Mockery or murder: The horrors of being transgender in Colombia

June 30th, 2016


The LGBT Pride Parade held in Bogotá, Colombia in June 2015

Prejudice can kill. A group of seven transsexual friends who moved to Bogotáto start a new life could testify to that, or at least the three who survived the process, albeit just barely.

All are victims of violence and persecution for changing their gender. One of the survivors, Olimpo, was stabbed eight times and is now confined to a wheelchair. She was attacked for calling someone a “cutie” (tan lindo ese pollo!). Another was stabbed by a group of homophobes and will be limping for the rest of her life.

A third woman, Piola, says she had to move when paramilitaries told her she had eight days to leave her house in Chinchiná (Caldas department) for being a “faggot.” Early the next day, her mother took her to the bus station to travel to Medellín, the Colombian city with the most murders of transgender women. “They see us as men disguised as women, which is why they are even more violent,” says Piola.

From there she fled to Bogotá, where it’s said that people are free to be openly gay, or to work in prostitution. Piola is just one of many transgender women who end up in the capital after being harassed, threatened and pushed out of other Colombian cities.

At least 800 gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people were murdered in Colombia between 2006 and 2014. Most of these hate crimes targeted transgender women, of whom 30 were killed between 2013-14. Most of them were prostitutes working in the capital, particularly in the Santa Fe area, in the city center.

Because of their presence and persistence, transsexuals have won themselves a space in the city and earned some recognition as women. ‘What will it be madam?’ you might even hear some of the area’s shopkeepers ask them quite naturally. The space, though, is a limited one — just a four-block area — and even there women like Piola sometimes fall victim to violence.

Piola is one of 14 women who participated in a joint project carried out by the University of Los Andes School of Government and Parces, a sex worker watchdog group. The particpants share a common story: after being displaced from various village districts, they all ended up confined to this particular corner of Bogotá,

Many years of their lives have passed in Santa Fe, a downtown area between 19th and 24th streets and 14th (Caracas) and 18th avenues. Here the women are not gawked at or scrutinized as freak characters. But they do have to be wary of police harassment and vigilantes engaged in “social cleansing.” Project researchers found that police, simply for the sake of amusement, repeatedly force transgender women to undress and run around the street.

World Crunch/El Espectador for more

Funeral business dissolves bodies and pours them into town’s sewers for eco friendly burial

June 30th, 2016


The body’s organic material is dissolved while the skeleton is pressed into a fine white powder and returned to the deceased’s family PHOTO/iStock

‘It’s the same way as being buried in the ground, but instead of taking 15, 20 years to disintegrate, it does it in a quicker process’

A funeral company has started to dissolve human remains in an alkaline solution before pouring them into the town’s sewers as part of an eco friendly method of burial.

The owner of AquaGreen Dispositions, Dale Hilton, says he started the alkaline hydrolysis business after watching the “green wave” of biodegradable caskets and urns sweep through the funeral industry.

“It brings your body back to its natural state,” Mr Hilton told CBC News. “It’s the same way as being buried in the ground, but instead of taking 15, 20 years to disintegrate, it does it in a quicker process.

“And it’s all environmentally friendly.”

Independent for more

via World News

They’re not coming back

June 30th, 2016


US president Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973)

All The Way, HBO’s new movie about the passage and aftermath of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, is a messy and curiously double-minded affair. Like Selma, it wants to show that the shopworn narrative of white men grappling with fate in smoky rooms was never the whole story. But All The Waydoesn’t give Martin Luther King’s movement enough screen time to live again as the complex entity it was. Instead it’s portrayed as one of the many blocks Johnson has to shift around to secure passage of the bill.

But if All the Way reduces itself to the story of Johnson’s break with Southern whites then, however unintentionally, it does succeed in making one point very clearly: Nostalgia for the Johnson presidency is misplaced, thanks to forces set in motion by the man himself.

Obama’s second term has been rife with this species of nostalgia, which began with two precipitous events: the publication of the long-awaited fourth volume of Robert Caro’s biography of Johnson, and the dawning realization that if Barack Obama was elected to a second term the Republicans in Congress would block every single initiative he put before them. Historical comparisons are catnip to Washington’s paid thinkers, and a cottage industry of Johnson think-pieces bloomed. The less astute columnists built specious musings out of anecdotal accounts of disaffection between Obama and Congress. They wondered if the President was too remote or too partisan. “Washington is thick with stories about Obama’s insularity and distance,” wrote Richard Cohen, who fumed because “Obama cannot or will not indulge in the sort of face-to-face politicking that Johnson so favored.” What we needed, these pundits reasoned, was a president who could sweet-talk and brow-beat the Senate into moving mountains. But it would have been more accurate to blame Johnson than to praise him: As Robert Caro himself said at the time, Barack Obama is Lyndon Johnson’s legacy. Caro was referring to the man himself, but the statement is just as true if you apply it to the era.

The Civil Rights Act was languishing in Senatorial purgatory when Johnson took office. As Majority Leader, Johnson shepherded a civil rights bill to passage in 1957, but it had been watered down to near-meaninglessness. This time, he told Richard Goodwin, “I’m not going to bend an inch. In the Senate I did the best I could. But I had to be careful . . . But I always vowed that if I ever had the power I’d make sure every Negro had the same chance as every white man. Now I have it. And I’m going to use it.” Spurred on by the civil rights movement, harnessing its energy, he outflanked the South and secured the bill’s passage with an alliance of Republicans and liberal Democrats.

And then the South began drifting out of the Democratic party. Johnson fended off a nomination challenge from the segregationist governor of Alabama, George Wallace, weathered a walkout by some Southern delegates at the convention, and lost only six of 50 states to Republican Barry Goldwater in the general. Excepting Goldwater’s home state of Arizona, they were all in the South. This paved the way for Nixon’s “southern strategy” in 1968, with its barely-concealed racial overtones. Much of the region went for Wallace’s third-party run in 1968, but it was coming into the fold — Nixon won it all in 1972.

The Smart Set for more

Saudi Arabian human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair continues to fight for social justice from prison

June 29th, 2016


Saudi Arabian human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair PHOTO/Amnesty International

“Even from prison, you can still light a candle”

Waleed Abu al-Khair began to practice law in Saudi Arabia in 2007. He quickly earned an international reputation as one of the most respected human rights lawyers in one of the world’s most repressive countries. Within a year he joined in a high profile critique of the ruling monarchy. He repeatedly and openly advocated for democracy. He controversially defended the human rights of women, dissidents, and prisoners targeted by the authorities. Before long, the government called his stands for human rights terrorism. They harassed him, surveilled him, shut down his social media and finally put him in prison, where he has remained since 2014.  Even from prison, though, he refuses to back down and continues to publicly press for freedom and human rights. This is his story.

First, a bit about Saudi Arabia, which has been a close ally of the US since the 1940s. Saudi Arabia is tightly ruled by a hereditary monarchy and is a scary place to be a free human being, much less a human rights lawyer. Freedom House rates Saudi Arabia as one of the worst in the world in civil liberties and political rights.  Torture is common, according to Amnesty International. The country ranks third globally, right behind North Korea, in denying freedom of the press, frequently arresting not only protestors but also those who report on protests.  Human Rights Watch notes government authorities continue to arbitrarily arrest, try and convict peaceful dissidents.  Recent “antiterrorism” laws allow the government to jail anyone who demands reform or engages in dissent.

Waleed Abu al-Khair was born in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 1979.   His family includes a number of judges and Imams. As a young man he memorized the Quran and graduated from King Abdulaziz University in 2003.   He began to practice law in 2007. He set up his office with a well-known Saudi human rights lawyer, Essam Basrawi. Basrawi was one of ten people, known as the Jeddah reformists, who was arrested for trying to set up a human rights association.

Immediately upon starting his legal career, Abu al-Khair joined other activists and released a petition titled Parameters of the Constitutional Monarchy calling for the Saudi Royal Family to change the country’s rule from absolute monarchy to a democracy based on free elections.   Within weeks, the government revoked his scholarship to study abroad.

Waleed Abu al-Khair founded the globally well-respected Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (MHRSA) in 2008. Also in 2008, Abu al-Khair organized the country’s first 48 hour hunger strike for prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia which led to sit-ins and demonstrations. According to the BBC, activists report there are as many as 30,000 political prisoners in Saudi Arabia while the government says there are only 10,000.

In 2009, he became a defense lawyer for several of the “Jeddah reformists” who were arrested along with Basrawi after trying to establish a human rights organization. The same year he received his Masters of Jurisprudence from Yarmouk University in Jordan.

Abu al-Khair volunteered to represent Samar Badawi in 2010 after she had been jailed for “disobedience” of her father by, among other actions, fleeing to a woman’s shelter to avoid 15 years of his abuse. According to Human Rights Watch Saudi Arabia denies women the right to obtain a passport, marry, travel, or access higher education without the approval of a male guardian like father, husband, brother or son. Abu al-Khair established a vigorous online campaign to support her during the trial. Now an acclaimed human rights activist in her own right, Samar Badawi married Abu al-Khair soon after she was released.

Abu al-Khair later took on the case of Raif Badawi, the brother of Samar Badawi and a prominent Saudi blogger, who was charged with insulting religious authorities and was ultimately sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes.

While he was becoming well known for his advocacy, his own government harassed him and the US, though supportive behind the scene, refused to publicly try to protect him.

Counterpunch for more

On Brexit, experts leave much to be desired

June 29th, 2016


The New York Times (6/26/16) depicts post-Brexit Britishers outside the Bank of England PHOTO/Daniel Sorabji/AFP

Phillippe Legrain began his New York Times column (6/26/16) denouncing the supporters of Brexit by noting their contempt for economic expertise. He then went on to demonstrate good reasons for such contempt.

Legrain tells readers:

Experts are, of course, known to make mistakes. But in this case, the people who voted for Brexit will pay a big price for ignoring economic expertise. The harmful effects of this vote are both immediate and lasting.

Britons are already worse off. The pound has—so far—plunged by nearly 9 percent against the dollar, slashing the value of British assets, with higher import prices likely to follow. The stock market has also taken a hit. The prices of property, most British people’s main asset, are almost certain to fall, too.

Actually, the pound’s fall was a necessary and good development in the long run, even if it would have been better had it occurred over a longer period of time. The UK was running a trade deficit in the neighborhood of 5.0 percent of GDP (equivalent to about $900 billion in the US); this was unsustainable. And, contrary to what Legrain claims in this piece, the best way to get the trade deficit down is to lower the value of the pound.

Legrain incorrectly asserts that the drop in the pound in 2008 did not lead to a reduction in the trade deficit. In fact, it led to a substantial reduction, although with a 1–2 year lag, as would be expected. (The pound fell from a peak of more than 1.5 euros in 2007 to just over 1.0 euro at its trough in 2008. It remained low until it began to rise sharply in 2013, reaching values of more than 1.4 euros last year, hence the large rise in the trade deficit.)

An inflow of money from abroad was fueling a housing bubble in the UK. This has priced many people out of the real estate market. Bubbles do burst, often with very bad outcomes. The problem with bubbles is not the factor that causes them to burst; the problem is allowing them to grow in the first place.

Apparently the “experts” in the UK had no idea that real estate markets could develop bubbles, or that their bursting could lead to harm. The problem Legrain describes here is entirely on the shoulders of the experts, not the Brexiters.

It is also worth noting that a high stock market is not an economic good. It is a distributional measure. It means that the owners of stock have more claim on society’s income. There is very little direct relationship between the stock market’s value and investment. (In the US, the investment share of GDP peaked in the late 1970s, when the stock market was in the doldrums.)

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting for more

War of words: What’s in the name “Rohingya”?

June 29th, 2016


What’s in a name? Burmese government labels the Rohingyas as “Bengali” in order to deny their minority status, top, and stokes chauvinistic opposition by Burmese monks and laity

Myanmar’s fledgling democracy is marred by denying rights for a Muslim minority, urging foreigners to avoid historical term “Rohingya”

The government in Myanmar, trying to rewrite history in defining its identity, is engaging in ethnic cleansing. The target are the Rohingya, a people the United Nations and Amnesty International call“the most persecuted refugees in the world.”

Myanmar is home to a large and diverse number of ethnic and religious groups: 135 ethnic groups officially recognized by the current constitution of Myanmar plus the Rohingya, the only Muslims, who are excluded. For nationalist extremists, the Rohingya are not an independent ethnic group with ties to the land in the state of Arakan where they live. Instead, the nationalists insist the Rohingya migrated to Arakan after Burma was progressively absorbed into British India from 1824 onwards. The nationalists view Rohingya as an illegitimate colonial import, not in keeping with the Buddhist Tibeto-Burman character, and refer to them as “Bengalis.

The US Embassy in Myanmar refuses to go along.  On April 19, a boat carrying a number of Rohingya capsized and 40 people drowned. The group was trying to reach a nearby town with a hospital, a market and access to other services severely restricted inside the camps for internally displaced persons, where some 140,000 Rohingya live after four years of sporadic inter-communal violence.

In issuing a statement of condolences to the families of the victims, the US embassy referred to the dead as “Rohingya.” The nationalists find that name more threatening than direct criticism of the “apartheid-like” conditions which these people endure. To a Western reader, this may seem odd. Surely an accusation that a state and many of its people engage in ethnic cleansing bordering on genocide should be vehemently denied. But this is how far the situation has gone in Myanmar: The perpetrators of the oppression against the Rohingya – extremist nationalists and Buddhist monks aided and abated by many elements of the police, military and border agency – fully acknowledge the violence and indeed, think it is justified.

The humanitarian crisis in Myanmar bubbles to the surface a few times every year and then tends to be forgotten once the 24-hour news cycle moves on to the next calamity. What lingers is “direct state complicity in ethnic cleansing and severe human rights abuses, blocking of humanitarian aid and incitement of anti-Muslim violence, constituting ominous warning signs of genocide,” as described by United to End Genocide, a non-profit in Washington headed by former US Congressman Tom Andrews.

Yale Global Online for more

Roma fear paying the price of Germany’s “safe countries” policy

June 28th, 2016


Six Western Balkan nations feature on Germany’s “Safe Countries of Origin” list

Asylum seekers say they are being fast-tracked for deportation back to danger

In late April, the German authorities notified Hidayet* and his wife and daughter that their asylum applications had been rejected. They were given one week to leave the country, their home for the past two years.

Three weeks later, German police raided the family’s residence in Hamburg. Nobody was home. With the help of a network of activists and supporters, the family had gone into hiding.

Hidayet and his wife are Roma – a dispersed ethnic minority group that has long faced segregation and discrimination in the Western Balkans. Their families originate from Kosovo, but the couple lived in Serbia before seeking asylum in Germany. Hidayet fears that if he is caught and deported to Kosovo, he will be targeted and attacked.

“I cannot return to Kosovo because in the time of [the Balkan] war, I was recruited to the Serbian military,” Hidayet told IRIN, adding that since he is Muslim and his wife is Christian they are not accepted either by Serbian or Kosovar society.

“I have only one wish: to stay in some place where we could be safe, and this for now is Germany,” he said.

More asylum seekers = more “safe countries”

Germany carried out a total of 20,888 deportations in 2015. About three quarters of those were to Western Balkan countries, more than three times the number in 2014. The pace of forced returns has further increased in the first four months of this year, following an amendment to Germany’s refugee legislation last October that added Kosovo, as well as Albania and Montenegro, to a list of “Safe Countries of Origin”. Germany’s “Safe countries” list already included all the other Western Balkan nations outside the EU: Serbia, Macedonia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

IRIN for more

Brazil’s Munduruku Indians start a movement to save an Amazon tributary

June 28th, 2016


Greenpeace has joined forces with an Indigenous Amazonian community in an unofficial demarcation of their land, deep in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon.

The demarcation is the latest effort in a global campaign to protect the Tapajós River from the construction of a massive dam, the São Luiz do Tapajós (SLT), which would lead to devastating rainforest destruction.

The Munduruku Indigenous Peoples, who have been fighting against the dam and for the formal recognition of their land for many years, have sparked a global movement for the protection of the Tapajós and are calling on global companies to distance themselves from the controversial project.

In July, a group of New Zealanders will arrive at Sawré Muybu Indigenous village to assist the Munduruku.

Greenpeace NZ’s Annette Cotter is one of the team currently working to save the Tapajós River.

She says it’s important that New Zealanders follow the story of the fight.

“The Amazon might seem far away, but saving the rainforest is critical for us all. Not only does the Amazon help regulate global weather patterns but its protection is essential if we are to limit dangerous climate change,” she says.

“The Munduruku are asking for global help to protect their land from this huge threat – help that we can all give, no matter where we live.”

Last week, a global petition was launched to “save the heart of the Amazon”. Signatures will form a virtual human chain around the Munduruku territory in an effort to pressure the Brazilian Government to protect it.

Juarez, the chief (cacique) of Munduruku Sawré Muybu Indigenous land, says the movement has relevance across the globe.

“This an important battle not just for the Munduruku people, but for everyone around the world since we are talking about one of the biggest forests that still exist in the planet,” he says.

On the ground, the land demarcation involves marking the land with fifty signs, similar to those used by the Brazilian government, to indicate the territory is Munduruku land.

The demarcation process would normally be executed by the Brazilian Government as the next step in a formal Indigenous Land recognition process.

Placing the signs is just one of a range of activities planned at the Sawré Muybu Indigenous village – another will include installing solar panels in the community.

If approved, the SLT dam would be the first of five planned in the Tapajós River. It would have a reservoir of 729 square kilometers (almost the size of New York City), which would flood part of the Munduruku land, and it would drive an estimated 2,200 km2 of indirect deforestation as a result of roads and other infrastructure related to the construction and migration to the area.

Brazzil for more

Rubbery power source makes electricity when it bends

June 28th, 2016


IMAGE/Yi et. al./Science Advances

Use it to make a bracelet and the material itself could power flashing LEDs

It looks and feels like a cheap strip of silicone. Don’t be fooled. This soft rubbery material makes electricity when it’s bent, pressed, or stretched.

Make a wristband with it and it can power LED lights as you move your hands. Fold it into your shoe to create a self-powered sensor that can tell when you’re walk. The best part? It costs less than a dollar to make.”The most expensive part is adding the LEDs,” says Zhong Lin Wang, the inventor and a material scientist at Georgia Tech.

Wang and his colleagues just unveiled their new bendy generator in a paper today in the journal Science Advances. The device is a nanogenerator called a saTENG.Unlike previous attempts at creating these generators, Wang’s device is incredibly flexible and robust. In a test it was stretched up to 300 percent of its original size more than 55,000 thousand times with no damage.

The nanogenerator has three basic components: A rubber sheath, a liquid center made of salt or tap water, and a simple wire “of copper or iron or aluminum, for example” that reaches into the liquid center, Wang says. That’s it. Electricity is harvested as current flows up and down that wire. “It’s very, very easy to make. If you filled a water-balloon with saltwater, you could make one of these things, [albeit an exceedingly weak one,] and use your hands to press the balloon to generate power,” he says.

Popular Mechanics for more

A blow for peace and democracy: Why the British said no to Europe

June 27th, 2016


The majority vote by Britons to leave the European Union was an act of raw democracy. Millions of ordinary people refused to be bullied, intimidated and dismissed with open contempt by their presumed betters in the major parties, the leaders of the business and banking oligarchy and the media.

This was, in great part, a vote by those angered and demoralised by the sheer arrogance of the apologists for the “Remain” campaign and the dismemberment of a socially just civil life in Britain. The last bastion of the historic reforms of 1945, the National Health Service, has been so subverted by Tory and Labour-supported privateers it is fighting for its life.

A forewarning came when the Treasurer, George Osborne, the embodiment of both Britain’s ancient regime and the banking mafia in Europe, threatened to cut £30 billion from public services if people voted the wrong way; it was blackmail on a shocking scale.

Immigration was exploited in the campaign with consummate cynicism, not only by populist politicians from the lunar right, but by Labour politicians drawing on their own venerable tradition of promoting and nurturing racism, a symptom of corruption not at the bottom but at the top. The reason millions of refugees have fled the Middle East – first Iraq, now Syria – are the invasions and imperial mayhem of Britain, the United States, France, the European Union and Nato. Before that, there was the wilful destruction of Yugoslavia. Before that, there was the theft of Palestine and the imposition of Israel.

The pith helmets may have long gone, but the blood has never dried. A nineteenth century contempt for countries and peoples, depending on their degree of colonial usefulness, remains a centrepiece of modern “globalisation”, with its perverse socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor: its freedom for capital and denial of freedom to labour; its perfidious politicians and politicised civil servants.

All this has now come home to Europe, enriching the likes of Tony Blair and impoverishing and disempowering millions. On 23 June, the British said no more.

The most effective propagandists of the “European ideal” have not been the far right, but an insufferably patrician class for whom metropolitan London is the United Kingdom. Its leading members see themselves as liberal, enlightened, cultivated tribunes of the 21st century zeitgeist, even “cool”. What they really are is a bourgeoisie with insatiable consumerist tastes and ancient instincts of their own superiority. In their house paper, the Guardian, they have gloated, day after day, at those who would even consider the EU profoundly undemocratic, a source of social injustice and a virulent extremism known as “neoliberalism”.

The aim of this extremism is to install a permanent, capitalist theocracy that ensures a two-thirds society, with the majority divided and indebted, managed by a corporate class, and a permanent working poor. In Britain today, 63 per cent of poor children grow up in families where one member is working. For them, the trap has closed. More than 600,000 residents of Britain’s second city, Greater Manchester, are, reports a study, “experiencing the effects of extreme poverty” and 1.6 million are slipping into penury.

Little of this social catastrophe is acknowledged in the bourgeois controlled media, notably the Oxbridge dominated BBC. During the referendum campaign, almost no insightful analysis was allowed to intrude upon the clichéd hysteria about “leaving Europe”, as if Britain was about to be towed in hostile currents somewhere north of Iceland.

On the morning after the vote, a BBC radio reporter welcomed politicians to his studio as old chums. “Well,” he said to “Lord” Peter Mandelson, the disgraced architect of Blairism, “why do these people want it so badly?” The “these people” are the majority of Britons.

The wealthy war criminal Tony Blair remains a hero of the Mandelson “European” class, though few will say so these days. The Guardian once described Blair as “mystical” and has been true to his “project” of rapacious war. The day after the vote, the columnist Martin Kettle offered a Brechtian solution to the misuse of democracy by the masses. “Now surely we can agree referendums are bad for Britain”, said the headline over his full-page piece. The “we” was unexplained but understood — just as “these people” is understood. “The referendum has conferred less legitimacy on politics, not more,” wrote Kettle. “ … the verdict on referendums should be a ruthless one. Never again.”

Counterpunch for more