 50,000 – perhaps even 100,000 – troops might be evacuated from Dunkirk. According to Leo Amery’s diary, the meeting “left all of us tremendously heartened by Winston’s resolution and grip of things – he is a real war leader”.  

Churchill portrait during World War II. Wikicommons/ British Government. Some rights reserved.The script’s notion that the War Cabinet had lost faith in Churchill is nonsense. The Liberal leader, Sinclair, an old friend of Churchill’s, had now joined the War Cabinet, bringing the numbers up to six: he, Greenwood and Attlee clearly sided with Churchill, while Chamberlain evidently had doubts about the viability of Halifax’s position. Even Halifax’s top civil servant, Sir Alexander Cadogan, wrote in his diary that “Mussolini is not going to, and in fact dare not, make any separate agreement with the Allies, even if he wanted to...I hope we shan’t delude ourselves into thinking we shall do ourselves any good by making more ‘offers’ or ‘approaches’”. The argument was over.

Three hours later, Churchill telephoned Reynaud to say that the capitulation of the Belgian army that morning (which had barely been discussed by the War Cabinet) “makes it impossible at such a moment for Germany to put forward any terms likely to be acceptable”; that the prospect of an early German victory makes it “impossible for Signor Mussolini to put forward proposals for a conference with any success”; that the reply to Roosevelt’s message to Italy (as urged by France and Britain) had been “wholly negative”; and that the Italian ambassador had not responded meaningfully to Halifax’s approach three days earlier. “We cannot feel that this would be the right moment...for an approach to Signor Mussolini.”

Halifax must have approved the sending of this message on behalf of the War Cabinet. Any thoughts he might have had of resigning would have been dispelled by strong urgings from Cadogan and by the good news from Dunkirk.

The next morning, May 29, Churchill told the War Cabinet that 40,000 soldiers had been rescued. By the end of the next day, the total was over 120,000; and by the end of the following day, 258,000. At the conclusion of the operation Churchill could tell the Commons that 338,000 British, French and Allied troops had been brought to England. That is what he did in his speech of June 4 – but all reference to Dunkirk has been removed from the speech in the film. Instead, it is preceded by the meeting with the ministerial group (which actually happened a week before) and the invented tube journey. 

With such basic distortions of the facts at the heart of the project, it is hard to feel too critical of relatively harmless fabrications, such as locating the May 16 meeting between Churchill and the French leadership at an airfield, rather than in the Foreign Ministry in Paris; let alone having Churchill observe lines of refugees from his airplane (even if he could have seen such detail, there would have been no fleeing columns to notice at this point, flying as he was from London to Paris: the few Parisians abandoning the capital would have been heading south, not north).

Unfortunately, director Wright is trapped by writer McCarten’s inanity: his script says “Winston sees long meandering lines of desperate humanity...a vast tragedy...amongst struggling vagabonds and columns of refugees, abandoned tanks and artillery stand in flames” – all complete fabrication.

We could equally ask why the First Lord of the Admiralty, on May 10, would have been dictating telegrams to the French ambassador or General Ismay, or taking calls from that ambassador. We might even ask why Churchill is so “afraid it is too late” when the call from the Palace finally comes: after all, Norway was a setback, but not a disaster, and the implications of the German attack on Belgium and Holland were not apparent on the first day of that invasion.

We also lose entirely in the film the lengths to which Churchill (who spoke reasonable French, contrary to the script) went to salvage the alliance with France, flying there six times, offering joint citizenship (an offer rejected by the French cabinet for fear that it might lead to Britain seizing all France’s colonies) and even (until the War Cabinet over-ruled him) agreeing to send six more fighter squadrons to join the failing defence against the German assault.

Dunkirk as it never happened

But perhaps the sleight of writer’s hand that is of most concern is the treatment of Dunkirk itself. Churchill is shown as being the author of the evacuation and of ordering Admiral Bertie Ramsay to recruit all the small craft he could find to assist the Navy with the Dunkirk rescue. But Churchill himself would have known, as a member of Lloyd George’s cabinet, that more than 30 years earlier the British Expeditionary Force in the First World War had had contingency plans to evacuate from Dunkirk.

Churchill discussed possible evacuation with his senior colleagues whilst flying back from Paris on May 16. The commander of the 1940 version of the BEF, Lord Gort, was looking for an evacuation from Dunkirk as early as May 18. Ramsay had been appointed to his post at Dover in 1939 by Churchill when he was First Lord of the Admiralty: he would surely not have needed Churchill to tell him on May 25 to prepare such an operation, or even to recruit small craft to assist. Nor could the evacuation have commenced on May 28 if May 25 had been Ramsay’s first notice (as the film tells us).

Oddly enough, the only glimpse we are offered of the Dunkirk operation is a 10-second shot of a flotilla of “little ships”: not a glimpse of the beaches. Perhaps the film-makers were conscious of the parallel production of Dunkirk (and Wright had devoted much screen-time to the evacuation in his film of Ian McEwan’s Atonement in 2007).

As mentioned earlier, all reference to Dunkirk is omitted in McCarten’s version of the June 4 speech that concludes the film: even though Churchill’s description of the evacuation as a “miracle of deliverance” but also as a “colossal military disaster” actually constituted a substantial part of that speech, and formed the platform for his closing “never surrender” rhetoric.

Instead, much is made of Churchill’s decision to allow the Calais garrison to fight to the bitter end, to the apparent shock and disapproval of the War Cabinet, without mention of his previous decision to evacuate 4,000 soldiers from Boulogne – a decision he regretted, in allowing the Germans to tighten the noose around Dunkirk itself.

Unsurprisingly, the entire debate over Hitler’s “halt” order to the Panzer divisions that could have crushed resistance, which provided three days of relief (as did the Calais order), goes unmentioned. The “miracle” is largely attributed to Churchill himself.

Misleadingly, the final caption of the movie says: “almost all of the 300,000 troops at Dunkirk were carried home by Winston’s civilian fleet”. In truth, 95% of the troops (over 338,000, to be more accurate) rescued from the beaches were carried to safety by the naval vessels of various nations, primarily British, primarily destroyers. Where the small craft were most helpful was in ferrying soldiers from the sand to the waiting larger ships that could not reach that close to the shore. But only 200 of the 900 boats involved could be termed “little ships”. And they played almost no part in the evacuation of nearly 200,000 Allied troops from ports west of Dunkirk later in June. (Did you even know there was such an evacuation?)

Yet McCarten’s dotty script has a scene at Dover with Admiral Ramsay on the phone to Churchill on May 28 apparently observing “over 800 small boats, the little ships, arriving or moored: a rag-tag armada”. It never happened. “The biggest civilian fleet ever assembled,” Ramsay informs Churchill, according to the script. No he didn’t.

Just as bizarrely, the famous quote from US commentator Ed Murrow – that Churchill had “mobilized the English language and sent it into battle” – is ascribed to Halifax (!) as he watches the Commons cheering the June 4 speech. Only slightly less odd is being shown the King, and Churchill’s wife, Clemmie, listening to the speech on the radio (there was no parliamentary broadcasting until 1975).

In historical terms, the arc of the movie should have taken us to June 14, with the third of Churchill’s famous speeches of 1940 (the first, offering “blood, toil, tears and sweat” was made on May 13, the fourth came in August, paying tribute to “the few” fighter pilots who were fighting off the Luftwaffe). The June 14 speech conceded – more than a week before the actual armistice – the inevitable French surrender, leaving Britain and its empire alone in confronting Hitler. As Churchill said then, the battle of France was over, and the battle of Britain was about to begin – so let this be “their finest hour”. It was his country’s survival, rather than his own, which mattered most.

Instead, the film chooses to concoct a narrative based on the issue of peace talks (which were never going to happen), the threat from Halifax and Chamberlain (which was actually a veiled threat, from Halifax alone), and Churchill’s own supposed (but actually minimal) doubts about the correct course of action. In the process, it greatly exaggerates the role of both Churchill and the “little ships” in the Dunkirk rescue. And it is hard to believe that any modern historian would give Chamberlain’s handkerchief a starring role in portraying those stirring days.

Yet for those who neither know nor care about the real events, the production is highly effective. Joe Wright’s great skill is in bringing out nuanced performances and fine set pieces from his excellent cast – not just Gary Oldman, but Stephen Dillane as Halifax, Ronald Pickup as Chamberlain, Ben Mendelsohn as the King, Kristin Scott Thomas as Clemmie and Lily James as Miss Layton. And McCarten, too, at least deserves some credit for writing such persuasive dialogue for them.

I cannot imagine sitting through Dunkirk again: but I thoroughly enjoyed watching Darkest Hour a second time, despite all my reservations about its misguided attempts to re-write history.

British war cabinet 1939-40. Churchill standing. Front row: Halifax and Chamberlain. Wikicommons/Walter Bellamy. Some rights reserved.

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Life in the ashes: where now for survivors of the Rostov blaze?

Fri, 2018-04-20 09:26

Eight months on from a colossal fire in the centre of this southern Russian city, people affected by the fire are still looking for homes.

Over 600 people were left homeless after the fire in Govnyarka, Rostov. Photo: Yury_Ch / VK.com.In August last year, Rostov-on-Don suffered the biggest fire in its history. Over several hours on 21 August, fires turned an entire neighbourhood behind Rostov’s central Theatre Square into ash.

“It was like hell in miniature,” Roman Nevedrov, a journalist with the local Delovoi kvartal magazine told me at the time. “I used to work at an insurance company in the area, so I know it well, and everything I remember there has just gone. The lower part of the district has been completely burned to the ground.” More than 100 homes were burned down in the district (known locally as Govnyarka), and over 200 families were left without their homes.

More than six months have passed, but only 50 families have received housing. And on 31 March, families still living in hotels on the city council’s expense had to leave, despite not having had their housing lined up.

I spoke to several families to find out how they’re living now.

Fire in Govnyarka

The district devastated by the fire is in the very heart of Rostov, leading down from its central Theatre Square to the industrial area and port along the River Don below. It got its nickname of Govnyarka when it housed a utility centre servicing dust carts and sewage trucks there (the name comes from the Russian slang for shit).

The district comprised over 100 one- and two-storey houses and innumerable extensions in various stages of dilapidation. Until recently, the district’s population was a very diverse one, ranging from the educated classes to alcoholics and homeless. Govnyarka lacked the usual city infrastructure, with no proper roads, gas supply or sewage system. Other residents saw it as a rough place and tended to avoid going there.

It took seven helicopters and two aeroplanes to finally put out the 21 August fire. Photo: Henry_Boatman / Instagram.According to witnesses, on 21 August, the fire started at several different locations around midday — and the city fire service arrived too late (one or two hours after it started). One person died in the fire, and 600 people were evacuated. More than 1,000 firefighters fought the flames for 24 hours as part of the city’s emergency situation.

Everyone who suffered in the fire says that it was arson. Prior to the tragedy, representatives of a property development firm approached local residents, offering to buy their houses at low prices. These offers were accompanied by threats. According to locals, these people refused to name the firm they worked for and hinted that there could be a fire.

“That slum should’ve been cleared long ago anyway” and comments in a similar vein filled social networks during the fire. Here are three examples from vKontakte. Photo: VK.com. Some rights reserved.After the fire, an investigation was opened into “intentional destruction or damage of property”. At the start of January 2018, RIA Novosti reported from an inside source that city police hadn’t found any evidence of arson, although the investigation continues.

First months

Rostov’s city authorities recognised 692 people (218 families) as having suffered from the fire. The majority of people moved in with their families or friends afterwards, some rented. Roughly 100 people lived in city schools for a week after the fire, before moving into the Star and Western hotels, the Don State Technical University’s sanatorium and council apartments on Rostov’s northern edge, on the city’s request.

Most opted for the hotels, and people moved in at the end of August. The city authorities stated they could live there for six months — this is what Russia’s Federal Law No. 439 on emergency situations states. And in December 2017, the head of the Don Legislative Assembly promised that people would be able to stay in the hotels until they bought new apartments.

Irina Minayeva. (c) Evgeny Kosivtsov. All rights reserved.The authorities helped to restore identity and other related documents, as well as offering compensation at 160,000 roubles (paid for out of the federal budget). Locals and residents of other cities donated clothes and other necessary items.

“Everything was burned down right when we had such grandiose plans for our home,” Irina Minayeva tells me. “We’d built a porch, we were going to cover our house in brick, and install gas. We left for work and then it turned out there was nowhere to go home to.”

“How have we been living in the hotel? There’s nothing of our own here. It’s good they fed us. [...] It was inconvenient that we had to travel by bus three times a day who knows where. Some of us work, and they don’t always make it on time.”

Valentina Cherkasova. (c) Evgeny Kosivtsov. All rights reserved.Twenty people lived at the university’s sanatorium, where students go for treatment. Conditions might not have been great here, but most people weren’t worried about that — they wanted to know how much the city was going to contribute towards their new apartments.

“We had a bed, some nice people gave me clothes. The food was okay. We weren’t allowed to cook ourselves. Everything was shared — fridge, microwave, iron,” Valentina Cherkasova tells me. “After a while we found out that we were going to get 46,800 roubles [£539] per square metre. What can you buy on this money? Even if we found something, some tiny place, then we wouldn’t have the money to make it liveable. We’d move in and have to sleep on the floor.”

A survivor speaks in the comments under an article on Meduza.io. “I’m standing among the ruins, my house has burnt. And while we were living like animals in the very centre of town with no proper support from you, you guys were wondering what fancy new coffee shop to open near the theatre.” Photo: VK.com. Some rights reserved.According to Rostov city norms, one person is supposed to be allocated 33 square metres, a two person family - 42 sq. m., and above that, each person gets an additional 18 sq.m. In this scheme, a person living alone is supposed to receive roughly 500,000 roubles (£5,700). This in a city where, according to a local real estate agents, the average price of a one-room flat is 2.3m roubles (£26,000)  — and in the centre, four million roubles (£46,000). There are flats for 1.5m roubles (£17,000) on the edge of town, albeit without much in the way of modcons. The regional and federal budgets allocated 390m roubles (£450,000) for families afflicted by the fire in total.

Conflict with officials

This situation doesn’t suit the families. Many people wanted to rebuild their homes themselves, using the compensation payments towards new apartments, but the city authorities refused. They claimed that the homes cannot be rebuilt, and that there’s no plans to build residential buildings in Govnyarka.

People wrote letters of complaint and petitions, begging public officials to allow them to return to their neighbourhood rather than have to move to another district. On several occasions during autumn and winter, city and regional officials met with afflicted people. In December 2017, for instance, people wept and shouted as they demanded either real compensation for new homes at market prices or money to rebuilt their old homes.

Vasily Golubev, Rostov regional governor. Source: Kremlin.ru.“By law, state organs do not have the power to compensate anything,” said Vasily Golubev, Rostov regional governor, at one of these meetings. “We can only offer social aid, if you do not have homes. The state doesn’t bear responsibility for fires, that’s the responsibility of the owners, whether you like it or not.”

The state couldn’t start making compensation payments for new apartments until the regional government passed new legislation. Thus, in September, officials put forward a new law, as well as a statement by the regional administration, to address the Govnyarka families’ needs. It was passed three months later, in December 2017.

Families put a lot of hope in Ksenia Sobchak, a candidate in the March 2018 Russian presidential elections. Before the law was passed, Sobchak visited the city to open her first regional campaign office at the end of November. She promised to get her legal team involved in helping Govnyarka families, but nothing happened — it seems her promises were part of her election campaign.

Fighting the system

The process of receiving new homes has begun, but rather slowly, given that more than six months have now passed since the fire. According to city officials, the authorities have received 182 applications for housing certificates, which are, in effect, subsidies for new apartments. So far, they’ve examined 159 applications, and 50 families have received new apartments, and 90 are looking for homes.

Tatyana Lanbekova. (c) Evgeny Kosivtsov. All rights reserved. None of the families living in the hotels have received housing. In mid-March, the city stopped transporting them to the local canteen — as the hotel explained, officials had stopped paying for that service. And on 26 March, residents received notice that they were being evicted from the Star hotel due to non-payment. Most of them had received housing certificates, but were yet to find apartments to sign contracts with developers.

“I only received my certificate two weeks ago, although I applied a while ago,” says Tatyana Lanbekova. “How can you find housing in two weeks? Even if I had found it, signed the contract with the developer, got all the necessary documents, the officials will only transfer the money within 30 days! I’ve got nowhere to go. I have a family, but my sister and her family live in a one-room apartment, there’s no room. They said I could sleep in a bunk-bed with my grandson. At my age! Sure, a day or two, but longer?” Lanbekova complains that it’s expensive for her to rent: her pension is 11,000 roubles (£127) a month.

People living in the hotel have written to city, including Rostov’s city manager Vitaly Kushnarev, and regional officials, asking for their stay at the hotel to be extended until 1 June. After all, upon receiving a housing certificate, the law allows three month for finding a home.

Viktor Pampura. (c) Evgeny Kosivtsov. All rights reserved. “I tried for half a year to prove that I’m not a camel,” Viktor Pampura tells me. “My parents and my brother lived in a detached house, and I lived next door. I got the house very cheap, but I was registered at my parents. For six months I went round the courts with my documents, trying to show that I’m the owner. They wanted to give us a subsidy for four people: so the four of us would be forced to live in a single apartment. [...] We’ll be living like homeless people. We’ll bring our suitcases to the city administration, stand next to the entrance.” The amount that officials are prepared to pay doesn’t suit the Pampura family: Viktor doesn’t want a mortgage, he has two kids; but there’s no choice, and you can only buy an apartment on the edge of town with the money at stake.

In the end, people were evicted from both hotels and the sanatorium. There’s nowhere for them to live: some are forced to move in with friends or relatives, some found cheap places to rent. The Pampura family, for instance, have moved into a one-room apartment next to Govnyarka. True, it lacks utilities: they cook on a electric hob, take water from a well one street over and have to sleep on fold-out beds donated to them. But it’s cheap, and they’re saving money to renovate their new home.

Plans for the future

In cases where homes have been destroyed, the city plans to buy Govnyarka residents’ land at market value in the future. But this could, according to Vitaly Kushnarev, take more than a year.

As RBC reported, Govnyarka residents are afraid that the price they receive for their land is going to be reduced, and are now organising themselves into a legal entity — a civic unit of self-governance (known by its Russian acronym TOS). They said this is how they’ll defend their interests.

View from Rostov's Star hotel. (c) Evgeny Kosivtsov. All rights reserved. “The theatre district has become a tasty morsel for the local authorities, who can take our land without heavy losses and then build new elite homes there,” says Mikhail Shuvlenov, TOS chairman. “We need to defend our interests, this is why we’re creating a TOS — they’ll break us individually. It’ll be harder for the local authorities to fight us if we come together.”

Another detail from RBC’s investigation is that the funds for helping Govnyarka families with food and shelter in the city hotels is coming from a fund for developing the social and cultural character of the city. It was this fund that collected money to help Govnyarka residents. They collected more than 14m roubles, and 3m was spent on people’s immediate needs. In December 2017, there was still 10.5m roubles on the account — but this contradicts statements on the Ministry of Justice’s website, where it says that the fund has spent the remaining 10m roubles (though it is unclear on what). When asked, the fund’s director couldn’t say how much money remained and what it had been spent on.  

It’s unclear what the future holds for Govnyarka. Rostov’s administration is looking at several projects: it could be a new shopping centre, a hotel, a pedestrian walkway connecting Theatre Square and the river, a new highway, school, kindergarten or cathedral — but no new homes. But even if they decide what’s going to be there, it won’t be there before the Football World Cup comes to Rostov in mid-June. Theatre Square will be turned into a fan zone with big screens, parking and a food court. Right next to the ashes of Govnyarka.

 

Sideboxes Related stories:  “It was like hell in miniature”: how Rostov-on-Don lost a whole neighbourhood in one day St Petersburg: in search of solidarity Imitation civil society gets ready for Russia’s imitation elections Our city, our space: Ekaterinburg residents come out against plans to construct a new church Rights:  CC by NC 4.0

¿Se acabó la era de la privacidad?

Fri, 2018-04-20 08:22

La mensajería instantánea se ha convertido en el principal instrumento digital para el activismo social y político, pero abre brechas para su seguridad. English, Português

Manifestación contra el PRISM en Berlín, organizada por el Partido Pirata, durante la visita del presidente estadounidense, Barack Obama. Mike Herbst / Wikimedia Commons. Algunos derechos reservados.

Este artículo es un extracto de un artículo original publicado en el eBook El ecosistema de la Democracia Abierta y se puede encontrar aquí.

Nos encontramos en una época de transformación, una transformación que merece ser analizada, tanto de su lado positivo, que trae consigo un emergente poder relacional (más interactivo, directo y abierto), como desde su lado menos evidente y más escondido. El lado que pone en entredicho la privacidad.

El problema radica en un aspecto base: la Internet es una red que se diseñó para compartir información sin pensar en cómo crecería o cual sería su uso actual.

Por ello, encontramos una gran problemática en lo que concierne a la gestión de la privacidad de sus usuarios, ya que, actualmente, es muy fácil que una persona pueda ver todo lo que escribimos o hacemos desde nuestros dispositivos, ya sea el móvil, el ordenador o la tablet, siempre y cuando tenga conexión a Internet.

En este sentido, hablar de comunicación a nivel virtual se convierte en un tema complejo, ya que, aunque desde hace un par de años la mayoría de las aplicaciones de mensajería estén encriptadas, sigue siendo muy sencillo espiarnos.

Tras la Segunda Guerra Mundial, se creó la alianza de los Five Eyes, conformada por Estados Unidos, Australia, Nueva Zelanda, Canadá y Reino Unido (UKUSA). Este pacto estipula un acuerdo de inteligencia que espía a todos los internautas de manera constante, sistemática y acumulativa.

En el texto encontraremos varios casos de empresas, de industrias tecnológicas y de electrodomésticos en los que se explican diferentes formas de espiar a los internautas, incluso teniendo sus dispositivos apagados.

Además, nos cuentan cómo se usan los metadatos para obtener información que ayuda a determinar el grado de vigilancia que nos deben aplicar de acuerdo a nuestros comportamientos.

Finalmente, se destaca la importancia de comprender que, encriptar, es la única forma de proteger nuestras comunicaciones y nuestros archivos, por lo que se recomiendan algunos servidores propios y servicios no intrusivos, que nos permitirán resguardan nuestro ámbito privado.

Sideboxes Related stories:  eBook: El ecosistema de la democracia abierta Chequeos ideológicos: información y movilización electoral Ciudades y democracia: nuevas geografías, nuevas geometrías Topics:  Civil society Culture Democracy and government Ideas Internet Rights:  CC by NC 4.0

Are the days of user privacy over?

Fri, 2018-04-20 08:19

Instant messaging has become the main digital tool for social and political activism. As its use expands, so do doubts about its confidentiality. Español, Português

Demonstration against PRISM in Berlin, organized by the Pirate Party, during United States president Barack Obama's visit. Mike Herbst/Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.

This piece is an excerpt from an original article published as part of the eBook El ecosistema de la Democracia Abierta series, which can be found here.

We currently find ourselves in an age of transformation, a transformation that merits analysis, from both the perspective of positive advances such as emerging relational power that is more interactive, direct and open, to advances that are less evident and more hidden. The changes that call into question our privacy, it could be said.

The problem is based on this fact: that the internet is a network designed to share information without considering how that information would later grow or what its current use would be.

Therefore, we encounter a huge problem with regards to the management of user privacy, since currently, it is very easy for anyone to see what we write or what we do on our devices, whether it be a mobile, a computer or a tablet, provided they are connected to the internet. 

Accordingly, discussing communication on a virtual level becomes a complex topic given that it is still very easy to be spied upon, even though most messenger applications are now encrypted.

After the Second World War, the Five Eyes alliance was created by the US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the UK (UKUSA). This pact provides an intelligence agreement that spies on users systematically, accumulatively and constantly.

In the text, we will find many cases of companies, within technological and electro domestic industries, which explain the many ways in which we are spied on, even with our devices switched off.

Additionally, we are informed of how metadata is used to obtain information that helps to determine the degree of surveillance that is used depending on our behaviour.

Finally, it is of upmost importance that we understand encrypting is the only way to protect our communications and our files, and therefore the use of specific servers and non-intrusive services that allow us to safeguard our private sphere are recommended.

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Os dias de privacidade acabaram?

Fri, 2018-04-20 08:19

As mensagens instantâneas tornaram-se o principal instrumento digital para o activismo social e político. Ao mesmo tempo que a sua implementação aumenta, também o fazem as dúvidas sobre a sua confidencialidade. English, Español

Manifestação contra o PRISM em Berlim, organizada pelo Partido Pirata, durante a visita do presidente dos Estados Unidos, Barack Obama. Mike Herbst / Wikimedia Commons. Alguns direitos reservados.

Este artigo é um extrato de um artigo original publicado no eBook El ecosistema de la Democracia Abierta e pode ser encontrado aquí.

Estamos num momento de transformação, uma transformação que merece ser analisada, tanto do lado positivo, que traz consigo um poder relacional emergente (mais interativo, direto e aberto), bem como do seu lado menos evidente e mais escondido. O lado que questiona a privacidade.

O problema reside em um aspecto básico: a Internet é uma rede que foi projetada para compartilhar informações sem pensar em como ela cresceria ou qual seria o seu uso atual.

Por esse motivo, encontramos um grande problema em relação ao gerenciamento da privacidade de seus usuários, uma vez que, atualmente, é muito fácil para uma pessoa ver tudo o que escrevemos ou fazemos à partir dos nossos dispositivos, seja o celular, o computador ou tablet, desde que se tenha uma conexão com a Internet.

Nesse sentido, falar sobre comunicação num nível virtual torna-se um problema complexo uma vez que, embora desde alguns anos atrás a maioria das aplicações de mensagens estão sendo criptografadas, ainda é muito fácil nos espionarem.

Após a Segunda Guerra Mundial, foi criada a aliança dos ‘Cinco Olhos’, composta pelos Estados Unidos, Austrália, Nova Zelândia, Canadá e Reino Unido (UKUSA). Este acordo estipula um pacto de inteligência que espia todos os internautas de maneira constante, sistemática e cumulativa.

No texto, encontraremos vários casos de empresas, indústrias tecnológicas e eletrodomésticos onde diferentes maneiras de espionar internautas são explicadas, mesmo que seus dispositivos estejam desligados.

Além disso, é elucidado como os meta-dados são usados ​​para obter informações que ajudam a determinar o grau de vigilância que deve ser aplicado de acordo com nossos comportamentos.

Finalmente, é descartada a importância de entender a criptografia como sendo a única maneira de proteger nossas comunicações e nossos arquivos, razão pela qual alguns de nossos próprios servidores e serviços não intrusivos são recomendados, o que nos permitirá proteger nossa esfera privada.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Cidadania do século XXI: educação + participação + cidadania A evolução da participação democrática eBook: El ecosistema de la democracia abierta Topics:  Civil society Culture Democracy and government Ideas Internet Rights:  CC by NC 4.0

Whose human rights? The marginalisation of dissent in France and spreading

Fri, 2018-04-20 06:35

The use of human rights to criminalize the French Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) campaign sends out a warning alert.


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

BDS France.

Human rights’ ideals have inspired the mobilization of many people worldwide. Human rights defenders conceive human rights as a tool to oppose unfair policies and to hold political leaders accountable for their decisions. However, as they are politically ambivalent and socially constructed, human rights can also be a tool for governments to oppress social movements.

Human rights can indeed serve the purpose of either emancipating the powerless or maintaining structural inequalities. The latter happens for example in areas where international human rights law is restrictive. For example, governments often resort to the exclusive definition of “refugee” provided by international law to deny rights to people who do not fit it and to return them to their countries.   

The ambivalence of human rights is a slap in the face when authorities criminalize, prosecute and silence peaceful activists by applying laws whose aim is, on the contrary, to protect human rights.

The prosecutions against the peaceful activists involved in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) campaign in France are glaring in that respect. These campaigners engage in peaceful actions to put pressure on the state of Israel to respect the human rights of Palestinians. French authorities prosecute them, arguing that they discriminate against a group of people, i.e. Israeli producers, on the basis of their nationality.

The ambivalence of human rights strikingly manifests here. Both BDS campaigners and authorities frame their actions by referring to human rights. One can argue that it is just a matter of perspective and that prosecuting BDS activists is a genuine attempt to combat discrimination. However, a closer look into these cases raises several concerns regarding the instrumental use of anti-discrimination laws to prosecute peaceful activists.  

The BDS campaign in France

In July 2005, the Palestinian civil society launched the campaign Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) calling on international civil society organizations and individuals to put in place boycott and divestment initiatives. The campaign aims to put pressure on Israel to end the occupation of Palestine, to ensure the equality of Palestinians living in Israel and to respect the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes. One year earlier, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) had advised that the wall built by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territories was against international law.

In June 2009, the BDS campaign was launched in France. Imen, one of the coordinators of the French campaign, refers to it as a human rights initiative, “because its objectives are in line with international law and because it is an anti-racist campaign that rejects any form of racism. It is inspired by the struggle against the apartheid regime in South Africa”. BDS activists in France and abroad see the campaign as a necessary tool to end a “regime of apartheid” enforced by Israel and resulting in the racial segregation of Palestinians.  

BDS activists often call on people not to buy Israeli products by organizing peaceful actions in front of retailers. They also call on companies to divest from Israel and on artists not to stage concerts or performances in Israel.

The BDS campaign is far from being the only campaign promoting commercial boycotts targeting a specific country or company. In recent years, campaigners have for instance launched boycott actions targeting China because of its poor human rights record in Tibet or Burma for the atrocities committed by the military junta.

Grafitti prompted by BDS campaign against Veolia.Boycott campaigns against specific companies deemed responsible for facilitating human rights violations have also been promoted. These included for example the campaign against the French company Veolia that sold off all its Israeli operations in 2015, after having been a target of the BDS campaign.

The BDS campaign is a powerful tool to exercise pressure insofar as it results in substantial economic losses. The Israeli Minister of Finance has estimated that these amount to USD 3.2 billion a year, or 1% of Israel’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The policy think-tank RAND Corporation has found that the economic losses inflicted by the campaign comprise between 1% and 2% of the Israel’s annual GDP.

Legal anomalies

Since 2009, dozens of BDS activists in France have been prosecuted for their involvement in peaceful boycott campaigns, authorities resorting to anti-discrimination laws for that purpose. Since 2009, dozens of BDS activists in France have been prosecuted for their involvement in peaceful boycott campaigns.

In February 2010, a few months after the launch of the BDS campaigns in France, Michèle Alliot-Marie, the then Minister of Justice, adopted a document containing instructions addressed to prosecutors (a Circular).

The Circular exclusively tackled the calls for boycott formulated within the BDS campaign. The document took stock of the several prosecutions launched against BDS campaigners for incitement to discrimination. It reiterated the need to ensure a “coordinated and strong response” against BDS-inspired actions. In 2012, Michel Mercier, the then Minister of Justice, adopted a new Circular specifying that BDS calls for boycott discriminated against Israeli producers because they hindered their economic activity on the basis of their nationality.

The prosecutions against BDS activists are based on two laws. The first one is the 1881 Law on the Freedom of the Press. Article 24.8 of the law punishes incitement to discrimination, hatred and violence on grounds of origin, race, ethnicity, religion or nationality. This article was included into the Criminal Code in 1972 with the aim of complying with the1965 UN International Convention against all Forms of Racial Discrimination.

The second provision is article 225.2 of the Criminal Code, which punishes discrimination in specific instances, including when it results in hindering the normal exercise of an economic activity. In 1977, the French legislator introduced the reference to the hindrance of an economic activity into the Criminal Code to overcome the boycott of Israel adopted by the Arab League. The provision provided a legal tool for those French companies that maintained business ties with Israel when trading with countries of the Arab League.

However, resorting to those two laws to prosecute BDS activists clashes with the aims for which they were adopted. It is also at odds with the existing interpretation of the notion of discrimination in international human rights law. In particular, some differences of treatment may be justified and thus do not constitute discrimination. This is for instance the case when it comes to differences of treatment that protect safety and security, public health or the human rights of other people. The calls for boycott framed within the BDS campaign have the purpose of exercising pressure on Israel with the view to improving the rights of Palestinians.

Moreover, any incitement to discrimination, hatred and violence must reach quite a high threshold to become punishable. In particular, judicial authorities should consider the intent to incite and the likelihood that this incitement causes actual hatred, violence or discrimination as constitutive elements of the offence. For example, the French provision punishing incitement to discrimination has been used to prosecute leaders of the French far-right, in particular the founder of the National Front, Jean-Marie Le Pen. In 2005, he was convicted and fined for his statement about Muslims in an interview with the daily Le Monde. He said “When the day comes that we will have 25 million Muslims instead of 5 million in France, they will rule”. The conviction was subsequently confirmed by a second instance Court and then by the Court of Cassation. BDS calls for boycott are promoted by activists without exercising any coercion on clients or those retailers selling goods imported from Israel. Campaigners limit themselves to calling on consumers to exercise their conscious and informed choices. It is a stretch to consider those calls as constituting incitement to discrimination. None of the activists whose boycott actions target either other countries than Israel or specific companies have been the target of such criminal prosecutions.

French authorities have specifically instructed prosecutors to use those laws against BDS campaigners. None of the activists whose boycott actions target either other countries than Israel or specific companies have been the target of such criminal prosecutions. The prosecutions against BDS activists are often initiated in the aftermath of legal actions launched by civil society organizations opposing anti-Semitism. They include, for example, the National Board for Vigilance against anti-Semitism (BNVCA), which considers the combat against the BDS campaign and against the “delegitimization of Israel” an “absolute priority”. None of the retailers targeted by the actions mentioned earlier has filed a complaint against the activists.

In sum, laws adopted with the aim of punishing discriminatory speech or actions are being used to prosecute peaceful human rights defenders.

Cases against BDS activists

A case concerning the conviction of BDS activists for inciting discrimination is currently pending before the European Court of Human Rights. Seven activists brought the case to court following the rulings of the French Court of Cassation confirming their convictions.

BDS Campaigning outside supermarkets.On 22 May, 2010, they organized a peaceful action in front of a supermarket in the town of Illzach, near Mulhouse (Eastern France). They distributed flyers aimed at raising public awareness on the BDS campaigns and calling on clients not to buy Israeli products. The flyers argued that boycotting Israeli products was an effective strategy to contribute to ending human rights violations committed by Israel. For example, one of the flyers stated: “You can constrain Israel to respect human rights. Boycott products imported from Israel”. Another flyer referred to a citation of Archbishop Desmond Tutu regarding the BDS campaign. It read: “If apartheid in South Africa came to an end, then this occupation [of the OPT] can also be stopped. However, international and moral pressures should be fair and strict. Divesting is the first step towards that direction”.

In 2013, a second instance Court convicted the activists to a fine for inciting discrimination on the basis of nationality and disconfirmed the ruling of the first instance Court, which had acquitted them. The Court argued that calling on clients to boycott the products imported from Israel constituted incitement to discrimination against a group of people, i.e. Israeli producers, because of their nationality. In November 2015, the Court of Cassation confirmed the convictions. The Court argued that the right to freedom of expression can be restricted in a democratic society to protect public order and the rights of others, i.e. the rights of Israeli producers. The Court did not mention any specific elements demonstrating that the peaceful actions organized by the activists may have endangered public order. Nor, did it take into account the objective of the BDS action, i.e. the improvement of human rights in Israel and the OPT.

On 14 November 2016, a Court in Toulouse (Southern France) convicted four BDS activists to a suspended fine. In December 2014 and February 2015, they had organized similar peaceful actions. By drawing on articles 225.1 and 225.2 of the Criminal Code, the Court ruled that they had committed a discriminatory offence aimed at hindering an economic activity. The Court also warned the activists against committing another similar offence as this may entail a new conviction.

Jean-Pierre, one of the activists convicted in Toulouse, believes that the prosecutions and convictions against the BDS campaign, which are often extensively covered by mainstream media, are designed to spread the idea that the campaign is illegal in France, which refrains new activists from mobilizing. Both Palestinian rights’ groups and Jewish settlers’ organizations in Israel and the OPT frame their diametrically opposed discourses through human rights.

BDS activists consider France as a laboratory for the criminalization of the campaign and are concerned about the chilling effect of these prosecutions as well as the “internationalization” of this criminalizing trend. France is indeed one of the first countries in Europe where prosecutions against BDS campaigners have been launched. Similar efforts are currently flourishing in the United States, the United Kingdom and Israel, which had already passed a law against the BDS campaign in 2011.

Nicola Perugini and Neve Gordon convincingly argue that both dominant and oppressed groups can rely on human rights either to challenge oppression or to justify it. They point out that both Palestinian rights’ groups and Jewish settlers’ organizations in Israel and the OPT frame their diametrically opposed discourses through human rights.

Several parallels can be observed between that context and the battle for human rights around the BDS campaign in France. As described above, BDS campaigners refer to, and frame their calls and actions within, human rights. French authorities equally resort to human rights, and the principle of non-discrimination protected by domestic law, to prosecute those campaigners. By doing so, they hijack the purpose of anti-discrimination laws, using them to contain a human rights campaign rather than to protect the rights of oppressed groups.

How to cite:
Perolini M.(2018) Whose human rights? The marginalisation of dissent in France and spreading, Open Democracy / ISA RC-47: Open Movements, 20 April. https://opendemocracy.net/marco-perolini/whose-human-rights-marginalisation-of-dissent-in-france-and-spreading

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Middle East nightmare, made in Washington

Fri, 2018-04-20 06:03

The United States talks to North Korea but seeks Saudi war on Iran.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, March 2018. Albin Lohr-Jones/Press Association. All rights reserved.Even under one of the most rhetorically aggressive leaderships that it has ever had, the United States maintains a rational approach in dealing with nuclear North Korea. Its plans for a meeting between the two heads of state, reflected in the visit of CIA director mIke Pompeo to Pyongyang, attests to Washington's intent to scale back confrontation.

Yet at the same time President Trump’s administration displays a worrying recklessness in stoking a potential confrontation with Iran, playing against and manipulating Saudi fears.

North Korea's "rocket man", as Trump dubbed Kim Jong-un in his speech at the United Nations in September 2017, is by most measures more dangerous than the Iranian leadership. Without downplaying the perils of Iran’s ideological drive and expansive regional foreign policy, Tehran’s politics are guided by national interest and rational calculations that are not exclusively led by ideology. Why then does the US avoid investing effort and diplomacy to save the already devastated Middle East from yet another threatening war, this time between Saudi Arabia and Israel on the one side and Iran on the other? Instead, Trump is actually paving the way for such a confrontation with his plans to revoke the nuclear agreement that his predecessor Barack Obama managed to conclude with the Iranians.

Why should this be? The reasons include the US's interest in maintaining lucrative arms deals with the Gulf states, primarily Saudi Arabia, and many US leaders' support for bombing Iran (as demanded by the right-wing Israeli leadership). With regards to the first, Trump has never hidden his intentions to milk the Saudis to the max. In his televised meeting with the Saudi crown prince Mohamed bin Salman (MBS), Trump voiced the hope that in 2018-19 alone the value of arms deals with the Saudis will exceed $700 billion. Continuing to inflame Saudi fears towards Iran is the best guarantee of those current and future deals. Any diplomatic track that might offset such fears would be far less profitable.

With regards to the second reason, Saudi Arabia is already implicated in a futile war in Yemen that after more than two years seems far from being resolved. Ironically, that war was named by the Saudis "the battle of decisiveness" and was planned to last only the few weeks it would take to finish off the Iranian-supported Houthi rebels. Instead, the Saudis are bleeding financially and politically, and facing mounting international criticism as a result of the war's effects: enormous Yemeni casualties, the hunger of millions of civilians, and the spread of disease.

If this would-be "short campaign" has proved beyond Saudi capabilities, why might they consider that a fully-fledged regional war against Iran could ever be winnable? Such a war, even with the help of Israel, would lead to more protracted, costly and bloody confrontations for all involved. The Americans, recognising Saudi military inadequacy even with all the imported weapons, are well aware of this. Yet in their own interest they refrain from frankness with their wealthy ally. Honest advice to the Saudis would be to seek a "grand political deal" with Iran.

This American dishonesty exploits the political impulsiveness of the young and inexperienced Saudi crown prince. MBS's public-relations advisors, themselves mostly Americans, seem to have given him some "Politics 101" that look trivial when examined. One of the crown prince's fondly repeated lessons is the parallel between the western appeasement of Hitler on the eve of the second world war and the west's non-confrontational approach towards Iran that culminated in the Obama-era nuclear deal. One of the crown prince's fondly repeated lessons is the parallel between the western appeasement of Hitler on the eve of the second world war and the west's non-confrontational approach towards Iran that culminated in the Obama-era nuclear deal.

This analogy is desperate to make the point that unless an actual confrontational line is adopted against Iran, the region will witness Iranian invasion and expansion into the Middle East. The reference is to the notorious Munich agreement in September 1938, when British and French leaders in effect gave Hitler the right to continue invading Germany's neighbours.

Historians differ on the question whether Nazi ambitions could have been stopped without that pact, and thus the course of events leading to war in 1939 halted. In any case, the comparison with today’s Iran is naïve on many levels. The German grievances that lingered from the Versailles treaty in 1919 that fostered the rise of Hitler are absent with regard to Iran. The aggressive Nazi war strategy was led and popularised by its intent to restore the German lands that, after the empire's fall, had been seized and given to neighbouring countries.

By contrast, current Iranian aggressive regional policies are driven by nervousness and the regime's lack of solid internal political support. In addition, the genocidal plans that Hitler had in mind and then implemented against the Jews have no equivalent against any other group whatsoever in the mindset of the Iranian leadership. Those who planted this analogy in MBS’s mind knew that such a portrayal appeases Israel and cements a shared war discourse between the Saudis and their unlikely Jewish ally.

What would a war between a Saudi-Israeli alliance against Iran, backed by the US, look like? It would, in short, mean Armageddon to the entire region.

Iran’s military and supporting groups in surrounding countries would be able to inflict great damage against adversary countries. Iranian missile capabilities would not be entirely destroyed in any massive first strike. Surviving missiles would reach, in addition to Israeli cities, major Gulf cities implicated in such a war, such as Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Manama and even the American military base in Qatar. The vulnerable Gulf cities that have flourished on commerce and extravagant attractions would be soft targets. If part of Saddam Hussein’s badly weakened capabilities in 1991 remained operational and managed to hit Israeli and Saudi cities, Iranian steadfastness and capability to retaliate are likely to be even more robust.

Moreover, the unleashing of Shi'a militias across the region would make ISIS violence look minimal. Hizbollah in Lebanon would most likely engage directly in war against Israel, this time endangering the very existence of Lebanon as a country. Hamas in Gaza could equally be prompted to open another front, endangering the already devastated Gaza strip. Syria and even Iraq would inevitably become embroiled battlefields, causing further calamities. The economies of the Gulf countries would be extremely damaged, the oil supplies drastically hit, and oil prices sent rocketing. How Turkey would behave in northern Syria amid such chaos, and what form of engagement it would pursue, is an open question. If such a war went on for a longer time, which is not unlikely, it is hard either to imagine or project the magnitude and directions of massive waves of refugees and displaced people.

A failure of diplomacy

Another scary dimension to such a war is the position of Russia. Judging by the worsening relations between the west and Russia, it is not far-fetched to predict Russian support of the Iranians, driven by Kremlin hostility to western policies and by the desire to maintain a strong Russian influence in the region.

In terms of Israel’s position and perceptions, Israeli propaganda against Iran portrays Tehran’s mullahs as a bunch of fanatics that pose an existential threat to the Jewish state. This is simply hollow and baseless. Rhetoric aside, Iran’s official declared line towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to accept what the Palestinians would ultimately accept. A just conclusion of the Palestinian cause would neutralise Iran’s purported threat. Ignoring Palestine and blindly supporting Israel, as the current American administration does, feeds into Iran’s belligerent attitudes, as well as radicalises a public environment receptive to what Iran stands for.

The Yemeni war should have given the Saudis the harshest of lessons, one repeatedly taught by history: you can decide when to start a war but you can’t control when to end it. A war against Iran is a lose-lose deal with unimaginable consequences. If a fraction of the effort and resources that would be consumed in such a war had been invested in diplomacy, a peaceful grand deal with Iran that spread across the region could have been achieved. If the US can talk to North Korea and try to save that region from the dangers and devastation of nuclear war, why shouldn’t it do the same in the Middle East? 

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Khaled Hroub, Hamas: A Beginner's Guide (University of Chicago Press, 2010)

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FP April 20

Fri, 2018-04-20 05:14
Select Show on Front Page:  Show on Front Page Right Image No appetite for a deregulatory post-Brexit Britain: new findings on public attitudes Hide in waterfall:  Do not include in section waterfall ? The contradictions of post-Brexit Britain April 18, 2018. Peers in the House of Lords, London, as the Government suffers its first defeat over the EU (Withdrawal) Bill when peers voted in favour of a customs union amendment.PA/Press Association. All rights reserved. Brexit Britain: are we all haunted by collapse? The Brexit debate at home and abroad The magnificent oomph: securing a progressive Brexit How do you tell the kids that Grandma is in jail for resisting nuclear weapons? Hide in waterfall:  Do not include in section waterfall ? Life in the ashes: where now for survivors of the Rostov blaze? Hide in waterfall:  Do not include in section waterfall ? Feminist bots vs right-wing trolls: Brazil’s gender justice movements cross new frontiers Hide in waterfall:  Do not include in section waterfall ? The UK government must stop detaining LGBTQI+ people fleeing persecution Hide in waterfall:  Do not include in section waterfall ? Stop detaining LGBTQI+ people fleeing persecution Costa Rica's next President lacks a plan to tackle rising insecurity Hide in waterfall:  Do not include in section waterfall ?

The incoming head of state doesn’t have a coherent plan for tackling record levels of violence. Español

Do we have the right to financial rebellion? A conversation with Enric Duran Hide in waterfall:  Do not include in section waterfall ? Enoch Powell’s ghost and bigotry still haunt modern Britain Hide in waterfall:  Do not include in section waterfall ? Turkish mainstream media’s bad habit keeps getting worse Hide in waterfall:  Do not include in section waterfall ? I want to talk about my miscarriage Hide in waterfall:  Do not include in section waterfall ?

How do you tell the kids that Grandma is in jail for resisting nuclear weapons?

Thu, 2018-04-19 14:56

“Wait, these nuclear weapons…They are war things?” Seamus asked. “Yep, they are war things bud.” “Good for grandma.”

This article was first published in Waging Nonviolence.

The seven members of the Kings Bay Plowshares, who entered the Georgia naval base on April 4 2018 to protest nuclear weapons, white supremacy and racism. Credit: Waging Nonviolence/Kings Bay Plowshares. All rights reserved.

“Our grandma is in jail,” Madeline tells a woman wrestling a shopping cart at Target.

“She went over a war fence and tried to make peace,” Seamus adds helpfully. “They arrested her, and she is in jail now.”

“Where?” the woman asks, looking from them to me in disbelief and maybe pity.

“We don’t remember,” the kids say, suddenly done with their story and ready to make passionate pleas for the colorful items in the dollar section over the woman’s shoulder.

“Georgia,” I say, but I don’t have a lot of energy to add detail to my kids’ story. They hit all the high points.

“There’s a lot going on these days,” she says. I agree, and we move on into the store and our separate errands.

I was happy not to say more at that moment, happy to avoid a sobbing breakdown at Target, happy to wrestle one little bit of normal out of a very abnormal day.

My mom, Liz McAlister, who turned 78 in November, had been arrested deep inside the King’s Bay Naval Base in St. Mary’s, Georgia in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Along with six friends, she carried banners, statements, hammers and blood onto the base. They started their action on April 4: the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination.

Their statement made connections between nuclear weapons, white supremacy and deeply embedded racism. It is a long statement, but given that they were carrying it into a free-fire zone—where military personnel are authorized to use deadly force—there was no particular need for brevity: “We come to Kings Bay to answer the call of the prophet Isaiah (2:4) to ‘beat swords into plowshares’ by disarming the world’s deadliest nuclear weapon, the Trident submarine. We repent of the sin of white supremacy that oppresses and takes the lives of people of color here in the United States and throughout the world. We resist militarism that has employed deadly violence to enforce global domination. We believe reparations are required for stolen land, labor and lives.”

They walked onto King’s Bay Naval Station just hours after Saheed Vassell was shot and killed in a barrage of bullets by New York City police officers, just hours after hundreds of demonstrators filled the streets of Sacramento for another day, shouting “Stephon Clark, Stephon Clark, Stephon Clark” and demanding accountability after the young father of two was killed by police officers on March 18. These seven white activists know that when you are black in this country, your own corner, your grandmother’s own backyard, is a free-fire zone more dangerous than any military base.There is indeed a lot going on these days.

The statement continues: “Dr. King said, ‘The greatest purveyor of violence in the world (today) is my own government.’ This remains true in the midst of our endless war on terror. The United States has embraced a permanent war economy. ‘Peace through strength’ is a dangerous lie in a world that includes weapons of mass destruction on hair-trigger alert. The weapons from one Trident have the capacity to end life as we know it on planet Earth.”

Kings Bay is the largest nuclear submarine base in the world at about 16,000 acres. It is the home port of the U.S. Navy Atlantic Fleet’s Trident nuclear-powered submarines. There are eight in total, two guided missile submarines and six ballistic missile submarines. These submarines were all built in Groton, Connecticut—right across the river from our home in New London. Each submarine, my mom and her friends assert, carries the capacity to cause devastation equivalent to 600 of the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima, Japan.

“Nuclear weapons kill every day through our mining, production, testing, storage and dumping, primarily on indigenous native land. This weapons system is a cocked gun being held to the head of the planet. As white Catholics, we take responsibility to atone for the horrific crimes stemming from our complicity with ‘the triplets’ [of evil]. Only then can we begin to restore right relationships. We seek to bring about a world free of nuclear weapons, racism and economic exploitation.”

That is not the end; you can read the whole statement and their indictment of the United States on their Facebook group. These sorts of actions—called Plowshares— have a nearly 40-year history, since my father and uncle and six others broke into the King of Prussia plant in Pennsylvania in 198o to “beat swords into plowshares.” They struck at nosecones with hammers and marked the weapons with blood to reveal the human costs and mess and suffering the weapons are built to wreak in the world.

My father participated in five of these Plowshares actions in his lifetime and helped organize countless others. Committed conspirers, steeped in active nonviolence, have carried out more than 100 of these actions since 1980. This is my mom’s second action. She and her current co-defendant Clare Grady, were part of the 1983 Griffiss Plowshares in upstate New York.

My parents estimated that they spent 11 years of their 27-year marriage separated by prison, and it was mostly these actions that kept them apart and away from us. Countless life events in our family—birthdays, graduations, celebrations of all kinds—were stuttered by the absence of one of our parents. I say this with pain and loss, but no self-pity. Dad was able to attend my high school graduation, but not my brother’s. We went straight from my college graduation to visit my dad in jail in Maine.

I missed all the raging keggers, sweaty dance parties and tearful goodbyes that marked the end of college for my friends to sit knee-to-knee with my father in a cramped and soulless room. On chairs designed for maximum discomfort, I tried to share my momentous day and all my 22-year-old big feelings while ignoring the guards and the room crowded with a dozen others doing the same thing. We wrote thousands of letters. They often crisscrossed each other so that there was a constant weaving of story and sharing across the miles.

So, when I explained that grandma was in jail to my kids—11-year-old Rosena, 5-year-old Seamus and 4-year-old Madeline—I felt the weight of a lifetime of missing and provisional family experiences, frequently lived in prison visiting rooms and through urgently scrawled letters.

I tried to figure out a way to talk to them that would make sense and, in thinking it through, I realized that none of this should make sense to anyone! Nuclear weapons? Absurd! Police brutality and white supremacy? Senseless! Plowshares actions with their symbolic transformation and ritual mess-making? A foolhardy act of David versus Goliath proportions!

So, I didn’t try to make it make sense. I just forged ahead, grateful that they had some context: We had participated in the Good Friday Stations of the Cross organized by Catholic Worker friends at our local submarine base a few days earlier, and—the night before—we had gone to hear a dramatic reading of Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

“Hey guys, know how we went to the sub base on Friday? Grandma was arrested in a place like that late last night. She is in jail now. She and her friends broke onto the base to say that nuclear weapons are wrong. Remember how Dr. King talked about just and unjust laws?” They nodded and remembered that King said “one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” I told them that Grandma thinks that nuclear weapons—things that can destroy so much life on our planet—shouldn’t be built and protected and paid for when so many people are hungry, so many kids don’t have good schools to go to, so many people don’t have good homes. I went on and on.

“Wait, these nuclear weapons…They are war things?” Seamus asked.

“Yep, they are war things, bud.”

“Good for grandma,” he said, and that was the end of our serious conversation.

Mom and her friends are charged with misdemeanor criminal trespass and two felonies: possession of tools for the commission of a crime and interference with government property.

The kids and I didn’t talk about the kind of jail time that could mean for their grandma. It is all I am thinking about right now, but they moved on, imagining out loud and with a lot of enthusiasm how grandma got by the attack dogs and police officers they had seen at the Groton Submarine Base. They were sure there was a similar set up in Georgia. “Grandma needed a ladder and a cheetah,” said Madeline. “A cheetah is the only animal that can outrun dogs and police officer’s bullets.”

I am pretty sure no cheetahs were involved in the Kings Bay Plowshares, but I am happy my daughter sees her grandmother as a fierce and powerful anti-war activist astride a wild cat.

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Finding ‘Yo Real’: fighting machismo in Mexico City

Thu, 2018-04-19 08:34

Machismo is widespread in Mexico. One organisation takes aim at ‘negative masculinities’ with weekly group classes. Español

In a quiet street tucked away in Roma Sur, in central Mexico City, are the offices of the organisation GENDES – short for gender and development. Founded in 2009, for almost a decade it has promoted gender equality in Mexico by fighting machismo and negative masculinities.

The group has done this through research and advocacy but also by creating space for reflection and intervention. Among other things they run group classes for men based on a model from the Training Centre to Eradicate Masculine Intrafamily Violence.

Last year, I attended and observed one of these classes, called “Hombres Trabajando(se)”, which roughly translates to “Men Working on Themselves”, to produce a short film about the project for openDemocracy 50.50.

“I promise to listen and accept the opinions of my partner” and “I promise to create a healthy environment for myself and for others” are two of the 12 promises to maintain healthy relationships that the men repeat each class.

The men sit in a circle with two facilitators – Guillermo Mendoza Rivera and Rubén Guzmán López – guiding them through a series of reflection exercises designed to help them connect to their “true self” or “Yo Real”.

One man says he is 37 and that this is his second class. “My acts of violence were against my mother-in-law and my son. With my son, it was physical violence, and also verbal, with my mother-in-law it was verbal,” he says.

The men take turns introducing themselves and sharing what kind of violence – physical, sexual, emotional, financial, or verbal – they may have perpetrated that week and whether or not they practiced a “retiro” – an hour long “time-out” to anticipate and avoid violence.

The second half of the two-hour class focuses on a specific act of violence that one of the men has committed. Members of the class, led by Rubén, help the man unpack the situation and how it became violent.

Afterwards, Rubén tells me that this part of the class is like breaking down a violent act into “movie scenes.” By pressing pause at various points, the men consider how they could have acted differently.

During the class I attended, a man said he had recently hit his daughter after she ignored his instructions. It had been a tense evening: they had been waiting for a call from her mother, with whom they hadn’t talked in months.  

The men reflected and discussed how problematic social norms allow them to assume roles as punishing fathers when their children ‘disobey’ them.

Vicente Mendoza, 26, comes to GENDES every week. A friend told him about this place. He says he’s here to take responsibility for violent behaviour against his mother and his partner.

He told me: “We all exercise violence in one way or another. Identifying it, recognising it, and working on it, well, I think it makes us better people and brings about a better society. It is important that, as men, we work on this, especially in Mexican society where machismo is entrenched from the cradle.”

Mauro Vargas Uría, one of the founders of GENDES, told me it’s unjust that women face barriers in Mexico because of a certain masculine frame of mind – machismo. He said the goal is to eradicate this and all “violent behaviours and actions against women.”

I asked Mendoza to define machismo. He called it “a veil that blinds us...that gives [men] super powers, which do not actually exist and that – on the contrary of being super powers – are negative and they have a strong impact.”

“Far from being constructive,” he said, this can “ruin the lives of other people.” He told me: “That is what machismo does, it puts you in a position of power or authority...it doesn’t matter what happens in the lives of other people, you don’t care, and it has an impact on the other person.”

Mendoza said being a man in Mexico means privilege but also responsibilities “not to cry, not to express your feelings, and to be the provider,” he said. “These responsibilities that lead you to limit yourself in the exercise of being and make you hard and cold to another person.”

Rubén has been a facilitator at GENDES since the group’s first classes. He says that fighting machismo “is a process that lasts your whole life” and that men must be “constantly analysing our acts of violence.”

“The culture that we have is very strong,” he told me, of what they’re up against. “Violence is everywhere, in the media, in religion, in schools, at work, basically everywhere, it is very naturalised.”

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Democracy gone digital

Thu, 2018-04-19 08:17

To the extent that they overcome the traditional tyranny of space and time, digital platforms are tools for democratizing participation. But their impact on citizen involvement varies considerably. Español, Português

 

Source: Pixabay, Public Domain.

This piece is an excerpt from an original article published as part of the eBook El ecosistema de la Democracia Abierta series, which can be found here.

Digital platforms are generating a societal impact regardless of whether topics of discussion are of production and consumption, political parties or social movements, public administration, trade unions, universities or mass media, seeing as their intergenerational and transcendental characteristics provoke an effect which creates a significant impact on society. 

Accordingly, online platforms have also transformed cooperativism and the collective digital space, as the very DNA of these types of initiatives are open code, innovation and public goods.

Examples such as Fairmondo, a virtual market similar to Amazon of German origin that is a digital cooperative owned by its own users who are also its shareholders, stand out.

Additionally, ‘Teixidora’, a digital democratic platform that collaboratively organises shared knowledge, generated in different spaces in conference, meeting, workshop formats related to technopolitics, also stands out.

This provides evidence of how these types of initiatives, originating from civil society, allow for an opening up to endless possibilities that from a technological dimension, are generating new key concepts that help us understand current processes of evolution, transformation and growth of societies.

However, the real impact of digital platforms on social and economic life is still being studied, as is the relationship between users and owners, who should govern data generated by these platforms, and the ends for which this information is used. 

In this way, we see how power relations in the age of society on the net are redefined and altered. A society in which the technological dimension becomes an inevitable and essential development, especially when the matter is of democracy.

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Feminist bots vs right-wing trolls: Brazil’s gender justice movements cross new frontiers

Thu, 2018-04-19 07:50

Abortion has long been criminalised in Brazil. It is an issue that many have all but given up on – except for feminist movements.

Abortion rights protest in Sao Paulo, December 2016. Photo: NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.The battle over the criminalisation of abortion is revealing of the overall political scenario in Brazil. Criminalising and controlling issues of gender and sexuality is the moral foundation of a growing right-wing ideology that is driving the country’s political development. Now, with a political system weakened by corruption and collusion, the battle for abortion is playing out on the internet through individuals, movements, and even web robots (also known as ‘bots’).

In Brazil today, political institutions have been weakened to their most vulnerable since the military dictatorship ended 30 years ago. Women make up less than 10% of elected representatives, placing Brazil amongst the worst in the world for gender equality in politics.

The country’s first and only female president, Dilma Rousseff, was deposed by a 2016 political coup which showed the system’s pervasive and severe sexism. Her predecessor, and the frontrunner for October 2018’s presidential elections, Luiz (Lula) Inácio Da Silva, is currently on trial for corruption. Almost 46% of the population believe that this is an unfair trial by the media and judiciary.

At the same time, targeted gender-based violence is rising. Marielle Franco, a black, lesbian city councilwoman from a favela in Rio de Janeiro, was assassinated on 14 March. Her murder has caused outrage in Brazil and beyond. Her openly feminist, black and favela-centered politics were a source of hope for marginalised groups in Rio de Janeiro, currently governed by a conservative city government and an evangelical mayor.  

Mural of Marielle Franco. Photo: Aloisio Mauricio/Fotoarena/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.Lack of access to information plays a big role in the weakness of democracy in Brazil. Eleven families control mainstream channels of communication. Civil society organisations point to insufficient information on human rights and basic political mechanisms, especially for the most marginalised groups and communities. The majority of people receive their information from television, which is dominated by O Globo, widely seen as biased, particularly in its coverage of Rousseff’s trial and impeachment.

Lack of access to information plays a big role in the weakness of democracy in Brazil.

The internet has become a main battleground for information and civic dialogue on politics. Brazil is the largest user of social media in the world after the United States. Lengthy, passionate, even violent discussions about politics on Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp are not uncommon. In this little understood but widely-used new frontier, citizens are staking political claims amid a general perception of the uselessness of formal political participation.

Online hate speech and gender-based violence are on the rise. ‘Trolling’ – systematically attacking individuals or ideas on the internet – has increased. A 2016 study showed that 84% of comments on social media platforms that addressed politics, women, race and LGBTQ people were negative. Of nearly 50,000 comments related to gender inequality, 88% showed intolerance.

Movimento Brasil Livre (MBL – Movement for a Free Brazil) is one of the most prominent right-wing movements to have emerged. It has organised enormous protests, events, and campaigns for Rousseff’s impeachment, ahead of and during her trial, as well as for a “corruption-free” Brazil.

MBL has made feminism an enemy of their public, labelling it ‘hate speech’ and publishing posts on Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube attacking feminist analyses, such as those on gender wage gaps, as ‘myths.’

A number of fake profiles and bots have been set up to spread hateful messages. This has led to consistent condemnations and removals of feminist Facebook pages, Instagram handles, and profiles.

This backlash is not restricted to Brazilian public figures; when Judith Butler, a well-known and well-regarded scholar on sexuality issues, and author of the term ‘queer,’ arrived in Brazil last year to speak at a conference, she was harassed and almost physically attacked by right-wing Brazilians.

Judith Butler and supporters in Sao Paulo, where conservative groups staged protests against her talk in 2017. Photo: Paulo Lopes/Zuma Press/PA Images. All rights reserved.As in other parts of the world, for at least the last decade, an increasingly successful right-wing tactic in Brazilian politics has been to mobilise people around patriarchal, heteronormative ideas of the family, and to refer to gender as ‘gender ideology’. This is a longer-term, more insidious strategy than simply waging war directly on feminist movements.

An increasingly successful right-wing tactic in Brazilian politics has been to mobilise people around patriarchal, heteronormative ideas of the family, and to refer to gender as ‘gender ideology.’

Arguing that ‘gender ideology’ is false and damaging, politicians have explicitly prohibited the word ‘gender’ to even appear in school curriculums.

‘Escola Sem Partida’ (School Without Party), a self-described “educational freedom movement,” works to prevent any mention of gender and sexuality in schools. While homosexual marriage is legal in Brazil, a recently-passed Statute of the Family defines the ‘family’ exclusively as the union of a heterosexual man, woman, and their children.

A united 'Evangelical Front' of fundamentalist politicians strategically attacks liberty of gender and sexual expression. Outside of organised politics, this has also impacted the realm of arts and culture. An exhibit called ‘Queermuseu’ was attacked and shut down in São Paulo in 2017 amid conservative protests and accusations of pedophilia. It was curated by and featured queer artists who openly talked about bodies, pleasure, and sexuality.

Meanwhile, over the past three years, feminist movements have come out of the political sidelines in leftist social movements and gained new force and energy.

International Women's Day protest, 2017. Photo: NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.The ‘Feminist Spring’ of November-December 2015 accused Eduardo Cunha, then head of Brazil’s lower house of Congress, of authoring and pushing forward a draft law that would criminalise abortion in cases of rape. It would make emergency contraception illegal, and even prohibit doctors from informing their patients that abortion is a legal option in Brazil in certain situations.

Feminist movements mobilised hundreds of thousands of Brazilians to storm the streets in dozens of cities. The draft law was tossed out, and continued feminist-led protests against Cunha throughout 2016 contributed to popular pressure against him, leading to his own trial and expulsion from political office.

Over the past three years, feminist movements have come out of the political sidelines in leftist social movements and gained new force and energy.

Cunha’s intentions are still alive and well in his political allies, however. They form a majority in Congress and have since authored far worse laws, programs, and constitutional amendments.

PEC 181 is a current example. This proposed constitutional amendment was originally drafted to provide additional maternity leave and support for women who give birth prematurely, but it also potentially criminalises abortion in any and all circumstances, with a clause that states: “Life begins at conception.”

Although feminist movements have worked to spread knowledge about this ‘hidden clause,’ including through popular mobilisations in more than 20 cities, journal articles and online activism, PEC 181 remains on the table. Known to some as the ‘Trojan horse bill’ for its widespread appeal even to Brazilians who are sympathetic to women’s rights, its hidden clause could undo the little progress that has been made on reproductive rights in Brazil.

Voting on the amendment has been repeatedly suspended for the past three years, as a result of protests. On 22 March, a special commission in the lower house of Congress voted once again to suspend voting on the amendment, though it has not been definitively shelved despite federal deputies pointing out that the contentious clause directly violates the country’s constitution.

National media outlets have barely covered PEC 181, protests to the proposed amendment, and its potential repercussions.

PEC 181 could undo the little progress that has been made on reproductive rights in Brazil.

A number of other bills and proposed constitutional amendments threatening women’s sexual and reproductive rights have also been in the works in Congress. The National Front for the Legalisation of Abortion (Frente Nacional Pela Legalização do Aborto) launched a call to action about these attacks in August 2017, which more than 90 feminist groups across Brazil signed and shared in their networks.

Around the same time, young feminists organised the first edition of Virada Feminista, a 24-hour online event featuring live-streamed discussions by feminists to challenge stigma around abortion and spread facts and information. Virada Feminista has since grown into a significant movement, coordinated by Jéssica Ipolito and Thaís Campolino, highlighting online activism that visibilises different feminist issues, particularly sexual and reproductive rights.

Protesters against PEC 181, November 2017. Photo: NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.Perhaps the most creative and innovative response to PEC 181 and other recent threats to women’s reproductive rights is Beta – a feminist robot on Facebook created by the Nossas national network of citizens’ rights organisations.

Before Beta was even formally launched, she organically accumulated 10,000 likes through word of mouth and peer recommendations. Beta works through the Facebook inbox function, and informs those who agree to receive her updates of different legislative or policy drafts that can threaten women’s rights.

“Beta was important when PEC 181 became a political issue on the table, exactly because she is capable of rapidly and practically mobilising women across Brazil: either through chatting with them or alerting them with notifications," said Laura Molinari, advocacy coordinator at Nossas.

"Women were notified that PEC 181 would be voted upon and that they needed to get into action. Since they didn’t need to leave their Facebook inboxes in order to directly send emails to authorities pressuring them to vote against PEC 181, engagement was very high,” Molinari added.

Beta will make sure that Brazilians have access to information about how this and other bills that threaten women’s rights progress through Congress.

Presidential elections are expected in October 2018. The left’s frontrunner da Silva may, or may not, make it past the primaries – depending on whether he can stay out of jail. Even Brazil’s supreme court is affected by political collusion; every member voted for da Silva’s condemnation, though there is a strong argument that the evidence presented against him was insufficient.

Da Silva and Rousseff, January 2018. Photo: Li Ming/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images. All rights reserved.2018 may be the year where the internet is more important than ever before for elections in Brazil, just as 2016 was for the United States, not least because this will be the first time in Brazil’s history when sponsored advertisements by presidential candidates on the internet are allowed.

2018 may be the year where the internet is more important than ever before for elections in Brazil.

In order to combat the stacked odds against them, feminist movements will have to continue to be creative about the ways in which they communicate and use the internet.

Digital tools for mobilisation are crucial, but offline tactics and strategies are still necessary and effective, as seen by the latest developments in Argentina that have initiated political dialogue around the legalisation of abortion despite that country’s right-wing and staunchly anti-abortion president.

Feminist movements and allies will need to actively address gender-based violence and ‘gender ideology’ believers who spread sensationalism, fake news, and hate online, as did supporters of Marielle Franco, who successfully denounced ‘Cetismo Político,’ a right-wing site that spread false stories about Franco after she was murdered.

Lawyers in Brazil have also organised online, asking those who see hate speech, fake information and calumnious statements about Franco to take screenshots that could be used to press charges against the culprits.

Clearly, ideological battles no longer play out only at election booths, but also over the internet. This will shape our future – both in the immediate and in the long-term.

* This is a lightly edited version of an article that was first published by the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID). Read the original post on their website.

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No appetite for a deregulatory post-Brexit Britain: new findings on public attitudes

Thu, 2018-04-19 07:42

The transformation of the aims of Brexit emerged during the early days of the referendum campaign, when the cross-party campaign for leave realised where the route to broad-based success lay.

April 18, 2018. Peers in the House of Lords, London, as the Government suffers its first defeat over the EU (Withdrawal) Bill when peers voted in favour of a customs union amendment.PA/Press Association. All rights reserved.In January 2013, Prime Minister David Cameron made a long-awaited speech at the Bloomberg offices on the UK’s future in the European Union. Cameron’s pitch that day was clear: the EU needed to adapt to the modern age; it needed to become more competitive and less bureaucratic; and it needed to embrace global trade.

As he argued for an in-out referendum, setting in train the series of events leading to the UK’s impending withdrawal, he claimed that Euroscepticism was rooted in a feeling that the EU had turned out very differently to the institution the UK public had originally voted for in 1975.

The EU had become increasingly bloated, inefficient, and meddlesome – the public wanted a return to a “common market” free of unnecessary rules and regulations. The single market, he exhorted, was incomplete; more had to be done to break down barriers in services, energy, and digital. At the same time, he railed against “complex rules restricting our labour markets” and “excessive regulation” holding businesses back and called for small firms to be exempted from more EU directives. He didn’t once mention immigration.

May’s implausible reversal

Five years later, Prime Minister Theresa May gave a rather different speech in London as the UK prepared for EU withdrawal. Rather than expounding the single market’s advantages, she argued that the UK would have to leave it, because to do otherwise would mean continued free movement. Rather than calling for deeper links in services, she acknowledged that trade post-Brexit would be less free. And rather than embracing deregulation, she said that UK and EU regulatory standards would remain “substantially similar” in future.

This lays bare the bizarre reversal of the political economy of Brexit. A movement that began in essence as a means of casting off EU regulations while retaining economic links has morphed into a government agenda resolved to cutting trade ties while keeping – even strengthening – those very regulations that Eurosceptics once so derided.

The reasons for this about-turn are complex. On one level, the Eurosceptics’ original plan for delivering Brexit was never a plausible one: it is not possible to retain the advantages of the “common market” while at the same time jettisoning the rules and regulations that bind it together.

For the other member states, the EU’s employment, environmental and consumer legislation are not superfluous appendages to the single market but core pillars that allow member states to compete on a level playing field. This perspective could therefore never have survived collision with the reality of the Brexit negotiations.

No deregulatory appetite

But more fundamentally than this, the transformation of the aims and principles of Brexit emerged during the early days of the referendum campaign itself. Before 2015, Eurosceptics regularly referred to the Working Time Directive – or more broadly to social and employment legislation – in their fulminations on the perils of EU bureaucracy. But as the cross-party campaign for leave was formed in the run-up to the referendum, it realised that the route to success lay in a broad-based message that dutifully avoided many leavers’ libertarian instincts, and that sought to allay concerns of post-Brexit disaster. Claims that EU withdrawal would enable the UK to strip away worker and consumer rights were now confidently dismissed as another hyperbolic strategy of “Project Fear”. The root cause of this shift was simply that there was – and indeed still is – no public appetite for a deregulatory agenda.

The root cause of this shift was simply that there was – and indeed still is – no public appetite for a deregulatory agenda. Our own polling with Opinium has found widespread public support for some of the most controversial EU-derived employment, environmental and financial legislation. The Working Time Directive – the prime example Cameron gave in his Bloomberg speech of interfering EU legislation – is either supported or considered insufficient by 73 per cent of the public.

Renewable energy targets – another bugbear of earlier Eurosceptics – are endorsed or considered too low by 74 per cent. And the bankers’ bonuses cap – opposed at the time of its introduction by the coalition government – is found either adequate or too generous by 79 per cent, with a majority backing tighter rules.

Even when traded off against a US trade deal, more than 80 per cent of the public are opposed to lowering food safety standards. When confronted with this wall of public opinion, it is no surprise that leave campaigners adapted their position as the referendum date neared.

The protective state

In the aftermath of the referendum, the narrative of protecting EU regulatory standards gathered increased force with Theresa May’s arrival in Downing Street.

Under Cameron, the drive for deregulation was not confined to the EU debate: the coalition introduced a range of domestic initiatives aimed at reducing regulations for businesses, from the ‘Red Tape Challenge’, targeted at identifying 3000 regulations to be amended or scrapped, to the ‘one in, two out’ rule, which ensured that, for any new regulation, departments would have to make savings equivalent to double the cost of the new rule by removing or modifying previous regulations. Under May – and particularly in light of the Grenfell Tower tragedy – the cutting red tape agenda was quietly shelved in favour of embracing an openly interventionist role for the state.

But under May – and particularly in light of the Grenfell Tower tragedy – the cutting red tape agenda was quietly shelved in favour of embracing an openly interventionist role for the state. Indeed, May’s approach in part came out of the EU referendum vote: she (rightly) interpreted the result as a call for a larger, more protective state, rather than a smaller, more liberal one.

In this context, the government’s commitment to maintaining employment, consumer and environmental standards post-Brexit is a natural extension of its domestic programme.

Doing things differently in some unspecified way

What this ideological transformation means for the forthcoming negotiations on the UK-EU future partnership is unclear. The debate until now has been between those who want a model of close alignment with the EU post-Brexit and those who want the maximum flexibility to diverge once we leave.

But the political fluctuations over the past five years have rendered the question of divergence devoid of any substantive meaning. If divergence is about deregulation, then this flies in the face of public opinion and, indeed, much of the current Cabinet. It would be interpreted by many as a betrayal of those leave voters who were in large part fundamentally opposed to a shrinking of the state and unaware that their vote could be interpreted as such.

But if divergence is about strengthening regulations and expanding the role of the state, then it is largely pointless, since in most cases the EU sets minimum standards for harmonisation and does not restrict, for instance, stronger working time rules (see France) or tighter caps on bankers’ bonuses (see the Netherlands). Even EU state aid rules are largely compatible with an active industrial policy and the nationalisation of strategic industries. Even EU state aid rules are largely compatible with an active industrial policy and the nationalisation of strategic industries.

Divergence therefore comes down to a matter of ‘doing things differently’ in some unspecified way. Yet such a move would almost certainly face widespread opposition from business – who, all things being equal, find it easier to work with similar cross-border regulations rather than different ones. Divorced of a ‘cutting red tape’ agenda, divergence would therefore do little other than frustrate the very people it was originally designed to help.

We can leave the EU, but not Europe…

As a result, the shift in the underlying ideology of Brexit strengthens the case for a high-alignment relationship between the UK and the EU. Indeed, the European Council guidelines require a ‘level playing field’ – including aligned rules on tax, state aid, and social, environmental and regulatory measures – even for a limited UK-EU FTA.

This means that even a future partnership that prioritises divergence would still require considerable alignment in practice – hence the UK’s concerns about a deal that offers “the rights of Canada and the obligations of Norway”. On the other hand, a high-alignment model – along the lines of IPPR’s ‘Shared Market’ proposal – would ensure closely aligned regulations alongside a concomitant level of access.

An agreement of this type would help to guarantee the high level of access we need while acknowledging UK and EU regulations will remain closely aligned in future.

Given the weak political case for divergence, and given the EU’s geographical proximity and importance as a trading partner, the alternative would simply be unilateral alignment without a corresponding right of market access.

As David Cameron said in his Bloomberg speech, “if we leave the EU, we cannot of course leave Europe. It will remain for many years our biggest market, and forever our geographical neighbourhood.” This part of the speech, at least, has stood the test of time.

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IPPR's latest briefing on Brexit: ‘Have your cake or eat it? New findings on public attitudes to Brexit' explores public attitudes to a series of trade-offs on post-Brexit trade policy, following on from our earlier briefing on attitudes to EU-derived regulations.

See also IPPR's ‘Shared Market’ proposal, published in December, setting out proposals for a future partnership between the UK and the EU.

Country or region:  UK EU Topics:  Democracy and government Economics International politics Rights:  CC by NC 4.0

FP April 19

Thu, 2018-04-19 06:21
Select Show on Front Page:  Show on Front Page Right Image How women in the Balkans are using social media to fight sexism Hide in waterfall:  Do not include in section waterfall ? Facebook logos on a computer screen. Photo: NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved. Young women mobilise against ‘revenge porn’ and online abuse Combating online abuse with the principles of nonviolent resistance Coitus and conversation: the digital realm is taking sex to new levels After the Syria raid, what next? Hide in waterfall:  Do not include in section waterfall ? Who is the winner in post-ISIS Syria? Hide in waterfall:  Do not include in section waterfall ? Why the problem is economics, not economists Hide in waterfall:  Do not include in section waterfall ? Gassing and selective applications of a ‘Red Line’: lest we forget Hide in waterfall:  Do not include in section waterfall ? Gassing and selective applications of a ‘Red Line’ Changing the conversation on labour migration in Southeast Asia Hide in waterfall:  Do not include in section waterfall ?

Interrogating assumptions about which factors lead to better outcomes for migrant workers.

The ‘Europeanization’ of schooling: what is a European education? Hide in waterfall:  Do not include in section waterfall ? “Motivated by justice”: defending the world’s courageous people Hide in waterfall:  Do not include in section waterfall ? Kyrgyzstan’s indispensable women are undervalued Hide in waterfall:  Do not include in section waterfall ? The ‘refugee crisis’ in the Mediterranean: the role of EU states, civil society and art Hide in waterfall:  Do not include in section waterfall ?

Costa Rica's next President lacks a plan to tackle rising insecurity

Thu, 2018-04-19 06:09

Voters in Costa Rica just chose their next president, but the incoming head of state doesn’t seem to have a coherent plan for tackling record levels of violence in the country related to its growing role in the regional drug trade. Español

Carlos Alvarado, president-elect of Costa Rica 2018-2020. Source: Wikicommons. All rights reserved.

Carlos Alvarado Quesada of the center-left Citizens’ Action Party (Partido Acción Ciudadana – PAC) was elected as Costa Rica’s next president on April 1, beating out conservative candidate Fabricio Alvarado Muñoz with just over 60 percent of the vote.

Despite the fact that Costa Rica saw its most homicidal year on record in 2017, rising insecurity took a back seat to other issues during the campaign.

Candidates focused more on social and economic matters, including the rights of LGBT people, the country’s national debt and a wide-ranging corruption case involving Costa Rica’s cement sector.

InSight Crime Analysis

Despite clear signs of rising insecurity in Costa Ricarelated to the country’s growing role in the international drug trade, President-elect Alvarado has failed to put forth a clear plan for turning back the tide of increasing violence and criminality.

Officials in Costa Rica are well aware that organized crime-related violence is on the rise.

An estimated 25 percent of homicides in 2017 were linked to the drug trade, according to authorities.

According to a September 2017 government report, organized crime is “driving the rise” in homicides in the country. An estimated 25 percent of homicides in 2017 were linked to the drug trade, according to authorities.

But despite this recognition, President-elect Alvarado’s rhetoric on security policy thus far has been vague and inconsistent.

Indeed, Alvarado has proposed enhancing the infrastructure and training of the national police and strengthening citizen security programs as part of preventative efforts designed to combat crime.

Improved police training is essential in light of a questionable move by the government last year to reduce training requirements in order to rapidly put more cops on the street. But Alvarado’s proposal lacks any specifics regarding what these improvements might look like and how they will address some of the root causes driving violence in Costa Rica.

The president-elect has addressed the access to firearms as one root cause of rising violence 

Alvarado’s proposals for attacking organized crime also lack clarity. The president-elect has addressed one root cause of rising violence — access to firearms — by calling for stricter gun control and establishing a gun registry to better trace weapons.

But Latin America is awash with illegal guns used by criminal groups, and it’s unlikely that a registry alone can get them out of the hands of criminals.

Alvarado has also proposed an asset forfeiture law in Costa Rica, a controversial tool used by authorities throughout the region to go after the finances of criminal groups. However, little evidence suggests that such a policy would do much to roll back deepening insecurity, particularly in the short term.

Moreover, Alvarado’s Citizens’ Action Party doesn’t even have specific sections on crime and security outlined in their platform. It remains to be seen whether the new government will outline more concrete policy proposals regarding insecurity in Costa Rica, which has already set a new record for homicides throughout the first three months of 2018.

 

This article was previously published by Insight Crime. You can read the original here

 

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Enoch Powell’s ghost and bigotry still haunt modern Britain

Thu, 2018-04-19 04:20

We are better than Enoch Powell – but, as recent events show, not by as much as we think.

Image: Enoch Powell, Allan Warren/Wikimedia, Creative Commons.

To mark its 50th anniversary, on Saturday the BBC controversially broadcast Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in full for the first time, recreated by actor Ian McDiarmid.

Powell, then Tory MP for Wolverhampton South West and Shadow Secretary of Defence, argued the case that immigration from the Commonwealth was irreversibly changing Britain for the worse. His speech took place only days after Martin Luther King had been assassinated.

So what of the BBC programme, Archive on Four, itself? It included numerous critical voices. But it opened with presenter (and BBC Media Editor) Amol Rajan describing Powell as a ‘titan’ - and one of the great post-war politicians in Britain, alongside Clement Attlee, Roy Jenkins and Margaret Thatcher. Powell’s official biographer Simon Heffer then called him ‘a great national statesman.’

Labour MP David Lammy, referring to Powell’s incendiary prediction that “the black man will have the whip hand”, said the language was that of “slavery reversed”. Former Tory MP Matthew Parris thought that the speech was “intemperate” and filled with “evident racism”. Former Labour MP Peter Hain observed that the continual use of ‘classical language’ (the speech notoriously ended with Powell invoking Virgil, ‘Aeneid’ and the destruction of Rome with the river Tiber “foaming with much blood”) gave “a cloak of legitimacy” to racism. Simon Heffer did try to make the pro-Powell argument that he was “not making a racist speech”, but all the evidence wise suggested this is exactly what it was – a racist speech, filled with hate and a lack of the most basic humanity for the people he was describing as the problem.

Much that was important was left unsaid. One such area was the extent to which Powell’s othering of fellow British citizens and racial paranoia had a distinctively English dimension. This seemed one of the great questions left untouched in the programme. Was Powell tapping into and articulating a very English story and one which had deep roots in the English imagination, a yearning not only for the return of the nation, but for Empire and imperialism. After all, Powell was questioning US intentions, as well as European ones.

This terrain and Powell’s pursuit of dogmatic logic led him into blind corners – in 1970 he argued that West Indians and Asians could not be English, saying “The West Indian or Asian does not, by being born in England, become an Englishman.” This is even more of a race barrier than Norman Tebbit’s cricket text of Englishness. It’s explicitly about whiteness and undoubtedly a racist argument.

One defence of Powell at the time was that the views he expressed had popular resonance, with 1,000 dockers marching on Parliament and 20,000 letters received within days. Reality pointed to a more complex situation. A ‘Panorama’ survey in 1968 of ‘white voters’ found 82% wanted further controls on immigration; 74% agreed with voluntary repatriation but only 35% thought repatriation should be compulsory; and 55% thought that Powell has worsened race relations.

50 years on, Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ future has not materialized in Britain, and his deep racial and cultural pessimism has been shown to be wrong. For all the divisions and injustices of contemporary Britain, we are much more at ease with race, ethnicity and multi-culturalism than his apocalyptic vision foretold. A contemporary survey for British Future found 91% of people felt comfortable if their work colleagues were of a different race, and 81% felt comfortable if a boyfriend/girlfriend of one of their children was of a different race and 19% uncomfortable. The highest ‘Powellite’ figure was the 21% uncomfortable with the idea of a UK Prime Minister of a different race, with 79% comfortable.

Where Powell was a political pioneer was in what became known as Thatcherism. Margaret Thatcher often acknowledged the debt and influence she owed to Powell as an intellectual, and his role in creating some of the wider climate which allowed her ideas to take root and revolution to succeed. Thatcherism in many respects was Powellism minus the incendiary language and obsession with race.

Then there’s his most notable legacy: Brexit. Powell’s worldview was of an United Kingdom self-governing, expressing the maximum possible national sovereignty, and divorced from the EU. In this Powell was the father of the Eurosceptic tradition that has produced Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, Daniel Hannan, Nigel Farage and others, who have articulated a fraudulent, mythical and unachievable interpretation of sovereignty. What the likes of Farage have done, more effectively than Powell, is to effectively marry together the two parts of the message: sovereignty and paranoid anxieties about immigration, as exemplified by the slogan ‘Taking Back Control’ and the ‘Breaking Point’ poster. Brexit supporters have sadly succeeded in their championing of a simplistic binary identity - either/or, British or European - with long lasting detrimental consequences.

It says much about contemporary Britain’s tensions and pressure points that the broadcast of the Powell speech caused such a furore. Andrew Adonis, Labour peer, even went as far as to state that Ofcom should intervene and instruct the BBC not to broadcast the speech on the grounds that it is ‘incendiary and racist’. Even if the programme were to be as Adonis described, would anyone really want to live in a country where the BBC could be told what to and what not to broadcast by a regulator?

The weeks leading up to the anniversary of the Powell speech have also illustrated the strength of reactionary, exclusionary Britain. A national scandal has exploded about Home Office intentions to deport people who have lived decades in this country. These are people who have lived two to three generations in the UK, and whose only ‘failing’ is that they are the Windrush immigrants who came to the UK from Caribbean from 1948 onward and were subsequently given an automatic permanent right to remain. Now the Home Office has decided that people who have contributed all their adult working lives to the UK are not ‘British’.

This has brought outrage from many people including twelve Caribbean Commonwealth High Commissioners who signed a joint statement of protest, asked for a meeting with Downing Street, and who were publically refused until it was politically too costly to resist. Who would have thought modern Britain and its government could stoop so low? Would Powell have objected to this amorality or embraced it as the logical consequence of his racial obsessions and lack of humanity? I think anyone being honest can work out where Powell’s argument would take him.

Some of the rage against the BBC over its decision to profile this speech was misplaced, but there is a strange thinking in giving such airtime to one infamous speech which turned out to be so wrong and to give it a special status which other more influential speeches haven’t been awarded. Political speeches such as Nye Bevan on Labour setting up the NHS in 1948, Harold Wilson and ‘the white heat of the scientific revolution’ and ‘the new Britain’ of 1963, or Margaret Thatcher and her ‘the lady’s not for turning’ speech of 1981, are all if not more noteworthy, certainly more influential and succeeded in remaking the political mood.

The Britain portrayed by Powell in his ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech never came about or even near, but the debate about its anniversary and the ‘Archive on 4’ programme, tells us that something is amiss which should concern us all. We have lost the ability to argue, debate and define the limits of permissible debate, with different sides trying to delegitimise political opponents: take the example of the heat both the BBC and Channel 4 News (and presenter Cathy Newman) faced over giving a platform to Canadian controversialist Jordan Peterson (as well as the sexist abuse Newman faced for daring to challenge Peterson).

While we like to think we have matured and are more attuned to sensitive language than the Britain of 1968, we still live in a culture which tolerates and excuses racism. In Powell’s infamous speech he shamefully described black children in Wolverhampton as “wide-grinning piccaninnies”. But the current UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has also spoken of “flag-waving piccaninnies with watermelon smiles” – yet he is still defended by his supporters. On BBC Question Time last Thursday, UK Government minister Jo Johnson (brother to Boris) said, in response to being challenged by The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland about these remarks of Boris’s, replied that his brother “does not have a racist bone in his body”. Such is the way we all to this day are diminished by apologies for racism.

Powell’s speech still touches difficult issues. We have changed - but not as much as some like to imagine. We still live in the shadow of Powell’s racism and lack of humanity and still have to grow up and learn how to deal with difference and race. This feels like an uncomfortable and pessimistic truth. We are better than Enoch Powell, but not by as much as we think.

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Why the problem is economics, not economists

Thu, 2018-04-19 03:52

To avoid hitting an intellectual dead end, economics must embrace a wider diversity of views and focus less on the derivation of abstract models. 

In his excellent book ‘Economics Rules’, Dani Rodrik outlined what he saw as “the rights and wrongs of the dismal science”. One of his key refrains was that the problem was “economists, not economics”: that is, some economists mistook their models for the real world and applied them inappropriately, abusing a potentially useful set of tools. All too often the consequence was ideology masquerading as science, resulting in economic failures such as quantity-targeting monetarism in the 1980s; the 1990s Russian privatisation; and recently the 2008 financial crisis. According to Rodrik, good economics is about making sure you have picked the right model for the right job, basing your decision on sound theory and evidence. Any economist worth their salt should be pragmatic, not dogmatic. Rodrik is not wrong that there are some economists who are prone to misusing their models, in some cases to an alarming degree. Neither is he wrong about what good economics should entail: intellectual flexibility and a grasp of a wide range of tools for understanding the economy. Despite this, I cannot agree with the general idea that the framework of economics is not the problem with the discipline, and that if this framework were only taught and practiced better many of the discipline’s problems would be overcome. In fact, I believe modern economics is characterised by the exact opposite problem: reliance on a single framework is hamstringing the research of capable, conscientious and (to a degree) critical economists. In other words, the problem is economics, not economists. The bad economics Rodrik highlights should be resisted for sure, but it largely a vestige of the past and does not represent the current direction of the discipline. This is what causes researchers who better represent contemporary economics to become exasperated in response to the myriad of articles criticising the discipline as if it consists solely of free-market ideologues who cling to models of perfect markets. Two Manchester colleagues of mine, Rachel Griffiths and Diane Coyle, have been involved in this debate recently, and the hashtag #whateconomistsreallydo illustrates the frustration and perplexity many of these researchers share at criticisms of the discipline. In a recent article for Prospect Magazine, Coyle counters a critique by Howard Reed by rattling off several contemporary examples where she believes economists are doing relevant, empirical work that has nothing to do with incubating financial crashes. Among these are papers looking at the benefits of railroads in 19th century India; the effect of modern technological change on jobs; and the effect of sugar taxes on obesity rates in the UK. These examples should be enough to convince people that a lot of modern economic research is going in the right direction. But in my opinion the issue is not so much what economists do as how they do it. Critical thinking exists within the discipline but this criticism remains solely within the bounds of the mainstream. For a long time now ‘economics’ has been synonymous with a specific methodology, the use of which is considered interesting in itself regardless of whether it uncovers anything new.

Relevant, interesting – and unnecessary

At the Royal Economic Society (RES) conference this year, Botond Koszegi gave one of the keynote lectures, ‘A Pro-Market Case for Regulation’. Koszegi is a prominent researcher in prospect theory – which happens to be where my research interests lie – and along with his co-author Matthew Rabin is a likely candidate for a future Nobel Prize. The nub of his presentation was a model in which consumers, due to cognitive limitations, were unable to fully examine every single product they purchased. The result was that regulations guaranteeing a certain standard of safety, quality and the like could improve competition by giving people more time to shop around instead of having to devote so much time to investigate specific products. Thus, regulation would improve markets and competition. I cannot fault Koszegi’s presentation, which was lucid and engaging. I also cannot fault his technical skills, which certainly surpass mine (a low bar, admittedly). I cannot fault the subject matter of his presentation, which was relevant and interesting. Nor can I fault the certain kind of creativity required to put these insights into an economic model. But then, that’s just it: to get an audience among economists, these insights had to be put into an economic model. Incorporating ideas into these frameworks is a necessary condition for their acceptance, something which stifles the production of knowledge. Like them or not, the points highlighted by Koszegi were not especially novel. Koszegi himself argued that his framework rationalised existing policy by UK, EU and US regulators, rather than proposing a bold new direction. A quick search uncovered a 2011 UK government document on regulation – produced a good while before Koszegi’s research – which stated that “If consumers do not have sufficient information, or find it difficult to make informed decisions, firms face less competitive pressure”. Institutional economists such as Jamie Galbraith have claimed for a long time that markets function best when “the product is what it claims to be, and that it will function as it is supposed to do. This is what a strong system of regulation provides”. Clearly, we did not need a complicated theoretical model to make this point. The dynamic of using standard economic methods to say something which is in some sense already known is quite common. One largely glowing article about last year’s RES conference published in the Independent came close to realising this when it said that “there is one [paper] that shows that married women are tidier than married men and do more housework after they get married. I think many people will be unsurprised by that, but it is good to have it established.” I can’t help but feel that this point was “established” long before economists turned their gaze toward it, and despair at the wasted intellectual capital from “establishing” it when there are far more pressing questions in the world. As the old saying goes, “if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. Economists have two main hammers: choice models and variants thereof form the basis of most theoretical models (I include behavioural economics in this, which still uses the utility maximising framework). Linear regression is economists’ preferred empirical technique (again, commonly used variants such as panel methods or instrumental variables are still fundamentally linear). Research incentives typically mean adhering to at least one of these two techniques, despite the plethora of other techniques available. The aforementioned ‘institutional’ school of economics might prefer a theoretical lens which looks at social and legal structures over individual choice, and an empirical method which focuses on qualitative details over statistical techniques. This is just one of the many alternative methods available to economists. Mainstream economic papers often deal with what seem like exciting questions, but give ultimately disappointing answers because they follow the same old methods. I cannot count the number of times I’ve been lured into an economics presentation by a promising title only to be frustrated with the actual content. At Manchester last year there was a presentation with the scintillating title “Networks in Conflict: Theory and Evidence from the Great War of Africa”, which I enthusiastically attended. Many others clearly felt the same since the room was completely packed out, including undergraduates (who don’t usually go to these seminars). But as the presentation began it became apparent that they were going to approach the issue using…dum dum dum… a rational choice model, followed by some linear regression! I felt that the war in the Congo was as good a candidate as any for something that was neither rational nor linear, but these underlying assumptions were not even discussed in the presentation or in the paper, which has since been published in a top journal. This could be forgiven if the paper contained revelations about the war in the Congo, but actually its key conclusion verged on trivial: the more your enemies fight, the more you have to fight; the more your friends fight, the less you have to fight. Besides being underwhelmed by this, I was surprised a paper on networks didn’t utilise Granovetter’s network analysis, arguably one of the most famous tools in sociology. The question is not whether rational choice and linear regression can be useful; anyone who believes they cannot is talking nonsense, as some of Coyle’s examples illustrate. The question is whether they are always useful, which would also be nonsense, but is something you could be forgiven for thinking economists believe when following economic research. The rational choice model has had quite a few successes, including in matching kidney donors to one another, but it has at least as many failures, most of which are so well-worn at this point that it’s not worth going over them again. Linear regression is likely to be the right statistical model most of the time, but this still cannot be assumed a priori. Coyle rightly highlights two recent papers, one by Alwyn Young and one by John Ioannidis, which have cast serious doubts on widely used econometric practice and they are far from the first to do so. Economists may respond that modelling and empirical estimation allows them to isolate and quantify formerly nebulous mechanisms to make the exact trade-offs of policies clear. However, I suspect that in many cases this is a spurious kind of precision, since estimated coefficients and modelling parameters are notoriously unstable. Out of sample predictions are not made habitually in economics, and when they are they have a mixed track record, to put it mildly. Furthermore, the choice of model will affect the conclusions, both by determining what to model and by modelling it in a certain way. As both Coyle and Reed agree, this makes value judgments implicit in economic models, but many economists are insufficiently aware of this point and tend to see standard models and regression as the default framework. The other defence is a practical one: sure, these methods have their flaws, but they are the best way to convince policymakers, politicians and the public that a policy has a quasi-scientific justification. While this may be true given our current state of affairs, there is a circularity to it. Part of the reason that this kind of research is deemed necessary is because of the influence of economists in government and society over the past 80 or so years. By embracing a wider variety of approaches to knowledge, economists could use their considerable influence to alter the perceptions of those in power instead of reinforcing the reliance on a single framework.

It’s monolithic all the way down

The uncritical acceptance of one methodology begins with undergraduate economics education. Rethinking Economics conducted a curriculum review of 174 modules at 7 Russell Group universities – rightly or wrongly considered the ‘top’ universities in the UK – and we found that the uncritical acceptance of one type of economics begins with education. Under 10% of modules even mentioned anything other than mainstream or ‘neoclassical’ economics; in econometrics, over 90% of modules devoted more than two-thirds of their lectures to linear regression. Only 24% of exam questions required critical or independent thinking (i.e. were open-ended); this dropped to 8% if you only counted the compulsory macro and micro modules that form the core of economics education. We have previously called this ‘indoctrination’, and while this may seem dramatic the dictionary definition of indoctrination is to “teach a person or set of people to accept a set of beliefs uncritically”, which we think adequately characterises the results of the review, as well as our own experience and many widely used economics textbooks. Given this education, it is no wonder that economists remain wedded to the fundamental precepts of choice models and linear regression no matter where they turn their attention. By putting the method first, the implicit assumption becomes that answering a question using this framework is prima facie interesting, and critical evaluation of these tools against others is made unthinkable. This debate may seem too abstract to warrant such extended public discussion, but economics exerts more influence over government, the private sector and the media than any other social science – perhaps than any other discipline altogether. And the intellectual monopoly outlined above makes itself known through this influence, which limits our perceived political choices. Economic debates, including the one surrounding the recent Brexit vote, are frequently conducted in terms of aggregate GDP, which despite some criticism remains the standard measure of economic success both among economists and the public, even though it ignores (among other things) regional disparities in the UK and therefore does not speak to many peoples’ lived experience. This is perhaps one reason why the ubiquitous forecasts of a loss to GDP from Brexit failed to persuade the country. One, more concrete example of the influence of economic ideas is the Green Book, a document produced by the UK Government that sets out the framework for the appraisal and evaluation of all policies, programmes and projects. It is remarkable how much this book reads like a first-year economics textbook in places: like a standard textbook, it focuses largely on economic efficiency while also acknowledging equity (distributional) considerations. It then spends much time discussing how to place economic values on the costs and benefits of policies to weigh them up. Other economic objectives such as security, stability, or economic freedom are not given much (if any) attention; other decision-making criteria (especially more democratic ones) are similarly absent. Rethinking Economics believe that the curriculum needs to embrace a wider diversity of views, as well as focusing more on the real world and less on derivation of abstract models. But even in this debate the poverty of imagination resurfaces: when we call for the curriculum to teach us about issues such as the financial crisis, inequality and immigration, we are frequently met with the rebuttal that the relevant models are too complex for undergraduate education or would take too long to teach. Once again the assumption is that mainstream economic models are the starting point, when it is perfectly possible – desirable, even – to learn about issues such as the financial crisis without using any type of model. Models may help you to understand it at a higher level, but this should be built on top of a strong real-world foundation. Putting the real world first would mean that future business leaders, policymakers and academic economists would not enter the world believing that ‘economics’ is synonymous with one type of approach. I believe that Rodrik’s bad economists are not a few unfortunate renegades; they are the reductio ad absurdum of the education and research practice outlined above. When economists are only taught one approach as if it is economics, then it’s unsurprising that some take it too far. In one sense what’s remarkable is how far contemporary economists have been willing and able to stretch the core framework to accommodate more relevant insights, working with such a limited set of tools. Despite this, areas of the discipline risk finding themselves in a bit of an intellectual dead end by putting their method first and using it to say things which are new and interesting only to economists. Rethinking Economics and the wider student movement to reform economics believe that ‘critical pluralism’ is the antidote to this problem. If future economists are taught about relevant issues, using a wide range of models where necessary but not insisting upon them, less effort will be devoted to extending particular methods to trivial or long-answered questions. In policy and in the public arena, economics will give us a better conception of how the world works, and a broader array of political choices for making it a better place. Students will not only have a better understanding of why standard economic tools may fail; they will have a better understanding of when and why they are successful. Critical thinking will be embedded from the start of an economists’ training. Several positive signs indicate that the discipline could go in this direction: the open-minded initiative Rebuilding Macroeconomics; a new focus on economics communication, including the fantastic session I attended at this years’ RES; the revamped CORE curriculum, which seems to be slowly becoming pluralist even if its adherent are reluctant to admit it; and initiatives from within government institutions such as the Bank of England and Government Economic Service, which are embracing pluralism. In fact, the newest version of the aforementioned Green Book, published this year, now includes an entire section on the limits of standard economic analysis when dealing with the environment and alternative approaches. Here’s hoping that this kind of approach will be the norm for the economics of the future.

Rights:  CC by NC 4.0

The UK government must stop detaining LGBTQI+ people fleeing persecution

Thu, 2018-04-19 03:12

“Here in detention it is the same as where I came from. I was so scared”.

Image: Brighton Pride, Jon Southcoasting/Flickr, Creative Commons.

At this week’s Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London, the government has taken welcome steps to help protect the rights of LGBTQI+ people globally and the ‘Windrush generation’ in the UK. However, it has remained silent on one matter that links these two issues: the treatment of LGBTQI+ people in the UK who are fleeing persecution.

On Tuesday, Theresa May acknowledged the role of the UK in putting in place laws criminalising same sex relations during the Colonial era, and said she regrets “the legacy of discrimination, violence and even death that persists today”.

She also apologised to Caribbean countries over the treatment of the “Windrush generation”.

These are steps in the right direction, but the government would do well to match its apologetic words with action in the UK to protect LGBTQI+ people who are seeking asylum because of persecution in their countries of origin. It needs to stop detaining LGBTQI+ asylum seekers.

The UK is the only country in Europe that detains people in immigration removal centres indefinitely. Around half the people that the government detains are eventually released back into the community.

Research by Stonewall and the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group has documented the discrimination, harassment and abuse experienced by LGBTQI+ asylum seekers in UK detention centres. Many LGBTQI+ asylum seekers have described how being in detention reminded them of the persecution they were trying to escape. As one man from Pakistan described, “Here in detention it is the same as where I came from. I was so scared”.

The impact on their mental health can be disastrous. One woman from Uganda, for example, explained that “I get flashbacks of exactly what happened in Uganda. I get bad nightmares. When I was in detention I even heard voices of this man that raped me who would try to tell me I am worthless. I have tried twice to take an overdose when I was at detention because I couldn’t take it anymore”.

In a case regarding the detention of a gay asylum seeker from Iran, The European Court of Human Rights found that “governments should exercise particular care in order to avoid situations which may reproduce the plight that forced these persons to flee in the first place”. Yet the UK government does not recognise that lesbian, gay and bi asylum seekers are at risk of harm in detention. The vulnerability of trans and intersex asylum seekers is recognised but they are still being detained.

Concern over the detention of LGBTQI+ people has also been raised at the UN. The Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment has “noted that in detention facilities there is usually a strict hierarchy, and that those at the bottom of the hierarchy, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, typically suffer double or triple discrimination. Complaints of insults, beatings, confinement and targeted forms of violence are not uncommon”.

This week’s Commonwealth leaders meeting is a chance for the UK government to demonstrate in practice leadership on the rights of LGBTQI+ people. As well as promoting the rights of LGBTQI+ people globally, the government should ensure that when the same people are on our shores seeking sanctuary, we treat them with dignity and grant them protection. The government must stop subjecting LGBTQI+ asylum seekers to situations reminiscent of those which they are fleeing – it must stop detaining LGBTQI+ asylum seekers.

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Changing the conversation on labour migration in Southeast Asia

Thu, 2018-04-19 03:00

A regional study interrogates some of the commonly held assumptions about which factors lead to better outcomes for migrant workers.

© ILO/Jean‐Pierre Pellissier.

According to the United Nations, the number of migrants from Southeast Asia heading to other countries within the region has increased more than fivefold during the last two and a half decades, reaching nearly seven million. And this official data does not capture the millions more who are employed without legal status in the region.

Despite this rapid growth in the number of women and men migrating within Southeast Asia, the outcomes for migrant workers remain poorly understood. While assumptions are often made about the end result of these movements and how best to ensure safe and rewarding experiences for migrants, the collection and analysis of empirical data has been very limited to date. 

Among the consequences of migration that have been more thoroughly examined, remittance flows have arguably received the most extensive attention. But while this topic is undoubtedly important, the heavy emphasis placed on the scale of remittances can come at the expense of a more balanced and migrant-centred understanding of the results of migration. Evidence suggests that the relationship between remittances and development is varied and complex, which raises the question of whether the often-unrestrained euphoria about their potential is actually justified. 

Another prominent framework through which migration experiences within Southeast Asia are understood is human trafficking. An unending series of studies continue to document the large number of migrant workers who are trafficked into exploitation. However, the probity of categorising migrants’ experiences into a simplistic binary of ‘trafficked’ or ‘not trafficked’ has been strongly questioned. In particular, the focus on victimhood and criminality within the trafficking discourse can serve to whitewash the root causes of migrant workers’ vulnerability to exploitation, diverting attention away from fundamental questions of economic and social justice.

The focus on victimhood and criminality within the trafficking discourse can serve to whitewash the root causes of migrant workers’ vulnerability to exploitation.

To inform their interventions with more nuanced data, the International Labour Organiation and International Organization for Migration collaborated on a large-scale regional survey of over 1,800 returned migrants. The survey results were triangulated with 96 qualitative interviews with returned migrant workers and other stakeholders to obtain greater assurance of their validity and a broader range of perspectives.

A key analytical tool developed for the study was the Migration Outcomes Index, which broadens the way migration outcomes are measured by combining economic and social indicators at the individual respondent level. The result is a single number score, providing an accessible benchmark for comparing differences between groups of migrants, measuring progress over time and identifying the key factors that contribute to positive or negative outcomes. 

Focusing on changes in the lives of migrant workers and their families rather than in remittance flows, and balancing the importance of economic and social elements in the calculus of migration experiences, the Migration Outcomes Index provides a holistic alternative to the prevailing metrics. Much like the intent in establishing the Human Development Index, it was created “to shift the focus from national income accounting to people-centred policies”.

Overall, the study found migration outcomes to be fairly balanced among returned migrant workers, with a normal distribution between very positive and very negative experiences. However, the chances of having a positive result are unequally shared, as the demographic profile of migrant workers was found to be an important determinant of their socio-economic returns on migration. For example, the risk of a negative outcome was found to be higher among women because their work is often undervalued and affords fewer labour rights protections.

To obtain an understanding of how external factors shape migration outcomes, the study traced migrants back through their journeys – testing some of the commonly held beliefs about which practices and conditions contribute to better or worse outcomes. Many development actors place an emphasis on changing the behaviour of migrant workers to prevent exploitation and abuse, particularly through encouraging the use of regular migration channels. The thinking is that migrants are making risky decisions in going abroad irregularly and that is what is putting them in harm’s way. 

But the study data suggests otherwise. The problem is not that migrant workers are making the ‘wrong’ choices; it is that they are very vulnerable to abuse regardless of their decisions. Irrespective of their legal status or the type of work they are employed in, labour rights abuses against migrants are widespread in Southeast Asia. Sectoral research conducted in Thailand and Malaysia has documented that women and men migrant workers face exploitative working conditions in the fishing sector, domestic work, construction, poultry, hospitality, sex work, electronics, palm oil and others. 

The problem is not that migrant workers are making the ‘wrong’ choices; it is that they are very vulnerable to abuse regardless of their decisions.

Because they are typically recruited to reduce the labour costs of employers, wage-related abuses are among the most prevalent types of labour rights violations experienced by migrant workers. The average migrant works 60–70 hours per week, for pay that is well-below the minimum wage in Thailand and Malaysia if overtime is considered.

Therefore, the most important factor for improving outcomes is ensuring that all migrants benefit from basic labour rights such as the minimum wage and overtime pay, including women and men employed in the informal economy. Many migrant workers are employed in sectors of work that are not even covered by the minimum wage rules in Thailand and Malaysia or are not paid a legal wage due to non-compliance by employers.

Conversely, the research findings did not indicate that regular migration is essential to better outcomes, and its impact appears to be heavily dependent upon how effectively policies are implemented in specific migration corridors. Until policies are enacted and enforced that make regular migration a more clearly beneficial choice, it should be carefully considered whether interventions to support behaviour change of migrant workers are justified.

Lack of assurance of receiving labour rights protection contributes to a situation where migration within Southeast Asia is often a considerable gamble for migrant workers and their family members. Migrants currently have limited ability to control whether they have a positive or negative migration experience, regardless of the decisions they make. To a great extent, improving the odds of a positive outcome requires changes to policy and practice by duty bearers – governments, employers and recruitment agencies – rather than to the behaviour of migrant workers.

The full report is available for download on the ILO website: Risks and rewards: Outcomes of labour migration in South-East Asia

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