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Fifty years on, fateful race riots still haunt Malaysia

Monday, June 24th, 2019


The aftermath of fatal race riots in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, May 13, 1969. PHOTO/Facebook

PM Mahathir Mohamad’s political career was forged in the fires of May 13, 1969 race riots yet he remains reluctant to seek truth about the violence

This month Malaysia commemorated the 50th anniversary of one of the darkest episodes of its post-independence history, a convulsion of racial violence that still haunts the multi-ethnic nation.

The bloody race riots of May 13, 1969, saw explosive communal clashes between ethnic Malays and Chinese break out in the streets of Kuala Lumpur, leaving hundreds dead and a then young nation traumatized.

Five decades on, the date still looms large in the national consciousness and weighs like an albatross on the generations that lived through the carnage where as many as 800 may had been killed in an orgy of racial violence.

Then as now, race relations remain a delicate matter and at the center of multi-ethnic Malaysia’s long-enduring but controversial social contract that favors the ethnic Malay majority over minority Chinese and Indians, a construct that emerged in the riots’ aftermath with the 1971 New Economic Policy (NEP).

Over the years, various politicians have evoked the episode’s sectarian violence as a warning, often in the lead up to elections, that any challenge to the special rights and constitutionally-ascribed privileges enjoyed by Malays would upset the nation’s delicate balance and possibly lead to new bloodshed.

As successive Malaysian governments pursued modernization and delivered rapid economic growth in recent decades, some argue that Malaysia has matured to the point where racial clashes on the mass scale of 1969 are unlikely to reoccur.

Indeed, when last year’s historic election delivered a peaceful transition of power from the long-ruling United National Malays Organization (UMNO)-led coalition to the reform-oriented, more multi-ethnic Pakatan Harapan, threats of post-election racial violence failed to materialize.

Still, there are signs of fragility. Those came to the fore during violence and rioting last November over a land dispute involving the relocation of a Hindu temple on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur to make way for a property development. A young firefighter was killed in the melee.

Police claim a large group of Malay men were hired by the property developer to take control of the building. Clashes with Hindu devotees erupted soon after and dozens were arrested in connection with the fracas. The government acknowledged the sensitivity of the episode and maintained that it was an isolated incident rather than a race riot.

Asia Times for more

Notes on the Indian election

Monday, June 24th, 2019


“In the 2014 national election, candidates reported a median wealth of Rs 23.8 lakh, which is significantly wealthier than the general population.” PHOTO/Hindustan Times

That Narendra Modi would win again was never really in dispute. The only question was whether the Bharatiya Janata Party would be forced to seek coalition partners in the Lok Sabha, or repeat its astonishing success of 2014 and govern alone. The main opposition, the Congress, turned the campaign into a referendum on Modi. Could the tea-seller’s son, they asked, an untutored, uncouth, bigoted, small-town petit-bourgeois (who can’t even speak English) be trusted again? India’s electorate has now provided the answer. They love their Modi. The BJP-dominated alliance has 351 seats, the Congress alternative 95. Another landslide victory for the orchestrator of pogroms against Muslims. Hardly a surprise that Modi, Trump and Netanyahu share electoral affinities.

Modi’s triumph is unpalatable to the metropolitan liberal elite and many on its left. But they need to ask themselves some tough questions. In the decade before the BJP came to power, the Congress pioneered neo-liberalism under a caretaker PM, Manmohan Singh (as he waited for the Nehru-Gandhi kids to grow up and claim their inheritance); it often competed with the BJP in fanning anti-minority prejudice in Gujarat and elsewhere. India’s liberals and some on the left hold similar positions to Modi on Kashmir, class inequalities and the institutionalised discrimination against Muslims that started soon after Partition and is now worse than ever.

Many commentators have written that Modi’s electoral victory was helped by a ‘surgical’ attack on Pakistan in February after a terrorist assault in Kashmir that killed Indian soldiers and led to a surge in military-style clothes. But the India military response was a disaster: they lost a plane and targeted an empty camp. The fact is that a majority of Indian voters preferred the BJP to the national opposition. Despite economic problems and mass youth unemployment, they preferred Modi to the remnants of a crumbling dynasty.

The BJP, and its parent RSS, are now pacemakers, embedded in the heart of a modernising Indian state. And they are using all its resources to impose their ideology and punish those who do not conform. History is a crucial battleground. They have not yet burned the books of Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib or Arundhati Roy. But most mainstream publishers will be scared away from publishing critical, scholarly works on the origins and development of Hinduism, the RSS etc. This has already happened and will get much worse.

What of secularism? As many Indian writers have argued over the years, the idea of secularism was limited to defending and tolerating all religions equally and without discrimination. This was not a variant of French or Turkish republicanism, but an expression of intent. It was never implemented. India’s Muslims have suffered on many levels, but ‘secularism’ was also used by the clergy and the Muslim elite to prevent any reforms on divorce and other gender-related issue. While Pakistan reformed its divorce laws, nothing changed in India. The BJP leaders use this as yet another weapon against Muslims, conveniently overlooking Hindu restrictions on women entering temples and much else.

The Maharajas of Indian capitalism – Mukesh Ambani and Ratan Tata among them – have had no problems working with Modi. They have given a great deal of money to the BJP.

Congress seems a busted flush. At the very least it needs to get rid of the dynasty. The Nehru-Gandhi magic has gone. But will Shashi Tharoor and other modernisers be capable of taking on the BJP by offering another vision for India? it looks unlikely at the moment. Elsewhere regional parties continue to rule the roost. In three states – Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Telangana – parties built by non-Hindi popular movie stars (pre-Reagan) dominate the scene, blurring the lines between fiction and reality. Bollywood is now trying to mimic this success with appalling movies that effectively defend the new ‘national culture’: chauvinism, glorification of the military, gratutious appearances by Hindu gods and the worship of money are common themes, marking a break with the culture of previous decades.

There are exceptions. I just re-watched Newton, a wonderful, satirical indy movie directed by Amit Masurkar. Made in 2017, it’s a send-up of Indian elections and politicians. Newton Kumar (played by Rajkummar Rao) is a rookie clerk sent to monitor and supervise voting in Chhattisgarh in central India, where an ongoing Maoist insurgency has led to pitched battles between peasants and the security forces. Newton has to endure a Democracy workshop where he is informed that an election costs five billion rupees, there are nine million polling booths, 840 million people vote and ‘we break our own records every year.’

The movie opens with an election in progress and a BJP type politician entering a small town. ‘I am not here to seek your votes!’ he shouts unconvincingly. ‘Don’t vote for me. My dream is to see every child with a laptop in their right hand and a cellphone in their left. The Commies quote parables. I perform miracles.’ A power cut soon follows. Because the roads are unsafe, Newton is flown to the polling booth in a helicopter. The village has largely been destroyed by the security forces and finally people are forced to vote by the police. A visiting journalist from the United States is impressed. Whatever else, she thinks, this is the world’s largest democracy.

Z Communications for more

Digital socialism?

Monday, June 24th, 2019


IMAGE/Infographics Me

The Calculation Debate in the Age of Big Data

More than a decade after the onset of the financial crisis, capitalist ideologues are eager for good publicity. Once-alluring promises of meritocracy and social mobility ring increasingly hollow. They pine for a slicker, PowerPoint-friendly legitimation narrative—hard to concoct against a background of rising inequality, pervasive tax evasion and troubling omens about the true state of the post-crash global economy, were central bankers to withdraw their overextended support. What real-world developments could underpin such a narrative? What theme could make the idea of capitalism more morally acceptable to the latest batch of Ivy League graduates, who may risk getting drawn to notions like eco-socialism? Despite the growing ‘tech-lash’ against the faangs, capitalist thinkers still look to Silicon Valley and its culture with a glimmer of hope. For all its problems, the Valley remains a powerful laboratory of new—perhaps, better—market solutions. No other sector occupies such a prominent role on the horizon of the Western capitalist imaginary or offers such a promising field for regenerative mythologies.

A new strand of thinking has begun to address how the global economy might be re-engineered around the latest digital innovations to introduce a modicum of fairness. The ‘New Deal on Data’—the term surfaced in a 2009 paper presented at Davos—is the tech world’s neoliberal equivalent of the Green New Deal, but requires no government spending.footnote1 It envisages formalizing property rights around intangibles, so that individuals can ‘own’ the data they produce. One advantage for its proponents is that this market-friendly ‘new deal’ could help to forestall alternative attempts at imagining users as anything other than passive consumers of digital technology; they could enjoy their new status as hustling data entrepreneurs, but should aspire to little else. The New Deal on Data has accumulated considerable political support: from the European Commission to the United Nations, many world institutions are convinced that some such ‘fairness’ initiative is important to guarantee the future of digitalized capitalism.

The Austrian legal scholar and a one-time successful software entrepreneur Viktor Mayer-Schönberger bears some responsibility for planting the dream of ‘salvation through data’ in the capitalist imagination. His best-selling Big Data (2013), the ur-text on the subject, co-authored with an Economist writer, had a straightforward thesis: the massive amounts of data now being harvested and analysed by a few far-sighted firms would produce new business models and destroy existing ones; disruption was imminent, profits assured.footnote2 Five years later, Mayer-Schönberger’s latest book, Reinventing Capitalism in the Age of Big Data, shares some features with that earlier work. Co-written with another Economist contributor, the German business reporter Thomas Ramge, it deploys clear and anecdote-friendly prose to document another big trend—‘as momentous as the Industrial Revolution’—while making pragmatic recommendations for businesses and policymakers. But Reinventing Capitalism has far greater ambition, as the book’s original German title, Das Digital, suggests. Das Kapital, they argue, is out of date: once it is efficiently utilized throughout the economy, Big Data will not just reinvent capitalism—the English title is too modest on this point—but end it. ‘It may be time to close the door on history and officially eliminate the term “capitalism”’, they proclaim.footnote3 In place of finance capital and firms, data-rich markets will empower humans to work directly with each other. More dramatically, data will supplant the price system as the economy’s chief organizing principle.

New Left Review for more

Weekend Edition

Friday, June 21st, 2019

Biden for the wealthy

Friday, June 21st, 2019


Former Vice President and one of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden in 2014 PHOTO/© Alex Majoli/Magnum Photos/Harper’s

Joe Biden is a man of many qualities – including:

Hawkish: Biden favored US wars against Iraq and Kosovo, endorsed enlargement of NATO by taking in east European countries, favors continuing enmity with Russia, …

Controlling-women: Biden supported legislation that stopped federal funding for abortions within US, and prohibited use of US aid to other countries in use for abortion related causes. In 1974, he said:

“I don’t like the Supreme Court decision on abortion. I think it went too far. I don’t think that a woman has the sole right to say what should happen to her body.”

Biden has since modified his public views on abortion but personally he goes with the Catholic faith’s position and opposes abortion.

One-party guy: The United States has a two party system with minor differences and most of the time Republican and Democratic parties act in tandem because big corporations bribe them, knowing which ever party comes to power will carry out the corporate agenda. Biden’s view about the other party:

“I don’t think we should look on Republicans as our enemies.”

Biden was very friendly with rabid racists like Jesse Helms, Strom Thurmond, …

James O Eastland was another racist buddy of Biden whom Biden defended:

“He never called me ‘boy,’ he always called me ‘son.'”

Why would a white supremacist like Eastland called the caucasian Biden a “boy” because that epithet was used by slave masters and white supremacists for black men. However, Eastland, if alive in 2009, would have called vice president Biden’s President Barack Obama a “boy.”

Mostly, the two parties differ on small things. On major issues most members of both parties act together as Andrew Cockburn points out in a Harper’s magazine piece on Biden.

“… It was bipartisan accord, after all, that brought us the permanent war economy, the war on drugs, the mass incarceration of black people, 1990s welfare “reform,” Wall Street deregulation and the consequent $16 trillion in bank bailouts, the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, and other atrocities too numerous to mention. If the system is indeed broken, it is because interested parties are doing their best to break it.

Occasionally, there are Congress members who raise issues related to common people. The US is experiencing such phase at the moment with some new members of Congress talking about corporate money in politics, inequality, low wages, etc.

Racist policies: Biden was proud that he and another racist Thurmond helped pass a law which was openly racist. Law mandated that crack cocaine users with a piece “no bigger than a quarter” must be sentenced to a 5-year sentence. Blacks use crack cocaine and whites prefer powder cocaine. This is but one example of Biden’s racist policies.

Sometimes when times are rough, Biden is quick to backtrack. At a Senate hearing in 2008, he said:

“I am part of the problem that I have been trying to solve since then, because I think the disparity [between crack and powder cocaine sentences] is way out of line.”

Bankers/credit card company guy

More than 50% of all US public companies have their headquarters in Delaware, Biden’s state. Delaware is a tax haven like Cayman Islands.

“‘In fact, Delaware is so synonymous with anonymous companies and ghost corporations that it was named in Transparency International’s Unmask the Corrupt campaign as one of the most symbolic cases of corruption.'”

Senator Elizabeth Warren, a presidential candidate, pointed out Biden’s close relations with the banking industry and credit card companies.

“Of course, not all of Senator Biden’s legislative agenda is reflected in the Annual Report. Missing, for example, is a picture of Senator Biden standing shoulder to shoulder with the CEOs of the credit industry, cosponsoring legislation to increase restrictions on consumer and small business bankruptcy. His energetic work on behalf of the credit card companies has earned him the affection of the banking industry and protected him from any well-funded challengers for his Senate seat. This important part of Senator Biden’s legislative work also appears to be missing from his Web site and publicity releases.”

Biden with the wealthy

Biden’s biggest quality is playing a buffer for the wealthy class from the rest.

He acknowledges the danger disparity poses to the ruling elites:

“When you have income inequality as large as we have in the United States today, it brews and ferments political discord and basic revolution.”

Instead of recognizing neoliberal policies are responsible for creating such disparity in incomes and proposing changes to correct them, Biden criticizes Donald Trump without naming him.

“It allows demagogues to step in” “[and accuse people’s economic condition on] the other.”

It is interesting to note that Obama/Biden policies also contributed towards the increase in inequality of the populace. Biden just doesn’t get it.

“I get in trouble with my party when I say wealthy Americans are just as patriotic as poor folks. I found no distinction, I really haven’t, but this [income] gap is yawning.”

Biden calls himself “Middle Class Joe” but initiated his 2020 election campaign seeking donation from wealthy executives from Comcast and others. He declared:

“You’re not the other.” “I need you very badly.”

“We can disagree in the margins. But the truth of the matter is, it’s all within our wheelhouse and nobody has to be punished. No one’s standard of living would change. Nothing would fundamentally change.

Last year Biden defended the billionaires in these words:

“… I don’t think 500 billionaires are the reason why we’re in trouble.”

B. R. Gowani can be reached at

A Message From the Future With Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Friday, June 21st, 2019


VIDEO by Molly Crabapple

Today, The Intercept launches “A Message From the Future With Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,” a seven-minute film narrated by the congresswoman and illustrated by Molly Crabapple. Set a couple of decades from now, it’s a flat-out rejection of the idea that a dystopian future is a forgone conclusion. Instead, it offers a thought experiment: What if we decided not to drive off the climate cliff? What if we chose to radically change course and save both our habitat and ourselves?

What if we actually pulled off a Green New Deal? What would the future look like then?

This is a project unlike any we have done before, crossing boundaries between fact, fiction, and visual art, co-directed by Kim Boekbinder and Jim Batt and co-written by Ocasio-Cortez and Avi Lewis. To reclaim a phrase from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, it’s our “green dream,” inspired by the explosion of utopian art produced during the original New Deal.

And it’s a collaboration with a context and a history that seems worth sharing.

Back in December, I started talking to Crabapple — the brilliant illustrator, writer, and filmmaker — about how we could involve more artists in the Green New Deal vision. Most art forms are pretty low carbon, after all, and cultural production played an absolutely central role during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s.

We thought it was time to galvanize artists into that kind of social mission again — but not in a couple of years, if politicians and activists manage to translate what is still only a rough plan into law. No, we wanted to see Green New Deal art right away — to help win the battle for hearts and minds that will determined whether it has a fighting chance in the first place.

Crabapple, along with Boekbinder and Batt, have been honing a filmmaking style that has proved enormously successful at spreading bold ideas fast, most virally in their video with Jay Z on the “epic fail” of the war on drugs. “I would love to make a video on the Green New Deal with AOC,” Crabapple said, which seemed to me like a dream team.

The question was: How do we tell the story of something that hasn’t happened yet?

We realized that the biggest obstacle to the kind of transformative change the Green New Deal envisions is overcoming the skepticism that humanity could ever pull off something at this scale and speed. That’s the message we’ve been hearing from the “serious” center for four months straight: that it’s too big, too ambitious, that our Twitter-addled brains are incapable of it, and that we are destined to just watch walruses fall to their deaths on Netflix until it’s too late.

This skepticism is understandable. The idea that societies could collectively decide to embrace rapid foundational changes to transportation, housing, energy, agriculture, forestry, and more — precisely what is needed to avert climate breakdown — is not something for which most of us have any living reference. We have grown up bombarded with the message that there is no alternative to the crappy system that is destabilizing the planet and hoarding vast wealth at the top. From most economists, we hear that we are fundamentally selfish, gratification-seeking units. From historians, we learn that social change has always been the work of singular great men.

The Intercept for more

No respect for life, no path to justice

Friday, June 21st, 2019


Between 60 to 70% of transgender individuals murdered in K-P were killed by friends or intimate partners. PHOTO/AFP

“Why would anyone treat us with respect when even our own parents don’t?!” This is the lament of Farzana, the president of the Shemale Association’s Khyber-Pakhtunkwa chapter.

Some 63 transgender individuals have been murdered in the province over the last four years, a recent report by a transgender activist group has revealed.

This is, however, only the most extreme aspect of a broader pattern of violence against transgender individuals. As many as 1,440 incidents of violence against the community members were reported across all eight districts of K-P over the same period, reported a document released by the TransAction Alliance, an NGO working for transgender and intersex rights in K-P and FATA.

This year began on a tragic note for the transgender community with the killing of one transgender individual in Karak, the report highlighted. Overall, however, murders do appear of have gone down since 2015 – 26 transgender individuals were killed that year as opposed to 22 in 2016 and eight each in both 2017 and 2018.

Likewise, incidents of violence do appear to have decreased although there was a slight increase in 2018 as compared to the preceding year. As many 605 incidents of violence against transgender individuals were reported in 2015 as opposed to 318 in 2016, 208 in 2017 and 298 in 2018. Another nine incidents of violence have been reported this year so far.

“We face the worst sexual and gender-based violence in K-P,” lamented Farzana. “We face not only domestic violence but sexual abuse… even gang-rape,” she said.

However, the plight of the transgender community does not end there. “We are abandoned by both our family and society at large. Our only support comes from our gurus and other members of the transgender community,” said Farzana.

“Lack of employment opportunities means transgender individuals mainly earn through dance performances at private events,” she explained. “But this too has become increasingly difficult due to growing Taliban influence in K-P and many of us have no option but to beg for money.”

But if even that was not enough, it appears that the K-P transgender community is sometimes not even allowed to celebrate and express their happiness. In 2018, police attempted to expel several transgenders from Mardan district after they were banned from organising any functions. In February this year, a transgender person named Sheeba was prevented from celebrating her own birthday, leading to a protest by the community in Peshawar.

Although transgender individuals have been able to win some reprieve and recognition – the Supreme Court recently allowed separate identity cards for transgender individuals – the community still struggles on other fronts.

“Whenever we visit hospitals, staff members, doctors even treat us in a derogatory manner,” Farzana complained. “If we have to visit the police station, officers refuse to register FIRs on our request. We are only heard when we take to the streets,” she said.

Failure to get justice

Talking to The Express Tribune, Blue Vein coordinator Qamar Naseem said no suspect was ever sentenced to capital punishment, life imprisonment or received any other harsh sentence in any of the 63 murders of transgender individuals.

“When a transgender individual is murdered, the police operations team arrests suspects immediately, but an investigation officer later declares the case ‘weak’,” he complained. “Suspects are let off easy because some statements are changed or removed entirely.”

According to Naseem, transgender individuals are very active when it comes to filing cases whenever they experience an untoward incident. “But due to poor investigation and lack of interest on the police’s part, the cases often never even reach the court,” he said.

“This means that transgender individuals are often to disheartened to follow up on cases they file. In many instances, they have no option but to accept blood money and forgive the killers of their fellow transgender community members,” he added.

transgender graph

This was the case when Sufaid was gang-raped and murdered by a group of 10 to 12 men in Peshawar. Even though an FIR was promptly filed, police released the suspects early following a poorly-conducted investigation. In the end Sufaid’s family pardoned her killers after accepting Rs3 million in compensation.

A similar process occurred following the murder of Naazo in Peshawar. “A suspect named Asif was arrested but the main accused, the one suspected of murdering Naazo and mutilating her body, was released by the high court because of a shoddy investigation,” said Shemale Association General Secretary Aarzoo.

“Asif was arrested because he was caught red-handed with a bag containing Naazo’s remains. But even though he accused his accomplice of carrying out the actual killing and confessed only to helping dispose of Naazo’s remains, further investigation was not carried out and the real killer possibly was let of scot free,” Aarzoo added.

The Express Tribune for more

What people in the US know about Islam and the Arab world is a series of stupid cliches: Edward Said

Thursday, June 20th, 2019



New York: It’s a frigid morning on the urbane East Side and the hulky American-made Chevrolet Caprice Classic is guzzling its way past Central Park and its standard smattering of joggers and roller-bladers covered with lycra and spandex. Now and then the cab makes a loud clunkety sound, let off from somewhere within its mammoth eight-cylinder engine, and the Haitian born driver makes token protests in response, mostly in monosyllables.

“This car’s a piece of you know what man,” says Michael the cabbie. “But when we get there you say when to stop man and I make this thing stop as good as I can.” This is the last thing he says as we hurtle down a maze of city streets until we finally reach the Morningside Heights neighborhood, a sort of American equivalent of Kharadar gone help where Columbia University is located. “What you wanna do here man?” he says now, putting on a large pair of Rayban Wayfarer sunglasses and pointing to my Dictaphone. “You wanna interview somebody or what?” In truth, of course, it’s more than the mini tape recorder that’s giving away his passenger as a foreign journalist. Michael picked up his fare at the Overseas Press Club and he is probing to see if he has I a vulnerable newcomer on his hands.

The Fourth Estate is a worldwide victim of shark cab-drivers and New York is no different. To make matters worse, I am carrying a copy of The Jerusalem Post overseas edition in my hands, a sure sign for any driver that his passenger deserves no more than the full treatment. I peer at the meter, answer yes to his question, and hand him the exact fare. It’s a coup; he is shocked and dismayed. But he insists that he is genuinely interested and wants to know the subject of the interview. So, I say “Edward Said” and explain who Said is, unprepared for his response.

“Goddamned Arabs” he exults, guffawing, obviously unaware of the racist charge of his outburst. “You go put those Jews in their place brother,” he screams, loud enough for a group at a nearby bus stop to hear. “Show them man”, his voice booms as the cab clunkety-clunks once and disappears, leaving just his unreconstructed racism and a bad taste in the mouth. It will stay with me for the course of the day.

In a way, of course, it is relevant. Arab and Jew, Muslim and Palestinian. Wog and hymie. One only needs to visit New York, not to mention the Middle East, to realise that these distinctions, real and imaginary, convenient and hustling, continue to inform social and political discourse. “Compared to us”, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir once told the Palestinians, “you are like grasshopper.” And in America’s great universities and across Washington D.C, at well- funded think-tanks, it is still not passe to talk about ‘Arab attitudes’ and the ‘Muslim mind’. To regard peoples who are different from oneself and may have different beliefs or espouse a separate set of ideals as somehow less legitimate or inferior.

Edward W. Said, Professor of Comparative Literature at Columbia, friend and advisor of the Palestine National Council, writer, historian and critic, has been explicating these ugly truths for well over twenty years. A prolific producer of books and a relentless destroyer of wordprocessor keyboards, Said is seen by many as having singlehandedly wrought a sea change in the way the western mind perceives its oriental opposite, a process whose implications of knowledge and power he explained in his landmark 1978 work Orientalism.

His other works include Covering Islam, which documented in painstaking detail the hypocracies of mainstream US news coverage, and his three books dealing with the issue closest to his heart, Palestine: The Question of Palestine, Blaming the Victims, and After the Last Sky. The last book takes its title from a poem by Mahmoud Darvish, the national poet of the Palestinians, and was produced in collaboration with the photographer Jean Mohr.

Herald for more

How Ireland’s Citizens’ Assembly helped climate action

Thursday, June 20th, 2019


Climate change march PHOTO/Sarah King, IDS.

Holding a Citizens’ Assembly on climate action is one of just three demands by the headline-grabbing activists of Extinction Rebellion, whose city-stopping protests now progress to local movement building. Yet many people don’t even know what a such an assembly is, even as the City Council in Oxford, UK, prepares to organise their own. But Frances Foley, of the Citizens’ Convention on UK Democracy, writing here for the Rapid Transition Alliance, says that a ground-breaking Irish experiment in deliberative democracy shows that citizens’ assemblies really can help deliver climate action.

A national roll-out of low-carbon public vehicles, state support for community energy generation, higher taxes on carbon-intensive sectors, incentives for responsible agricultural land use and carbon sequestering, government-backed planting of forests, an extension of bus and cycle lanes and climate change at the centre of all government policy making.

It reads like a Christmas list for a climate activist. A bold, comprehensive and realistic government commitment to taking climate change seriously. Real leadership, real ambition – a real shift.

Yet this policy programme comes not from the Green Party central office, nor from yet another environmental thinktank report. The 13 recommendations were reached through a serious exercise in democratic decision-making in Ireland. The government signed up and set up; the citizens turned up and scaled up. It was a show of good faith from every side – political class, citizenry, media. It was a leap of democratic faith.

In July 2016, the new government – led by Fine Gael, backed by independents – put forward a bill to establish a national-level Citizens’ Assembly to look at the biggest issues of the day. These included the challenges of an ageing population; the role fixed-term parliaments; referendums; the 8th Amendment on abortion; and climate change.

Citizens from every region, every socio-economic background, each ethnicity and age group and from right across the spectrum of political opinion convened over the course of two weekends between September and November 2017. The issue seemed daunting in scale and complexity, but the participants had been well-briefed and had at their disposal a line up of experts, scientists, advocates and other witnesses who would help them make sense of the material. By the end, citizens had produced a radical series of recommendations which went far beyond what any major Irish party was promising, surprising even the initiators of the process.

These recommendations mainly relate to energy production, transportation and agriculture, three of the biggest sources of Ireland’s carbon emissions. As a programme, they put a clear stake in the ground that will be hard to avoid or dismiss, not least because it was planted by citizens through an open and deliberative process.  For successive governments, the recommendations should be seen either as a challenge, useful cover or a yardstick by which they can be judged, depending on their starting point.

Resilience for more

Former Clinton campaign staffer accuses Bernie Sanders of failing to mention race, gender in speech that explicitly mentioned race, gender

Thursday, June 20th, 2019


PHOTO/Everett Collection/Newscom

There’s intersectionality in theory, and then there’s intersectionality as practiced by the most hysterically identity-obsessed activists.

One of the more straightforwardly dishonest aspects of the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries were certain Hillary Clinton supporters’ efforts to portray rival Bernie Sanders as out-of-touch with black and female voters, even though his record on race and gender issues was at least as progressive as Clinton’s.

Some Clinton partisans are still pushing this narrative. Enter Zerlina Maxwell, a former communications staffer for the 2016 Clinton campaign and current director of progressive programming at Sirius XM Radio. Maxwell, a black woman, appeared on MSNBC to react to Sanders’ campaign kick-off speech at Brooklyn College on Saturday. She was not impressed.

“To be very serious about it, I clocked it,” said Maxwell. “He did not mention race or gender until 23 minutes into the speech. And just for point of comparison, I looked at Elizabeth Warren’s opening speech for example, she mentioned race and discrimination in the first paragraph. So that’s a big difference and as somebody who is a black woman, knowing that black women are going to be a core constituency for any Democrat who hopes to win the nomination, I was looking to hear messaging specifically for my community, and I did not, at least until 23 minutes into the speech.” Maxwell went on to accuse Sanders of failing the test of intersectionality.

But Sanders did not wait until minute 23 of his speech to address race and gender. He brought them up at the 5-minute mark: “The underlying principles of our government will not be greed, hatred, and lies. It will not be racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and religious bigotry.”

This was one of his very first substantive remarks: The only reason it did not occur sooner is because the crowd kept interrupting him with applause, and Sanders took several minutes to thank the various speakers who introduced him—three of whom were black. (One was the Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King.)

In case there were any confusion, Sanders also declared that his vision for the country was based on economic, social, racial, and environmental justice. As The Intercept‘s Glenn Greenwald points out, “Sanders did not just mention race and gender once in his speech before the 23-minute mark Maxwell claimed, but did so repeatedly. It was not only the major theme of the speakers who introduced him but a primary theme of his own speech from the start.

Maxwell eventually conceded some ground, tweeting: “I’ve rewatched since yesterday and while I can acknowledge that I missed the passing line at 6 minutes I stand by my point since talking about criminal justice is not the same thing as talking about race and gender and if you don’t get why Bernie won’t win….again.”

For the record, Sanders clearly talked about race and gender outside the context of criminal justice as well.

Reason for more