On the pink corridor

September 22nd, 2020


A trans sex worker takes to the streets of Tegucigalpa 
PHOTO/ Frauke Decoodt

How trans women in Honduras are helping their imprisoned sisters.

Brithany and Nicolle live in Honduras, one of the worst places to be trans women – at least 111 transgender people have been killed since 2009. But the two have something else in common. They both spent time in a prison containing some 7,000 male inmates. Listening to their stories of how they negotiated their lives in prison and on the outside, it became evident that the threat of violence never recedes.

Surviving the streets

I first met Nicolle in 2018, not long after her release from prison, at the offices of Arcoiris, an organization defending LGBTQI+ rights. Today, she looks different, with her hair in braids, in high heels and make-up. She now speaks in a hoarse whisper, because last November she was stabbed in the throat. Other trans women I met at Arcoiris have since been killed, like Bessy in July 2019, or have fled, like Paola, who escaped to Europe in January 2020 after an assassination attempt. Killed or attacked because they are activists denouncing crimes against their community, or for engaging in sex work.

When I first met Nicolle, she swore she would never do sex work but now necessity has forced her into it. ‘I hate it!’ she says. ‘Sometimes I earn close to nothing, but I need to pay rent and buy food.’ She made better money before going to prison, selling drugs for a street gang. Gangs often coerce trans women to work for them. Nicolle soon got arrested for possession of marijuana. She was beaten while being driven around by the police for several hours, later sentenced and sent to Tamara Penitentiary for three years. She was 24 years old. When Nicolle became co-ordinator, she told residents of her corridor to keep their heads down. ‘If one of us makes problems, all of us pay’

Nicolle is not an exception. Honduras is a conservative Christian country where many consider machismo a virtue. This explains the constant discrimination and violence the LGBTQI+ community faces. Many trans people cannot find ‘normal’ work and are rejected by their families. Crime and sex work become the only options left for many trans women, with prison sometimes the next step. ‘There are so many things in this trans life that started with transphobia and homophobia,’ sighs Nicolle.

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Chris Rock on racism, Trump and why Obama’s presidency was ‘progress for white people’

September 22nd, 2020


Chris Rock calls out President Trump and Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi, for their role in the pandemic. PHOTO/AFP via Getty Images

Chris Rock isn’t exactly surprised about what’s going on in America right now. In a wide ranging interview with the New York Times, the Fargo star, 55, discussed everything from President Trump to the racial reckoning prompted by the killing of George Floyd. 

“This is the second great civil rights movement,” the comedian declared.

Rock recently performed a standup set for a socially distant audience as part of Dave Chappelle’s outdoor comedy series where he talked about “our political whatever.”

“America,” he explained to the Times. “Part of the reason we’re in the predicament we’re in is, the president’s a landlord. No one has less compassion for humans than a landlord. And we’re shocked he’s not engaged.”

Rock likened the president to a child but equally blasted Democrats.

“Did you ever see that movie The Last Emperor, where like a 5-year-old is the emperor of China? There’s a kid and he’s the king. So I’m like, it’s all the Democrats’ fault. Because you knew that the emperor was 5 years old. And when the emperor’s 5 years old, they only lead in theory. There’s usually an adult who’s like, ‘OK, this is what we’re really going to do.’ And it was totally up to [Nancy] Pelosi and the Democrats,” he said. “Their thing was, ‘We’re going to get him impeached,’ which was never going to happen. You let the pandemic come in. Yes, we can blame Trump, but he’s really the 5-year-old.”

Rock added, “Put it this way: Republicans tell outright lies. Democrats leave out key pieces of the truth that would lead to a more nuanced argument. In a sense, it’s all fake news.”

As for the Black Lives Matter movement sweeping the country, Rock noted there’s a key difference from what’s happening now versus the civil rights movement in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s.

“Dr. King and those guys were amazing. But they knew nothing about money. They didn’t ask for anything. At the end of the day, the things we got — it was just, hey, can you guys be humane? All we got was, like, humanity. If they had it to do all over again, in hindsight, there would be some attention paid to the financial disparity of all the years of — let’s not even count slavery, let’s just count Jim Crow,” Rock explained.

“You’re talking about a system that really didn’t end until about 1973. And I’m born in ’65 in South Carolina. I’m probably in a segregated wing of a hospital — there’s no way in the world I was next to a white baby. Even if the hospital wasn’t segregated, I was in a whole other room and that room didn’t have the good milk and the good sheets. My parents couldn’t own property in certain neighborhoods when I was born. There was an economic disparity there, and that was not addressed in the original civil rights movement. It was a huge oversight. So there’s no money and there’s no land. If you don’t have either one of those, you don’t really have much.”

Rock has talked about racism and police brutality throughout his career, certainly before 2020. So when asked if he feels like he’s seen “circumstances” improve at all, Rock had a poignant response.

“[Racism] is real. It’s not going away. I said this before, but Obama becoming the president, it’s progress for white people. It’s not progress for Black people,” Rock replied.

“It’s the Jackie Robinson thing. It’s written like he broke a barrier, as if there weren’t Black people that could play before him. And that’s how white people have learned about racism,” he shared. “They think, when these people work hard enough, they’ll be like Jackie. And the real narrative should be that these people, the Black people, are being abused by a group of people that are mentally handicapped. And we’re trying to get them past their mental handicaps to see that all people are equal.”

Rock continued, “Humanity isn’t progress — it’s only progress for the person that’s taking your humanity. If a woman’s in an abusive relationship and her husband stops beating her, you wouldn’t say she’s made progress, right? But that’s what we do with Black people. We’re constantly told that we’re making progress. The relationship we’re in — the arranged marriage that we’re in — it’s that we’re getting beat less.”

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Facebook’s business model thrives on the virality of hate

September 22nd, 2020


Facebook PHOTO/The Daily Caller/Getty Images/WikiCommons/Salon

We need to break up these monopolies and regulate them as the new public utilities of the digital age

A recent Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article, “Facebook’s Hate-Speech Rules Collide With Indian Politics,” has blown the lid off Facebook’s unholy alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the right-wing ruling party in India.

In the August 14 article, WSJ reporters Newley Purnell and Jeff Horwitz detail how Ankhi Das, Facebook’s high-flying public policy director for India and South and Central Asia, blocked action against the ruling BJP party leaders. Facebook had tagged these leaders internally as promoting “hate speech” and “dangerous” and with the potential to cause, as Purnell and Horwitz write, “real-world violence.” The reason Das reportedly gave for letting these violations of Facebook’s policy go unpunished was that such action would harm Facebook’s business in India.

Facebook also has recently invested $5.7 billion in leading Indian telecom company Reliance Jio for 9.99 percent of its shares—one of the largest investments ever by any tech company for a minority stake. The largest number of Facebook and WhatsApp users in the world are from India, with Facebook having more than 300 million and WhatsApp in excess of 400 million users. Facebook bought WhatsApp for $19 billion in 2014 and has business offerings on this platform, whose rules of engagement are completely opaque. Even more than Facebook, WhatsApp has been the major social media platform for the BJP and its troll army to spread disinformation, as it was for President Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil.

On August 21, Horwitz and Purnell wrote that Facebook has subsequently come under attack internally for its failure to address violations of its hate speech policy in India: “Facebook employees are pressing the company’s leadership to review its handling of hate speech in India, saying [in a letter addressed to ‘FB Leadership’ that] the company has tolerated toxic content by prominent political figures.”

This is not the first time Facebook’s sheltering of hate speech and divisive right-wing figures has been exposed. In a 2017 article for Bloomberg, Lauren Etter, Vernon Silver, and Sarah Frier wrote that Facebook “actively works with political parties and leaders including those who use the platform to stifle opposition—sometimes with the aid of troll armies‘ that spread misinformation and extremist ideologies.” They also wrote that “a little-known Facebook global government and politics team… led from Washington by Katie Harbath, a former Republican digital strategist who worked on former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign,” has helped specific political parties “from India and Brazil to Germany and the U.K.—the unit’s employees have become de facto campaign workers.” In 2018, a five-article series for Newsclick by Cyril Sam and Paranjoy Guha Thakurta ahead of India’s 2019 general elections investigated the close ties between Facebook executives and the BJP, particularly Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s team, and found that the ties went far beyond Facebook’s relationships with other political parties in India.

Salon for more

Revolution everywhere

September 21st, 2020


Martyrs’ Square, Beirut. PHOTO/Joey Ayoub.

Lausan Editor’s note: In 2019, simultaneous uprisings in Hong Kong and Lebanon led activists, organizers, and writers from these two locales to engage with and think about each other’s struggles. Lausan spoke to Lebanese activist, writer, and scholar Joey Ayoub about the ongoing protests, the resonances between our respective sites of struggle, and the possibilities for transnational solidarity.

This interview has been edited for structure and clarity. Read this article in Chinese.

‘The people want the downfall of the regime’: Lebanon in struggle 

Lausan Collective (LC): Can you tell us a bit about why the protests in Lebanon began?

Joey Ayoub (JA): In Lebanon, there exists a system of sectarianism, which is essentially a power-sharing agreement between sectarian elites. The example usually given is how the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of parliament a Shia Muslim. This means that, unlike in Syria or Libya or Egypt or Tunisia, or indeed in Hong Kong, Lebanon has no dominant symbol of power. There’s no Assad, Gaddafi, Mubarak/Sisi or Ben Ali, and there’s no Xi Jinping and Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

What this means is that Lebanon is both stable and fragile at the same time. It has managed to withstand sectarian strife for the most part, even though conflicts have always existed; and people have never had an obvious, individual target to try to take down. And so when Egyptians, Syrians, Libyans, Tunisians and so on were calling for the downfall of the regimes in 2011, only a minority of people in Lebanon made the same demands.

In 2015, there was a brief period of mobilization during the “You Stink” protests in 2015, which was sparked by the closure of a major landfill and the piling up of trash on the streets of Beirut and Mount Lebanon, and which was more broadly a protest against corruption in the political system.

But our moment really came in 2019, when years of widespread corruption and disastrous economic policies resulted in a severe and ongoing financial crisis, exacerbated by the nearby Syrian civil war. Finally, on October 17th, thousands of protesters gathered up the courage to chant: “The people want the downfall of the regime.” The movement remains ongoing to this day.

Between Hong Kong and Lebanon: Temporal angst and fears of ‘disappearance’

LC: What first prompted you to think of the connections between the October Uprising in Lebanon and the anti-extradition protests in Hong Kong?

JA: Immediately after the protesters started, we began to see Hong Kong protest tactics playing out in Lebanon. Protesters began to use high-powered lasers and blinding lights to distract and confuse security forces—something they had never done before. We also learned how to neutralize tear gas based on tactics from Hong Kong.

What’s curious is that the Lebanon–Hong Kong parallels aren’t really new. Before and during the civil war (1975-1990), comparisons between Beirut and Hong Kong or Hanoi were not unheard of: it was sometimes said that Lebanon was being faced with the choice of being Hong Kong or Hanoi. For some people back then, Hong Kong, as a colonial outpost, was synonymous with capitalism and imperialism, whereas Hanoi was synonymous with socialism and anti-imperialism. Although this binary was always too simplistic, it actually created space for a segment of Lebanese and Palestinian leftists in Lebanon to link up with struggles in Vietnam.

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Israel ties that bind: What is the US giving Gulf Arab states?

September 21st, 2020


Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, US president’s senior adviser Jared Kushner, and UAE’s National Security Adviser Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan hold a meeting in Abu Dhabi PHOTO/Reuters

Analysts say normalisation deals between UAE, Bahrain, and Israel are unprecedented steps with unknown ramifications.

Representatives of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Israel, and United States governments will converge in Washington, DC on Tuesday to sign historic normalisation accords between the Gulf nations and Israel. 

The UAE agreement, announced in August and since dubbed the “Abraham Accords” by White House officials, makes the UAE the third Arab country and first in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to agree to establish relations with Israel.

The agreement ends the UAE’s economic boycott of Israel and allows the possibility of advanced US weaponry sales to the Emirates. Blasted by Palestinians as a “betrayal“, a sentiment echoed by regional players Turkey and Iran, the deal will have lasting, unprecedented geopolitical ramifications, experts told Al Jazeera. 

But the extent of these ramifications remains to be seen. 

Arms sales

William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Program at the DC-based Center for International Policy, told Al Jazeera arms sales were an “important factor” in the agreements.

The UAE has long wanted F-35 fighter jets, Hartung said, and larger drones, which the US was unable to sell because of its commitment to Israel’s military advantage.

But Trump often touts arms sales and was likely to view the UAE as another client as a positive, Hartung said.

The US ramped up its arms sales by 42 percent globally in 2019, an increase of almost $70bn, according to figures from the Forum on the Arms Trade (FAT) from the US Foreign Military Sales programme. 

But the Middle East and North Africa region far outpaced the global growth rate, going from $11.8bn in 2018 to more than $25bn in 2019, or a 118 percent increase. Morocco leads the pack in purchasing US arms, with almost $12bn sold to Rabat.

Nations in the GCC accounted for much of the rest. The UAE spent more than $4.7bn on US arms in 2019, FAT recorded, with Bahrain spending $3.37bn, Qatar spending about $3bn and Saudi Arabia at roughly $2.7bn.

Hartung said Bahrain may have agreed to normalisation to access to advanced weaponry and the Saudis could potentially follow.

Al Jazeera for more

‘These Chains Will Be Broken’: Delving into the heart of Palestinian resistance

September 21st, 2020

What if the story of Palestine was retold, this time by Palestinian prisoners? Ramzy Baroud’s latest book, “These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons” attempts to answer that question. These powerful, yet vulnerable, men and women will take you on a journey – of stories that go beyond the limits of human endurance. Watch this compelling video, share it, and obtain the book. There is a whole new Palestine waiting to be told. Appearance order: Nael al-Barghouti Dima Ismail al-Wawi Khalida Jarrar Wafa Ibrahim Samir al-Bis Khadija Ahmad Ibrahim Khweis Mohammed Khalil al-Halabi Israa’ Riyad Ja’abis Dareen Tatour Music: “Homeroad” by Kai Engel Art: Book Cover by Dalia Alkayyali Footage: Dark Cell Window / Edy Varde Sunset /Darshak Pandya Khiam Prison Lebanon / www.discoverlebanon.com Cat in Window / Maria von Usslar

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Weekend Edition

September 18th, 2020

Barr’s crappy defense of his shitty boss

September 18th, 2020


CARTOON/Agenda Twenty Twenty/Duck Duck Go

Trump has a large posse of loyal henchmen/women

they are always on their toes to defend his every outrageousness

this time, it is William Barr who defended President Trump

Barr is the US Attorney General but works like Trump’s personal lawyer

talking to Chicago Tribune, he puked this nonsense

“You know liberals project.” “You know the president is going to stay in office and seize power and all that s**t? I’ve never heard of that crap. I mean, I’m the attorney general. I would think I would have heard about it.”

either Barr is ignorant and illiterate like his Big Boss

or has the visual and hearing problem of immense magnitude

one just has to glance at Trump‘s tweets/statements/interviews

it is impossible to miss his clear intention of not leaving power

in 2016, Trump had openly boasted

“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”

then Barr had the audacity to defend himself by telling the reporter

“As an attorney general, I’m not supposed to get into politics.” “But…I think we are getting into a position where we’re going to find ourselves irrevocably committed to a socialist path. And I think if Trump loses this election – that will be the case.”

this “socialist path” is total crap and he knows it

over 200,000 people have died due to Trump’s immoral negligence

but his opponent Joe Biden refuses to have universal healthcare for all

free healthcare would have been the first step towards the socialist path

that’s another lie from the crappy Bill Barr

Stay tuned and be vigilant for more crap

B. R. Gowani can be reached at brgowani@hotmail.com

Faiz, India, and protest

September 18th, 2020


From Iqbal Bano singing it to a charged crowd in Lahore in 1986, to students reciting its verses on campus protests across India late last year, Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s ‘Hum Dekhenge’ has continued to inspire activists for decades. Why do the leftist poet’s words continue to resonate beyond their original context?

On December 17, 2019, a student protest at the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur (IIT-K) was held in solidarity with students at Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia who had been brutally attacked by police on December 15. The protest included a recitation of an Urdu poem, commonly known as Hum Dekhenge (literally, ‘We Shall See’), by leftist poet and revolutionary Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911-1984). In a video posted on Twitter, a student recites the poem, which he reads from his cell phone, to a crowd of listeners, some of whom mill about and some of whom listen attentively, with the crowd applauding at certain lines. This recitation of the poem soon became the centre of a controversy, when a post-doctoral faculty member at IIT lodged a complaint against the poem and its performance, claiming that its lines aroused communal sentiment. IIT-K responded by establishing a committee to investigate the complaint. A public debate in the media ensued, as prominent poets, a former Indian Supreme Court judge, and journalists and intellectuals discussed the poem and its meaning.

First composed in 1979, Faiz’s ‘Hum Dekhenge’ has become a rallying cry for protests both throughout India and around the world against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), passed by India’s Parliament on December 19, 2019. The CAA proposes a religious basis for citizenship for refugees who have entered India from the neighbouring countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Under the new amendment, refugees who are Hindu, Jain, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist or Parsi, even if they do not possess identification papers, may receive Indian citizenship within six years. Notably missing from this list are Muslims, who, according to the 2011 Census of India, make up 14.2 percent of the population, for a total of 172 million people. According to a more recent estimate, India’s Muslims, at 195 million people in 2020, comprise the third-largest Muslim population in the world, after Indonesia and Pakistan.

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Chadwick Boseman (1976–2020): A talented actor, now hailed as a “king”

September 18th, 2020


Josh Gad, Chadwick Boseman and Sterling K. Brown in Marshall (2017)

On August 28, Chadwick Boseman, star of such films as Get On Up, 42, Marshall, Da 5 Bloods, and others, died after a four-year battle with colon cancer. He was 43 years old.

The news of his death came as a shock to his fans, who had every reason to expect to continue seeing him for years to come. Boseman had not publicly disclosed his illness, and several of his recent films, including Marshall, Da 5 Bloods and the forthcoming Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (based on an August Wilson play), were completed while he was undergoing treatments and surgeries for the disease.

His death is a tragedy, both for his being stricken with such a terrible disease at a young age and for the loss of his remarkable talent. He was outstanding in several of his roles, particularly those where he was tasked with bringing to life figures from the 20th century: baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson (42), legendary singer James Brown (Get On Up) and civil rights lawyer and future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall (Marshall). At his best, Boseman had a talent for capturing something of the essence of historical figures without resorting to superficial imitations, and he could imbue his characters with an inner fire of conviction and purpose.

Of course, he also performed in a number of brainless and mediocre works as well, such as the cartoonish fantasy Gods of Egypt and the violent police thriller 21 Bridges. The low point of his career was the miserable Black Panther, a militarist, pro-CIA comic book superhero film steeped in racial politics.

The expressions of sadness from admirers and the public at large have been accompanied by a deluge of exaggerated tributes from the media and numerous figures in the financial-political elite. Democratic Party politicians such as former president Barack Obama and presidential and vice presidential candidates Joe Biden and Kamala Harris released statements praising Boseman, as did wealthy media moguls Bob Iger and Oprah Winfrey. Obituaries referred to his death as “devastating” and “unbelievable” (Variety) and painted his loss as a major blow for the black population as a whole.

On the Sunday following the news of his death, ABC television aired a showing of Black Panther without advertisements (what a sacrifice!) followed by a special program titled Chadwick Boseman—A Tribute for a King, in which Boseman was raised to near-mythic status and praised as an “icon” and a “generation-defining actor.” Invariably, the media commentary has sidelined his better work in order to hold up Black Panther, by far his weakest film, as the pinnacle of his career. Countless media commentaries have referred to Boseman as a “superhero” and a “king,” referencing the actor’s Black Panther character King T’Challa.

It is not an insult to Boseman’s memory to point out the dishonest and manipulative character of this effort to canonize him. Far from honoring Boseman’s life, the media campaign around his death demeans his work and serves reactionary political ends.

Boseman was born in 1976 in Anderson, South Carolina. His mother was a nurse, and his father worked at a textile factory and managed a small upholstery business. Boseman became interested in the performing arts when he wrote his first play as a junior in high school, in response to the shooting death of a classmate.

World Socialist Web Site for more