Your cyberpunk games are dangerous

Open Democracy News Analysis - il y a 5 heures 4 minutes

How roleplaying games and fantasy fiction confounded the FBI, confronted the law, and led to a more open web.

On January 17, 1980, FBI agents descended on a small business in Wisconsin to investigate a plot against the life of an American business executive in Beirut, Lebanon, named William Weatherby. The tip came to local law enforcement from a concerned citizen who had chanced on a written description of the conspiracy, which the police duly handed over to the FBI.

When investigators arrived at the offices of this company, TSR Hobbies, they learned that William Weatherby did not exist: he was a non-player character in a new espionage role-playing game called Top Secret, which TSR was playtesting. This was easily demonstrated to the satisfaction of all parties, and the whole incident would certainly be forgotten today—except that it inevitably became part of TSR’s promotion for Top Secret. It was a spy game so realistic that even the FBI thought it was real.

This misunderstanding arose only five months after TSR obtained widespread notoriety in a similar confusion surrounding the disappearance of college student James Dallas Egbert III in East Lansing, Michigan. A private detective hired to find Egbert had learned that the young man played TSR’s role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons—at the time virtually unknown to mainstream America—and hypothesized that Egbert had come to believe the game was real. Famously, this led to calls for a search of the college steam tunnels, where presumably Egbert would be found wandering in a deluded stupor, questing for monsters and treasure.

Actually, Egbert had run away to Louisiana for unrelated reasons, but a seed was then planted in the American popular imagination. Role-playing games were dangerous: they warped fragile young minds, breaking down the barriers between the real and the imaginary. The irony is that it was the authorities, not the players, who couldn’t tell a game from reality.

A decade later, on the first of March, 1990, the Secret Service raided Steve Jackson Games in Austin, Texas, and confiscated the manuscript of a product in development. One of the agents serving the warrant grumbled, in Steve Jackson’s presence, that his company was producing a “manual for computer crime.” In addition to the draft of the game, Jackson reported that the Secret Service also seized “the two office computers the manuscript was on” and “thousands of dollars’ worth of associated hardware and software.” This time, the misunderstanding admitted of no simple resolution.

When the FBI visited TSR in 1980, they found no Berettas, no exploding pens, no tuxedoed spies—so no assassination appeared imminent. The Secret Service came to Steve Jackson Games a decade later in an investigation into computer hacking, which everyone knew required only a cocky teenager, an inexpensive personal computer, and forbidden knowledge.

The 1983 film WarGames had recently taught America how such a computer hobbyist might unwittingly destroy the world. The film’s young protagonist attempts to hack into a game company, but mistakenly accesses a military computer instead, and instructs the system to begin a “game” of global thermonuclear war. The hacker is at first entirely oblivious to the real-world ramifications. After a gradual dawning of awareness, he asks the computer, “Is this a game… or is it real?” With the aplomb of a delusional college student wandering the steam tunnels, imaginary sword in hand, the computer replies, “What’s the difference?”

In hindsight, it's difficult to explain how esoteric computers appeared to the mainstream in the 1980s. The Internet existed—but even in 1990, few had any inkling of the prominence it would soon attain. It was just one of several communications networks, largely confined to university environments and overshadowed by closed monolithic information services like CompuServe.

The web as such didn't exist either, and even functions like email and newsgroups depended on a patchwork of interconnected systems with limited standardization. The promise of an open, global network for commerce, entertainment, and personal communications remained in the realm of science fiction.

Science fiction, however, had furnished visions of that future. The most salient was William Gibson’s 1984 novel Neuromancer, which imagined an immersive, ubiquitous computer network called the Matrix, famously characterized by Gibson’s coinage of the term “cyberspace.” Naturally, science fiction and computers shared an overlapping fan base in the 1980s.

To many disaffected computer-literate youths, Gibson’s world of technology, drugs, and intrigue read like a prophecy of a glamorous, if dark, future. The promise of cyberspace felt not entirely out of reach; it was a vision so compelling fans didn’t just want to read about, they wanted to experience it.

But in 1990, the territory where these stories played out remained imaginary: the Internet lingered on the cusp of becoming habitable. Only a marginal community of hobbyists spent any significant fraction of their lives online, in various bulletin boards, newsgroups, and chat services where they communicated with like-minded explorers of the electronic frontier. Perhaps the closest you could get at that time to an experience of Gibson’s future was in the role-playing games that tried to capture the flavor of that world, known by the genre label “cyberpunk.”

Loyd Blankenship lost his job as a software engineer for a graphics company in Austin, Texas, on Valentine’s Day of 1989. As a long-time fan of the role-playing game GURPS (the Generic Universal RolePlaying System), Blankenship knew well that Austin was home to its publisher, Steve Jackson Games.

Blankenship at the time explained, “I wrote up a nice proposal explaining to Steve what a great opportunity this was for him and the company, and Steve (being a very wise man) saw that this was true. Some four weeks later, I was in.” Blankenship joined the company as Managing Editor, quickly going to work on the GURPS product line.

What special qualifications did Blankenship possess that recommended him to Steve Jackson Games? In addition to his enthusiasm for games, and expertise with software engineering, Blankenship had the unusual distinction of holding a prominent place in the computer culture of the 1980s. As a long-time member of the storied hacker collective called the Legion of Doom, Blankenship had written an article called “The Conscience of a Hacker” (sometimes known as the “Hacker Manifesto”) under his alias The Mentor.

Blankenship’s piece, inspired by his hacking arrest in the mid-1980s, famously insists that “my crime is that of curiosity” and that “you may stop this individual, but you can’t stop us all.” His experiences made him uniquely qualified to take on a forthcoming Steve Jackson Games project: GURPS Cyberpunk, slated for a March 1990 release.

Steve Jackson Games had a progressive attitude towards technology, for a company that published tabletop games rather than electronic ones. The company operated a dial-in bulletin board called Illuminati, named for a 1982 card game published by Steve Jackson which parodied a variety of conspiracy theories, following the Illuminatus! trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea. Later, this computer system would evolve into the famous Illuminati Online, which for two decades resided at io.com.

Users logging in to Illuminati would read, “Greetings, Mortal! You have entered the secret computer system of the Illuminati, the on-line home of the world's oldest and largest secret conspiracy.” The bulletin board joked that it was merely “fronted by Steve Jackson Games,” but that might not protect it from certain suspicions.

Blankenship became an administrator of Illuminati; his considerable experience with bulletin boards included another Austin dial-in, the Phoenix Project, which he ran jointly with fellow Legion of Doom member Chris Goggans. The membership of these two bulletin boards overlapped some amount: Blankenship was far from the only computer enthusiast who played games or read cyberpunk science fiction. But investigators saw no boundary where the games stopped and reality began. This association brought the Secret Service to the doors of Steve Jackson Games.

Shortly after the Secret Service raid in March 1990, in an account written in the next issue of Jackson’s in-house magazine Roleplayer, Jackson reported that “we have since been told that neither SJ Games nor the GURPS Cyberpunk manuscript was the object of the raids.” Indeed, he further reports that “the home of the GURPS Cyberpunk writer was also raided, and his own computer taken.” Blankenship, for his part, remembered waking up at gunpoint as the Secret Service confiscated his personal computers and related paraphernalia.

The affidavit submitted for a warrant by the Secret Service on February 28 unambiguously identifies Blankenship himself as the target of the raid. The violations it alleges are attributed to Blankenship and Goggans. It maintains that they had received “a stolen or fraudulently obtained computerized text file worth approximately $79,000.00.” This referred to issue #24 of the online newsletter Phrack, which republished a Bell South document detailing internal practices of its 911 emergency calling system.

Another member of the Legion of Doom, Robert Riggs, had downloaded the document from an unsecured Bell South system a year earlier. Both Phrack editor Craig Neidorf and Riggs had already been indicted in connection with this document, which, the government insisted, “could be used to gain unauthorized access to emergency 911 computer systems in the United States and thereby disrupt or halt 911 service in portions of the United States.”

The affidavit notes the availability of Phrack #24 on the Phoenix Project bulletin board, and speculates that after the seizure it would be found either there or on the Illuminati server at Steve Jackson Games, or perhaps at both locations.

The raid couldn’t have come at a worse time for Steve Jackson Games. Already in debt, the company depended heavily on new releases for cash flow, and the confiscation of the GURPS Cyberpunk manuscript would significantly delay the book’s release. On March 9, the company let go eight people from its staff of seventeen. Since the Secret Service did not immediately return the manuscript, the team frantically reconstructed it from earlier draft materials and hurried it into print.

Ultimately, however, it turned out that the Secret Service had been chasing something no more real than William Weatherby.

The seizure itself had its share of procedural defects, but behind them loomed another, weightier issue: how valuable, and potentially damaging, the 911 document truly was. Bell South had reported the intrusion into its computer network to the Secret Service in July 1989, and claimed that its 911 “program” was engineered at a cost of $79,449—the Secret Service affidavit conflates cost of the program with that of the text file reprinted by Phrack. This fed a certain hysteria in the media, which faithfully parroted the government’s exaggerations.

But as far as forbidden knowledge goes, the actual document contained only the most cursory overview of the bureaucracy surrounding the 911 system, without any code nor any actionable information which could threaten the stability of emergency calling in the United States. Moreover, equating copying an electronic document with theft raised a host of untested legal questions.

And could GURPS Cyberpunk, a casualty of collateral damage, serve as a “manual for computer crime”? J. Eric Townsend reviewed a copy for the early computer security zine RISKS in June 1990. He lists sixteen things therein you might glean if you were wholly ignorant of computer hacking, none of which offer any significant advantage over common sense; tips along the lines of, “Passwords can be really obvious, or hard to remember text strings.”

Townsend perhaps overlooks tokens of “realism” sprinkled throughout the text: for example, GURPS Cyberpunk mentions real-world hacker hangouts such as Altgers and tchh, albeit without explaining how such systems might practically be accessed.

While real-world hacking experience informed the speculative future of GURPS Cyberpunk, it bestowed only the sort of realism that games have. It could no more turn a reader into a computer hacker than Top Secret might turn its players into James Bond. But people who believed that the forbidden knowledge in the 911 document posed a threat to public safety could conceivably deem the realistic flourishes in GURPS Cyberpunk practical and specific information. It is easy to put yourself in the hysterical script of the movie WarGames when you lack the technical expertise to distinguish a game about hacking from reality.

For the first half of 1990, no one knew the true object of the Secret Service raid. On May 8, they announced, to great fanfare, a widespread crackdown on computer crime under the code name Operation Sundevil. At the time, when the affidavits and investigations remained under wraps, the raid on Steve Jackson Games quickly became conflated with this operation in the popular press.

The published edition of GURPS Cyberpunk understandably milked the controversy for all it was worth, given the company’s cash flow problems. The cover, in a conspiratorial eye-in-the-pyramid graphic, advertised the work as “the book that was seized by the U.S. Secret Service!” The Secret Service is also thanked on the title page for “unsolicited comments,” directly after the credit to the Legion of Doom as “hacking consultants.”

But Jackson also saw the larger context of his predicament. At the end of his introduction to the book, he notes that “now it seems that anybody with any computer knowledge at all is suspect,” and thus the “maybe the cyberpunk future is closer, and darker, than we think.”

Jackson had good reason for pessimism, but it turned out his example inspired a historic reaction against that dystopia. By June, Jackson’s case had come to the attention of John Perry Barlow. A veteran of 1960s counterculture who collaborated with the Grateful Dead, Barlow had been active in computer circles since he joined the Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link (WELL) in the mid-1980s. Moreover, Barlow had himself already been questioned as part of a law enforcement investigation into the unauthorized distribution of Apple source code, which convinced him that the government’s ignorance of emerging technology posed a fundamental problem for online civil liberties.

That spring, Barlow wrote up Jackson’s story in an article called “Crime and Puzzlement,” arguing that the Secret Service, “in over-reaching as extravagantly as they did… have provided us with a devil…. In the presence of a devil, it’s always easier to figure out where you stand.” Together with some powerful Silicon Valley allies, Barlow decided to do something about it.

When Barlow and Mitch Kapor announced the foundation of the Electronic Frontier Foundation at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on July 10, 1990, Jackson joined them in person. The EFF provided him a lawyer to help recover both computer equipment still held by the Secret Service and some of the costs the raid had incurred. The legal backing of the EFF also persuaded the government to abandon its case against Craig Neidorf.

One particularly damning revelation in the trial regarding the $79,000 911 document,as The New York Times reported, showed “that Bell South included the same document in a booklet that was sold to the public for $13.” In the end, the government finally saw it was lost in its own labyrinth, imaginary sword in hand, questing after a beast only it could see.

A quarter century has now passed since these events, which were immortalized in cyberpunk author Bruce Sterling’s book The Hacker Crackdown. The computer enthusiasts who could only dream of an open, global network in 1990 would go on to staff the dot-coms of the next decade. The closed networks that once guarded forbidden knowledge quickly fell by the wayside, and curiosity about computers could no longer be imagined a crime.

Our cyberspace today has its share of problems, but it is no dystopia—and for that, we must acknowledge the key part played by the messy collision of table-top games, computer hacking, law enforcement overreach and cyberpunk science fiction in 1990.

This article was first published on Boing Boing Offworld on 8 May 2015 under Creative Commons.

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Special deal, root and branch reform or Brexit? Cameron’s EU-policy - a sceptical view from Germany

Open Democracy News Analysis - il y a 5 heures 42 minutes

The concessions which Britain will be granted today in negotiations with Brussels and Berlin may well turn out to be self defeating in the long run, because they will marginalise Britain. 

Wellington and Blucher meet during Battle of Waterloo, 1815. Wikicommons/ artist William Heath, 1819. Some rights reserved. With Cameron’s somewhat surprising victory in the general election, the prospect of Britain leaving the EU is no longer a distant possibility; on the contrary if Cameron has nothing to show for his efforts in negotiating a new deal for Britain over the next year or so and is unable to prove that Britain will be able to safeguard her sovereignty against further interference from Brussels in the future the majority of voters in the UK may well vote for leaving the EU altogether in a referendum which Cameron has promised to hold.

For Germany this would be a major nightmare. Although Britain has never been an easy partner for Berlin at the EU negotiating table, a Europe without the United Kingdom would be dominated ever more by governments which are sceptical about free trade, want to fight globalisation by protectionism and which believe in creating economic growth by state intervention and by paying out generous subsidies to potentially non-profitable industries, subsidies for which the German taxpayer would eventually have to foot the bill, or so Berlin fears.

On the other hand a major treaty change to accommodate British wishes is fraught with enormous problems and would allow impoverished southern countries which rightly or wrongly want more financial support from Brussels or Berlin to blackmail the German government, because without their assent such changes would be impossible to implement. 

This is a complicated situation and it is made even more complicated by the fact that nobody quite knows what Cameron really wants. A curb on unrestricted immigration and on what is somewhat polemically called ‘benefit tourism’ is certainly high on the agenda, but the Tories clearly also want some sort of guarantee against further interference from Brussels in general. The EU is to abandon the objective of creating an ever closer union – at least as far as Britain and other non-Euro states are concerned -  and of transforming the European nation states ultimately into mere provinces of a centralised political entity governed from Brussels. The British position can perhaps be summed up in the words, ‘the power of Brussels has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished’ to quote a famous motion tabled in the House of Commons in 1780 – referring, of course, at the time to the influence of the crown, not that of some far away super state.

In theory this is at present probably a sentiment shared in a vague way by many voters throughout Europe, not just in countries such as France which have often defended their sovereignty against Brussels, but also for example in the Netherlands which used to be much more EU-friendly in the past.

However as bad luck will have it there is one man in Europe who is passionately opposed to abandoning the ideal of an ever closer union as a guiding principle for European politics. This is Wolfgang Schäuble, the powerful German minister of finance who will be one of the most important negotiating partners for the British government. Schäuble seems to be genuinely convinced like a number of other politicians from his party, the CDU, that only a United Europe with all the powers of a genuine state can hold its own in the fierce global competition with countries such as China or the US.

Furthermore like many Germans of his generation he believes that it is Germany’s real historical mission to vanish as a nation and be submerged in a yet to be created United States of Europe. Of course Schäuble still hopes that the future homo Europaeus – the ideal European citizen - who no longer identifies strongly with any individual nation will think and behave in many ways like a typical German at least as far as economic matters are concerned. This is Schäuble’s hope not because he is such a strong nationalist, the opposite is true at least by any conventional standards, but because he is  - somewhat naively -  convinced that the German economic model just happens to be the best and most perfect in Europe.

Whatever one may think about this European vision, if there is one country in Europe where it is definitely rejected by most people (at least south of the Tweed) it is Britain, both in its pro-European and its more specifically Germanic aspects.

So how can there be common ground between Osborne and Cameron on the one side and Schäuble and Merkel (who mostly backs her finance minister in these matters not having any strong political ideas of her own unless her survival is at stake)?

Compromise in the offing?

However, a compromise may not be as difficult to achieve as one would be tempted to assume. If one believes media reports Schäuble is prepared to grant Britain even more generous opt out clauses on all sorts of issues than the UK enjoys at the moment. European markets for services might also be liberalised and deregulated more than they are now, something Westminster has insisted on for a long time. At the same time Schäuble hopes for a more stable fiscal union among Euro Zone members which for him essentially means tighter budget controls and the need for individual countries to co-ordinate their economic and welfare policies with Brussels.

Countries like France and Italy and even more so Spain, Portugal and Greece would probably demand in return more financial support - to be financed out of a special budget for the Eurozone -  for their economy and the vast number of unemployed seeking work.

Theoretically such an arrangement, more money for the deficit countries, more supervision of spendthrift governments and more sovereignty for non-Euro countries could keep everybody happy. So where is the snag? For Germany the great drawback would be that governments in Paris and Rome could as they have done in the past, starting with the Maastricht treaty, sign any number of agreements but would not be very likely in a moment of real crisis to stick to the stipulations of such treaties. Their voters would not allow them to do so and why should they pay more than fleeting respect to mere pieces of papers anyhow? There is no power within the EU which could force the greater European states - smaller countries such as Greece or Portugal are an entirely different matter - to impose unpopular budget cuts on their populations for example, apart perhaps from the ECB where, however, the influence Germany and the other northern countries enjoy is very limited indeed these days. So Germany would make concessions without really getting anything in return as it did when the legal framework for the Euro was first designed in the early 1990s.

Think twice, Cameron

That of course should be of no concern to Cameron, on the contrary. But nevertheless such a compromise may not be as beneficial to Britain as it may seem at first glance. If the Eurozone continues to follow the path leading to an ever closer union, and this is what Schäuble and other politicians who truly believe in monetary union want, then Britain will become ever more the odd man out within the EU.

True enough, other smaller countries such as Denmark and Sweden may follow Westminster in their approach to politics in Brussels: try to preserve the advantages of the single market and free trade but avoid all other commitments which might lead to a (further) loss of sovereignty. 

But if such an approach is successful, Britain will be perceived by the members of the Eurozone ever more as a country which just wants a free ride; this will inevitably diminish British influence in Brussels, a process which has already gained a considerable momentum of its own since the beginning of the Euro crisis.

One might say, given the fact that all Britain wants from Europe is free access to European markets, this does not matter all that much. If that were true relations between Switzerland and Brussels would not be as complicated and marked by conflict as they are at the moment. If the Eurozone continues to become more integrated, more like a true state, raising for example taxes of its own on financial transactions (plans for such a tax are discussed from time to time in Brussels), Britain will be affected by such measures for better or worse, and no agreement on British privileges drawn up now can entirely safeguard the UK against further European legislation (difficult to anticipate in its details anyhow today) designed to impose a framework of unitary rules on individual states and demanding ever more power sharing among them.

In the end Brussels will say: if you want access to our markets you have to play by the rules regardless of what privileges you may have obtained in the past. That is the situation facing Switzerland now regarding immigration, which Swiss citizens want to limit once and for all.

Analysts aware of this problem, such as the think tank Open Europe, advocate a root and branch reform of EU institutions, which would give for example national parliaments much more influence on European decisions and would make it much easier for a minority among European governments to stop legislation which at the moment can be pushed through by the Commission provided a qualified majority of member states supports such measures.  However, such wideranging reforms would probably require a treaty change which can easily be blocked by any member state and is therefore difficult to achieve, as has already been emphasized.

Many Tories in Britain have therefore already given up on any overall reform of the EU and prefer a mere special deal for Britain, a wholesale opt out arrangement on most contentious issues. Others, including a sizeable minority of the parliamentary party and even some cabinet ministers such as – possibly -  Sajid Javid, support a Brexit. Their attitude to the Eurozone in particular can be summed up in the words ‘let them go to hell in their own way’ (as long as we don’t have to join them), a mixture of tolerance and contempt, which is perhaps in line with the traditional attitude of Englishmen and –women when confronted by the strange and outlandish customs of exotic tribes and the uncouth and barbaric manners of foreign rulers and potentates.

However such a mixture of disdain and complacency can be dangerous – unless one assumes a Brexit to be desirable or at least inevitable anyhow. If Britain really wants to remain part of the EU but prevent further encroachments on her sovereignty, there is no alternative to a structural reform of the EU.

The relentless drive for ‘enlightened reform’ imposed from above within the EU, eroding national legal and constitutional systems and the power of national parliaments to solve problems on their own, needs to be stopped.

One would need to take seriously the principle of subsidiarity, which at the moment is a mere face-saving device utterly ignored in practice by the Commission and the Parliament. The Commission and even more so the MEPs but also the European Court of Justice - forever favouring centralising policies in its judgements - would need to change their long term objectives.

At the moment despite all the problems, ill thought out and hastily implemented measures for making the EU more homogeneous are still under way having been created from the early 1990s onwards. The spirit and ethos of the major European institutions is still the same as 20 or 30 years ago. Everything that creates more unity and erodes national autonomy is good in itself and very rarely questioned by the majority of MEPs or by the members of the Commission, although the latter are appointed by their home countries. Most go native very soon once they are in Brussels.

National governments sometimes take a different line of course and are very reluctant to accept the Brussels’ line whenever this means that they have to shoulder greater financial burdens or sell policies to their voters which are blatantly unpopular, like for example accepting more refugees instead of sending them to other European countries.

But on other issues where voters are less touchy or less likely to notice that real power is increasingly being moved to Brussels, national governments are more likely to support the unifying policies of the Commission and the EU Parliament, in particular when this allows them to implement on the sly policies for which they can not easily find a majority among their own voters under normal circumstances.

At the national level it can be a great advantage if you are able to say: we have no choice, Brussels has made a decision which we cannot question, much as we regret it, thus passing the buck to the unpopular Eurocrats who cannot be voted out of office. That after all is what the post-democratic regime of decision making in Brussels is about. That’s the beauty of it, and for professional politicians it would be foolhardy to sacrifice all that is most attractive about Brussels.

Among citizens, however, who take a dim view of the entire idea of European unification as such because they take pride in their own national constitutional traditions and liberties or because they are just not cosmopolitan and enlightened enough (depending on what perspective you favour)  – and there are very many such unenlightened sceptics in England – the EU seems ever more like a vast Golem smashing its way relentlessly through the maze of national traditions, replacing diversity by the rules which the higher wisdom of MEPs and Eurocrats thinks fit to impose on European subjects.

To stop this Golem – if we accept this vision for a moment -  one would need to remove the parchment with God’s name from its mouth in a manner of speaking. But that is easier said than done and it is questionable whether Cameron will find many allies in the EU should he really attempt to block the project of an ever closer union, not just in so far as it concerns Britain but also Europe as a whole.

Looking for such allies in Germany may be a particularly arduous task, as sceptical discussions of the EU and its objectives (unless they take place behind closed doors) are still frowned upon in the Federal Republic despite or perhaps because of the on-going Euro crisis.

German politicians mostly follow the line as far as the EU is concerned: Don’t touch it, it could fall apart, fragile as it is. Whoever dares to break this taboo is immediately attacked as a chauvinist, a man of the past and as somebody who favours ‘Kleinstaaterei’ (a Europe of quaint old fashioned micro-states and petty political fiefdoms which would be unable to survive on their own).

And conveniently for politicians like Schäuble the only party really sceptical about the cause of an ever closer European union in Germany, the Alternative für Deutschland is just about to tear itself apart, having chosen the path of self destructive internal conflict for reasons which are difficult to fathom. It is quite uncertain whether it will survive its present crisis. So wherever Cameron will find allies for a major retrenchment of EU powers, Germany is not a place where he is likely to be very lucky in his search.

Nevertheless a fundamental reform of the EU transforming the inherent ethos of the European institutions would be the only policy which would allow the UK to participate in future European policy discussions on equal terms with other countries which are part of the Euro zone and do not enjoy the benefit of the generous opt out clauses which Britain has obtained in the past and hopes to obtain now on an even larger scale.

Otherwise the concessions which Britain will be granted today in negotiations with Brussels and Berlin may well turn out to be self defeating in the long run, because they will marginalise Britain within a political system which in its spirit and design is so alien to everything the British or perhaps rather the English political and constitutional tradition stands for. After all Britain is one of the few countries in Europe which never enjoyed the blessings of enlightened absolutism which was so similar in spirit to the world the European elites in Brussels want to create, to liberate their uncivilised hidebound subjects from their irrational convictions and antiquated national loyalties.

Fudged compromise

The most likely outcome of Cameron’s negotiations in Brussels is of course another fudged compromise, something the EU has always been good at, in fact such arrangements are the EU’s real strong suit. Compromises of this kind, laboriously stitched together but nevertheless often remaining incoherent and contradictory, tend to fall apart or to have thoroughly nefarious effects after a couple of years. The Euro is the best example for this. But who cares? After all in the long run we are all dead, as Keynes once famously put it, an insight which has many fervent supporters in Brussels.

It is a pity that in all likelihood there is no really satisfactory solution on the table, because despite the massive problems the United Kingdom is facing herself at the moment – one only needs to look at the fragile state of the Union between England and Scotland – British political culture with its more pragmatic, empirical and anti-utopian approach to politics could act as an important corrective to the haughty self confidence of the pro-European elites on the continent who still think – after the disastrous turmoil of the Euro crisis which is far from over -  that they can create a better world by wiping out Europe’s diversity.

It has been attempted before, though in more violent ways than by the softly softly approach favoured by the unobtrusive and seemingly harmless men and women peopling the corridors of power in Brussels, and so far it has never been a great success. This is something one should remember in the year marked by the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo which put an end to one such attempt at creating a modern and rationally organised European empire.

In 1815 the Prussians saved Wellington and his thin red line from defeat, but it is unlikely that there will be a repeat performance a hundred years later. Cameron will have to look for allies elsewhere, Schäuble ist no Blücher, unfortunately.

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Sideboxes Related stories:  What is Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) on about? Country or region:  UK Germany Switzerland EU Topics:  Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Ideas International politics
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Closing the doors of justice? The South African Constitutional Court’s approach to direct access

Open Democracy News Analysis - il y a 6 heures 16 minutes

Legal interventions can help improve poverty and inequality, but in South Africa the poor don’t have sufficient access to courts. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on economic and social rights.

While there is some debate on the extent to which the law can improve implementation of economic and social rights, this much is clear: if the law is going to help at all, the poor must have access to courts. Across the developing world, and particularly in Latin America, one of the mechanisms adopted to facilitate this access is enabling people to directly petition the highest court to defend their rights (rather than only arriving there, perhaps, after many appeals through lower courts). Recognising how powerful this can be for disadvantaged populations, the South African Constitution allows direct access to the Constitutional Court when it is in the interests of justice.

Yet, in stark contrast to the highest courts in countries such as Colombia, Costa Rica and India, which regularly and generously grant direct access, the South African Constitutional Court only granted direct access in 18 cases in its first twenty years of operation (1994-2014). In comparison, the Constitutional Court of Costa Rica hears approximately 17,000 direct access applications each year (called amparos) and the Colombian Constitutional Court hears about 450 direct access applications each year (called tutelas).

The South African Constitutional Court has failed to utilise the direct access mechanism to proactively select deserving direct access cases from socio-economically disadvantaged groups. As the highest courts in other countries have realised, direct access is the mechanism over which judges have the most direct power to widen the doors of access to justice, particularly to disempowered applicants. But the South African Constitutional Court has failed to utilise the direct access mechanism to proactively select—not to mention to proactively seek out—deserving direct access cases from socio-economically disadvantaged groups. This failure has meant that, outside criminal cases in which there is legal representation at state expense, the Court’s roll is dominated by cases brought by empowered groups—groups with the funds to litigate through the various required stages to reach the Constitutional Court.   

South Africa’s narrow approach has undermined the Constitutional Court’s ability to act as an institutional voice for the poor. Indeed, this dominance of empowered over disempowered litigants, especially in a Court that hears a relatively low number of cases each year, has two worrying implications for the transformative potential of the Constitutional Court. First, regardless of how “pro-poor” any Constitutional Court judge may be, if s/he hears only or mainly cases involving empowered litigants, s/he is likely to lose touch with the disadvantaged. As a result, the Court is likely to become increasingly elite.

Second, this resulting detachment from the lives of most South Africans limits the ability of the Court to foster the development of constitutionalism. Without a transformative direct access function, the Court’s ability to endenger public faith in the supremancy of the Constitution across the socio-economic divides will remain stunted.

Examining the details of the 18 cases reveals interesting insights into the Court’s restrictive approach. First, half of these applications were not authentic direct access cases in the sense that the issues had already been aired in another court, as opposed to being an original application.


Flickr/Harvey Barrison (Some rights reserved)

Can the South African Constitutional Court better serve South Africans by hearing more direct-access cases?

Second, it is striking that all but two of the remaining nine “authentic” direct access cases relate to classic civil and political rights rather than socio-economic rights. This is noteworthy because in South Africa socio-economic rights cases are invariably brought by impoverished applicants who, arguably, have a stronger claim to direct access based on the interests of justice (because without direct access to the highest court they might not otherwise access justice). Indeed, in most of the 18 cases the litigant was the government; and only one case, Gundwana, was a case of a poor person who—without being granted direct access—would probably not have been able to litigate his case through the usual court hierarchy.

Third, almost all of the 18 cases were brought by government agencies and revolve around maintaining the institutional coherence of government, whether in terms of the court system, including the administration of the justice department and courts, the criminal justice system including correctional services, the electoral system, inter-governmental relations, or a combination of these factors. This suggests that the Court’s main aim in advancing direct access is to resolve political rather than socio-economic questions.  

Recent events, such as the fatal shooting of Andries Tatane by the police during a protest over the right to water, suggest that it is more critical than ever for constitutional litigation to be a serious avenue for contesting the lived reality of poverty and extreme inequality via the resolution of socio-economic questions (as well as political questions). This is all the more important given current perceptions, including by many in the government, that the Constitution is an elite document and that the Constitutional Court serves mainly elite interests. If the Constitutional Court were to embrace a more substantively pro-poor role including by advancing direct access, this could contribute greatly not only to material change and social justice, but also to the consolidation of democracy in South Africa.  

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Related stories:  Can legal interventions really tackle the root causes of poverty? Beyond the courts – protecting economic and social rights Legalizing economic and social rights can help the poor: reflections from South Africa Legalizing economic and social rights won’t help the poor Yes, economic and social rights really are human rights Poverty and human rights: can courts, lawyers and activists make a difference? Cracking down on tax abuse will help promote economic and social rights Legal mobilization: a critical first step to addressing economic and social rights Winners and losers: how budgeting for human rights can help the poor South Africa’s foreign policy: between idealism and the realpolitik of being an emerging power
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UK border agents in the house of God

Open Democracy News Analysis - il y a 8 heures 4 minutes

Immigration officers are now being placed in religious institutions.  It may not be too farfetched to ask: how long before we’re forced to wear our immigration status on our sleeves?

Just as we thought that immigration officers had every aspect of our daily lives covered - needing the right passport for getting married or getting work or medical treatment or a roof over our heads – their renamed body HOIE (Home Office Immigration Enforcement), woke up to the fact that it had failed to intervene in our relationship with God. I don’t happen to have one (since you ask, I ended it) but religiosity is high among immigrant communities and it was one area of their lives that had blossomed from the lack of surveillance until border agents were placed in Gurdwaras, Hindu temples and any religious institutions gullible or misguided or downright antagonistic to their own congregations to take them. Rita Chadha of RAMFEL (Refugee and Migrant Forum of Essex and London) has described this as ‘the last bastion of the immigrant invaded’.

Activists became aware of this development when a six-month pilot programme, Operation Skybreaker which targeted employers, faith groups and registry offices in five London boroughs – Brent, Newham, Tower Hamlets, Ealing and Greenwich – was set up in July 2014. However, on further investigation, the Home Office press office said that the first ‘voluntary returns surgery’ in a place of worship was set up in 2009. Although the spokesperson was not able to give exact numbers, he stressed that this was only a London wide phenomenon. The Brent Anti-Racism Project made contact with local places of worship in order to alert them to their rights. They found that those faith groups which co-operated were less likely to suffer raids by immigration. One of the mosques had been raided and were reluctant to host HOIE clinics although the Hindu temple appeared to have happily welcomed their presence.

Southall Balck Sisters UK Border agency demonstration I visited the ‘surgery’ at that temple which has been running for over a year. The administrator thought the scheme was a great success because 20-24 people had been sent back in the first six months with most returning to Ahmedabad in India. When the temple was initially approached by the Home Office, they wanted reassurances about how the scheme was run because ‘people are fearful of immigration officers, especially people in uniforms. We don’t want people to be scared, this is a temple’. Sure enough, there were no uniforms, no signs of officialdom except for a discreet lanyard inscribed with the words ‘Home Office Immigration Enforcement’ that hung around the neck of one of the two young Asian women running the session. The desk itself was placed in the corner of a large hall at the back of the temple misleadingly signposted as ‘Toilets’. Or perhaps not so misleading.

I said I had come on behalf of a neighbour who was living with her relatives who were making her work day and night in return for board and lodging; she had come originally to the UK on a spousal visa and had been kicked out of her house by her husband. She wanted to go back because her mother was ill but didn’t speak the language and was afraid to come herself. ‘We’re here to help people who want to go back’ was the well-polished response of people trained to hide an iron fist inside a velvet glove although there was some fudging of the question I most wanted answered. What if she changed her mind after coming to see them? If her mother died, she may not want to go back. Would she be forcibly deported? They said they wouldn’t send anyone to her address, that in fact they had no way of knowing if someone’s address was genuine. But once they gave their name and date of birth, they would be in the system and anyone here illegally would be sent back. ‘We don’t want no time wasters’ said one of them. She must come only if she’s sure, she won’t be allowed to stay just because her mother died. Knowing that women who have faced domestic violence can make a case for the right to remain, I asked what if the husband was abusive. ‘Won’t make a difference. It’s his word against hers,’ came the pat reply. Whilst it is technically true that evidence of violence has to be provided, the way in which the advice was dished out would make anyone ignorant of the law believe that this was not an option. In fact, if this fictional woman was to give a statement to an experienced caseworker in a woman’s centre, a supportive report from the centre could be evidence enough.

The immigration officials could not explain how someone could be arrested if they did not verify or visit the addresses of potential returnees. This question was also fudged by the Home Office press officer who said, ‘The clinics themselves are unrelated to enforced removal’ but ‘We endeavour to help and persuade people with no leave to remain to voluntarily leave the UK, but where this option is declined we will take steps to enforce their removal.’  The administrator at the temple also didn’t know what would happen to people who changed their minds after they had passed on their personal information to the immigration officers but she was obviously worried enough about the consequences because she said she advised people to come forward only if they were 100 per cent sure that they wanted to return.

At a recent meeting on immigration organised by Southall Black Sisters, one of the speakers, Rita Chadha alluded to the Gurdwara in East London that hosts these clinics. Sikh temples are particularly known for their tradition of ‘langar’, providing meals for anyone who visits. Among the homeless and the poor who come for langar, there are people with uncertain immigration status. For immigration officers to be situated in places like that, however discreetly, can be unsettling for both settled and new migrants. The Sikh Council accepted £60,000 in grants in 2013 to run a voluntary return scheme.

Initiatives like these are inherently divisive, and encourage communities to spy on each other. Like the benefit fraud helpline, a regular presence of border agents makes it easy for neighbours and friends to report someone with whom they have fallen out. Compared to the sledgehammer approach of the ‘Go Home Vans’ in Operation Vaken in 2013 which led to the departure of only 11 people, this ‘softly, softly’ approach is also damaging because all migrants feel targeted. The Southall Black Sisters T-shirt, worn by protesters at their various anti-immigration laws demos, has the words, ‘Do I look like an illegal immigrant?’ boldly printed on them; it articulates perfectly the injustice of racial profiling involved in these enforcement measures.

While migrants feel hunted down at street level, there is a kind of pincer movement in operation: at the macro level, there have been calls, particularly by the Italian government, to move EU borders to Africa: setting up reception centres in countries like Niger, Tunisia and Sudan to screen potential refugees before they set foot in Europe. In the UK, the Queen’s speech promises a new immigration bill which will allow the police to seize the pitiful wages of ‘illegal’ immigrants. The whole weight of the new Conservative government will bear down on those least able to withstand it. We are all familiar with the dangerous consequences of racial profiling. It may not be too farfetched to ask: how long before we’re forced to wear our immigration status on our sleeves?

 

Sideboxes Related stories:  Apostasy and asylum: escaping the clutches of religion Philosophies of migration UK migration: a hierarchy of injustices Religion, gender and migration: beyond 'obedience vs agency’ Is migration studies failing to defend migrant rights? UK immigration policy: more than an enforcement issue Refugee studies: the challenge of translating hope into reality Faith: know thy place Anti-deportation campaigns: ‘What kind of country do you want this to be?’ "They don't speak English": language, migration and cohesion Migration: lives, loves and language Country or region:  UK
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Families in detention

Open Democracy News Analysis - il y a 8 heures 14 minutes

The United States uses the detention of families and unaccompanied minors as a method of deterring immigration. This must stop.

President Barack Obama heckled while speaking on immigration in Chicago in 2014. Jacek Boczarski/Demotix. All Rights Reserved.

A recent report from the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and the Women’s Refugee Commission tells the story of twenty-eight year old Rosa, who fled the gang violence in Honduras with her seven-year-old daughter Ana. They were arrested in New Mexico and put into a family detention centre there for three months. Around this same time, mothers held with their children at another family detention centre in Texas went on a five-day hunger strike the week before Easter 2015. The stories of these women and their children are among the many stories that have resulted from the United States’ renewed practice of detaining immigrant families.

The number of individuals detained in the United States for immigration reasons has increased dramatically over the past few decades, and especially under the Obama administration. This situation stems from the intensified border control efforts and immigration policies whose aim has ostensibly been to reduce mobility along the southern border of the United States. The policies have utterly failed to do so and have, rather, increased the vulnerability of those who cross. Amongst the numerous situations of detention that highlight the inhumanity of the current system is the issue of family detention.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) utilises a network of over 300 detention centres nationwide, many of them owned and operated by private corporations. In December of 2014 the largest family detention centre for immigrants opened in Dilley, Texas. At the facility’s inauguration, Jeh Johnson, the Department of Homeland Security Secretary, said ominously that with the added detention capability, “It’ll now be more likely that you’ll be detained and sent back.” The centre is a former camp for oilfield workers located 100 miles north of the US–Mexico border, between Laredo and San Antonio. It is designed to hold about 2400 detainees, most of whom will be women and children. The 50-acre site will be managed by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest for-profit prison corporation in the United States. CCA describes its mission in Dilley as being “to provide an open, safe environment with residential housing as well as educational opportunities for women and children who are awaiting their due process.” Others have described the site as “standing on a dirt road lined with cabins in a barren compound enclosed by fencing.”

The event(s) precipitating the recent uptick in what has been referred to as “Obama’s family deportation mill” was the arrival of the ‘border kids’ during the summer of 2014. Tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras crossed the Mexican border into the United States. While these unaccompanied minors received most of the media attention, there was also a significant increase in the numbers of women and children crossing for the same reasons, namely violence in their home countries. The US government apprehended 68,334 family members at the US’s southwest border between October 2013 and September 2014. This represents a 361 percent increase from the previous year, according to the report mentioned in the first paragraph.

Prior to the summer of 2014, ICE maintained only one family detention centre: the 96-bed Berks County Residential Center in Leesport, Pennsylvania, which opened in 2001. From 2006-2009 CAA, under contract with ICE,  managed a family detention centre in in Taylor, Texas, however it was shut down after scathing publicity about conditions at the centre led to a human rights investigation and a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union. Two other centres, one in Artesia, New Mexico and one in Karnes County, Texas were opened temporarily to hold families. Prior to opening the new centre in Dilley, Texas family detention, which was a very controversial aspect of the immigrant detention system, had been on the decline. 

Etienne Balibar has written of a “topography of cruelty” in which asylum and migration are central aspects. Borders, key features of this topography, today work as instruments of security control, segregation and “unequal access to the means of existence”. Surely, the detention of families, many with very young children, constitutes an extreme form of cruelty? Confining children in compounds behind razor wire is inherently inhumane. The average age of the children held at the Artesia, New Mexico detention centre was six years old. Mental health professional and immigration lawyers speak of the damage that prolonged detention does to mothers and their children, most of whom have already experienced devastating forms of violence. Surely the United States can do better.

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Markets of the mind

Open Democracy News Analysis - il y a 15 heures 16 minutes

Debt and guilt have much in common. It’s time we found better ways of organising both ourselves and the economy.

Credit: http://www.indiainfoline.com. All rights reserved.

Feeling guilty and being over-indebted have much in common. You've done something wrong and now you're paying for it. The feeling of guilt is a flow of pain due to you from past recklessness, maybe from your original sin. The flow might abate if only you could redeem yourself. You're all set up to beg forgiveness. A payment is due, and if only you'd do your duty, you'd pay your dues, the pain might just abate. The language of guilt and debt seem inseparable: redeem, forgive, bondage, dues...

George Gilder, onetime business guru, evangelical Christian and speechwriter to Richard Nixon, was a prophet of the virtues of massive debt for companies. His logic would have appealed to the protestant theologian and autocrat John Calvin. When you pile a company high with debt—up to the maximum that its financial projections will allow—the chief executive will have just one purpose to his day: to fulfill his promises; to meet the monthly installment. And if he doesn’t (it usually is a ‘he’), he'll have to confront a stern and wrathful investor. That investor is, in Goldamn Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein’s entirely non-ironic formulation, “Just doing God's work.” To make the payment or else ... that's exactly the motivational structure of the guilty mind: there'll be hell to pay if I don't perform.

Here's the trick to God’s work: you give the executive a good salary and an equity stake—the promise of life after the toil and hardship below. That makes life on the right side of judgement pretty good now and excellent in prospect. You've got a lot to lose. But if you miss the debt payment, it's a sign you have not been chosen. There might be other chances for redemption, but you've fluffed this one.

If you're burdened with sin—mental debt—you’ll need to pay your dues to your stern and angry God (your banker), or face the punishment. The payment—your good behaviour, your endeavour—keeps your banker off your back until the next installment. But you’ve still got the debt. 

One of Gilder's favourite companies was WorldCom. Remember their story? It too could only wish the slate were wiped clean.

It's truly a morality tale. WorldCom piled on the debt to build fiber networks to light up the Internet. Gilder—investor and judge—beheld his servant Worldcom and loved what he saw. Every month, the payments came in. Regular as clockwork. Every signal said that this was truly a company that could be trusted with the transformation of the world.

It made a financial projection and it kept hitting it, month after month. Until the day that investors discovered that the company had been lying. Or rather, it had deluded itself. Its accounts had booked as current revenues the promise of revenues far in the future. When these failed to materialise, WorldCom just booked yet more fanciful sales as revenues today, to keep the day of judgement away. But your maker does not wait forever. The delusional state was revealed. WorldCom filed for bankruptcy and its executives went to jail.

The guilty soul can also ‘do a WorldCom.’ It enters delusional psychosis—a state of salvation, of having been forgiven. The guilt is unbearable…unless…unless the representation of reality can be made to be other than it is. Unless the books can be cooked. That’s the final let-out: the world is magically transformed; the repayment has been made. The part of the company that is meant to raise a truthful mirror to its maker (the accounting department) becomes corrupted. The deluded transform their reality as their last refuge.

Gilder’s right, in many ways, about the power of debt. The ability to repay becomes the canary in the mine. The investor does not need to know or understand much about the company—just can it make its payments? If it can, it’s a good company and might eventually be rewarded. If it can't, it will be punished.

The debt contract, requiring so little real work from the investor, extends the power of finance no end. Each economic transaction requires little work to be monitored and controlled: the very act of being able to repay becomes most of the monitoring you need to do. And if the repayment falters, then you take a closer look. You examine the covenants you signed. You might decide to exercise control.

And so with guilt and the scope of authority. A sense of sin, of having to redeem yourself through deeds, is the banker in the head. Guilt regulates human behaviour in the same way that debt regulates the behavior of the firm. Just as the stern arm of the investor is extended through the debt contract, so the stern arm of God is extended through guilt.

Debt and guilt are powerful tools. I'm not saying they should never be used. If it's vital that power be delegated to someone or some group whom we don't quite trust, then debt can be the right contract. Debt opens up capital resources to those beyond the circle of tribal loyalties. With a nod to William Shakespeare, Antonio can go to Shylock to finance Bassanio’s profitable suit. Venice prospers and innovates in finance.

As The Economist explains in this week’s leader, we have tax systems that favour debt over equity: a company is not taxed on the interest it repays, but it is taxed on any profits it returns to shareholders. After tax, a company can make a £1 million loan go further than £1 million from a shareholder who'll participate directly in the ups and downs of the venture. The leveraged buy-out industry and huge swathes of private equity and banking have grown in the niche created by this tax wrinkle.

Why do we favour debt over equity and guilt over sympathy? It extends the domain of control of the stern judges, and that might be enough of an explanation.

But maybe there is more: a mind shaped by sin and guilt will feel comfortable—at home even—in a debt contract. And if you’re in debt, you can make sense of your plight through the notion of sin. Guilt is a market in the mind and it paves the way for markets in the world, while the economy provides a model for how the mind can be organised. Debt really does motivate through fear; it can super-charge the economy. Burdened by debt, the company does more than is natural to make its next payment. The guilty person is always striving to keep their judge at bay.

I want to repeat: the debt contract sometimes makes sense. If a vital interest is at stake, we must all pay our dues, and debt/guilt can be a very efficient way to get there. Even in Ursula Le Guin’s anarchist utopian economy of "The Dispossessed", when famine strikes, it is right for everyone to bend their will to the common good. Maybe guilt played a part in that, and maybe it should.

But let’s recognise the damage that’s done from too much reliance on the debt/guilt system:

  1. Everything must be made to seem like a vital interest is at stake to maintain the feverish pitch of endeavour.
  2. Debt and guilt crowd out other ways of organising collective endeavours and of motivating people—we reduce the realm of human possibility

Who benefits from all the endeavour created by debt and guilt? In most cases, not the indebted or the guilty so much as the creditor or the figures behind the frightening God.

When we see the damage done to others by so much of that endeavour—in the case of debt-fuelled growth, to the environment, to the vulnerable, to all that could have been instead; in the case of guilt, to self-realisation—we find the real reason to resist the marketising of the mind and the guilt-priming of the economy. 

Sideboxes Related stories:  Citizen solidarity not economic nationalism after GE2015 The conflict at the heart of modern money Can money be a force for good? Topics:  Economics
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Human rights, why should I care? Real life stories

Open Democracy News Analysis - 24. Mai 2015 - 23:00

Victims of the black cab rapist were not believed. A man who suffered a miscarriage of justice could not speak to journalists. Four children suffered abuse and neglect. Three stories from RightsInfo:

European Court of Human Rights judgment in the case of four children who suffered abuse and neglect.

The black cab rapist

In 2009, John Worboys, the ‘black cab rapist’, was found guilty of sexually assaulting 12 women. Police now believe he used ‘date-rape’ drugs to attack over 100 female customers between 2002 and 2008. Women known as DSD and NBV both reported their belief that they had been raped to the police. Both felt that during and after the investigations, the police didn’t believe their stories or take the inquiries seriously.

The question in this case was whether human rights was whether the police, in failing to investigate allegations effectively, subjected victims to “inhuman and degrading treatment”, breaching the Human Rights Convention.

Date-rape drugs confuse victims and often cause them to lose their memories. The difficulty this causes for women who suspect they may have been raped is recognised in police guidelines relating to drug-related assault. The Court found that in many attacks subsequently attributed to Worboys, these guidelines were not followed. Police neither believed allegations, nor conducted enquiries properly. This had a profoundly damaging effect on the women’s mental health, and meant that the police failed to ‘join the dots’ between similar cases for over 6 years.

The Court said the failings did result in in “inhuman and degrading treatment”. This shows how important it is that authorities take seriously and investigate thoroughly accusations of sexual assault.

Many women Worboys attacked only felt able to come forward after he had been accused because they were afraid that they, like DSD and NBV, would not be believed. Recognising women’s legal right to be heard means that police must treat women in this situation as potential victims of serious crime, who must have their reports properly investigated. More broadly, this will hopefully contribute to undermining the victim-blaming attitude that persists around sexual violence, focussing on the attacker’s culpability rather than the women’s conduct. 

This story is a short summary of a legal judgment. You can read the full judgment here.

Screaming to an empty room

Imagine being accused of a crime you didn’t commit. Imagine if the accusation led to you spending the rest of your life behind bars. Worse, imagine if there was no way for you to tell your side of the story, if you were left screaming to an empty room.

Ian Simms and Michael O’Brien were convicted of separate murders. They persistently protested their innocence. They ran out of options in the courts and decided to try and get a journalist to investigate, so they could tell their side of the story. But the prison refused to let them speak to a journalist.

Simms and O’Brien took the prison to court, saying that the ability of the prison to refuse to allow journalists to visit and interview prisoners was in breach of their freedom of speech. The court agreed with them, saying that journalists should be able to interview prisoners as a way of making sure there were no miscarriages of justice.

The judge said that freedom of speech was necessary in the “exposure of errors” of the criminal justice system. The case is famous because the court said that if the state wants to interfere with fundamental rights, like free speech, it has to do so clearly and explicitly. “Fundamental rights”, said Lord Hoffmann, “cannot be overridden by general or ambiguous words”.

After this case, prison policy in the UK was changed. Journalists are now allowed to interview prisoners so that they can help them investigate and challenge any miscarriages of justice. Meanwhile, O’Brien was released and exonerated of murder. Simms, however, was not. He remains in prison.

Full judgment here. BBC coverage of the issue here.

Listen to me

Four siblings were born between 1982 and 1988. On numerous occasions between 1987 and 1992  grandparents, teachers and neighbours told others they were worried about the children. In 1987 the oldest child was reported to be stealing food, in 1988 a neighbour reported that the children were locked outside the house for most of the day and in 1989 the house was searched and found to be filthy. Used dirty nappies were discarded in a cupboard and the children’s mattresses were sodden with urine.

Social services were alerted… again… and again. They helped very little. In 1992, the mother cried out that she could no longer cope and threatened to batter the children if no one stepped in. The children were finally taken into care. They were seen by a psychiatrist who said it was the worst case of physical and emotional neglect she had seen and that social services had “leant over backwards to avoid putting the children on the Child Protection Register and had delayed too long, leaving at least three of the children with serious psychological disturbance as a result”.

The children’s guardian took social services to court for failing to protect them from abuse. The English court said it had no remedy for them. To let them sue social services would encourage future families to do the same and make social workers over-cautious.

So they took the case to the European Court of Human Rights. The Court said the children had been subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment. The local authority failed in their duty to protect them. They were awarded £32,000 each to reflect the pain and distress they endured.

The children continued to suffer depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and lack of integration in education and society. Money was never going to make good what went wrong. But this case may make social workers that bit more unlikely to ignore warnings. Full judgment here.

RightsInfo

The Conservative government wants to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights. We don’t yet know what that will look like. Meanwhile, public debate is fogged by misinformation and lack of understanding. Human rights advocates need to convey to people why human rights matters to them.  

These three short stories about real human rights cases were first posted on a new site, RightsInfo, which provides clear and reliable information about why human rights matter. RightsInfo is turning 50 key human rights cases into plain-English stories and publishing one each weekday. You can find the full list here.

Sideboxes Related stories:  The future of human rights in the UK In defence of the Human Rights Act - laws must change with society Coalition deadlock over the law and politics of human rights
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Nash equilibrium

Open Democracy News Analysis - 24. Mai 2015 - 22:29

The mathematician John Nash, who died on Sunday, provided a foundation for economics that is rich, not dismal

John Nash's great contribution to economics - the one for which he was awarded the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel in 1994 - is his proof, in his 1950 Princeton PhD thesis, of the Fundamental Theorem of Game Theory which states, roughly, that every game has at least one solution.

A little more needs to be said: a game in this context is a set of possible actions and interactions between players where each outcome has some value to each player. And a solution is that the game has a Nash equilibrium, where this means that it is true of each player that they are doing the best they can given what the others are doing. The key breakthrough in Nash's PhD is in this concept of the equilibrium. I am doing the best I can do given what you're doing; and you're doing the best given what I'm doing. It is natural to call such a situation an equilibrium because, if you're in it, there's no good reason to deviate from it. Since everyone's doing best, no one has a reason to deviate.

To me, there are tow very striking things about the result:

  1. It is absolutely not obvious that all games would have such stable points. It is quite plausible that many human interactions can be represented as games. But it could quite easily have turned out that optimal behaviour could not be determined in the way that Nash's Fundamental Theorem suggests.
  2. It presents a view of stability and optimality that is very relative: a course of action is best for me only because another course of action is best for you, which is itself only best for you because a course of action is best for me ... which is only best for me because that one is best for you ... and so on. When Marx, in the Communist Manifesto, speaks of a future in which "The free realisation of each becomes the condition for the free realisation of all," I take him to be describing a Nash Equilibrium: a state in which I'm doing what leads to my self-realisation because it is a best response to what you're doing for your self-realisation and vice versa.

There are many important questions on which the Fundamental Theorem is completely silent. Probably the most important in terms of social outcomes is the question of how players rank different outcomes. There is nothing intrinsic to game theory that says that preferences should be self-regarding or that players should not care about the pay-offs to others. That is a layer of psychology and sociology on top of Nash's mathematics and utterly separable from it. Nash's result will apply as much (or, perhaps, as little) in a den of thieves as in a paradise of saints.

Once preferences are given, Nash points the way to some powerful shaping forces for social outcomes. These are shaping forces rather than hard and fast predictions, because the result requires some stringent conditions to be met, especially about the nature of rationality and the form of common knowledge - conditions which are too strong to be realistic and are rightly questioned in many disciplines - psychology, sociology and anthropology.

Nash Equilibrium gave economics foundations that have two features we don't usually associate with the dismal science: first, it emphasises the stability of optimal outcomes; and second it addresses the question of our collective interdependence. However dismal the uses to which the theory be put, these two features make it capable, I think, of formulating important practical truths for our common existence. The second is particularly striking and is worth contrasting with the usual telling of Adam Smith's invisible hand. Under the invisible hand, I can do what is best for me regardless of what you are doing because the hand will guide society to the best outcomes. Under Nash's very visible mind - not hand - in thinking about what I should do, I need to think about what you should do. The mythology of the invisible hand is therefore a socially isolating one - one in which I can be a social atom - whereas the world as represented by Nash equilibrium is one in which we must always consider interdependence. 

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Morocco, UN myopia and the Libyan crisis

Open Democracy News Analysis - 24. Mai 2015 - 20:29

It may be understandable that the UN should clutch at any straws to address the miasma in Libya. But Morocco shouldn’t be one of them.

Those were the days: celebrating the liberation of Benghazi from the Qaddafi dictatorship in October 2011. Flickr / Magherabia. Some rights reserved.

Since the fall of Muammar Qaddafi’s regime in 2011, Libya has been plunged into civil war. No one really knows where it will lead but it is indefinitely postponing a political transition essential for the country's stability.

For some time the African Union (AU), Egypt and Algeria seemed to be key actors in the search for peace but their efforts, under the patronage of the United Nations (UN), have led only to impasse. Enter Morocco, which has in recent weeks organised several intra-Libyan round tables under UN sponsorship.

During one such event in April, in the coastal town of Skhirate (near Rabat), the UN special envoy, Bernardino Leon, warned that “the talks would be the last chance to end the conflict” and that “the patience of Libyans and the international community” was exhausted. And there have even been media suggestions that some western officials see such talks in Morocco as the only hope of forming a unity government and halting the fighting.

Continental approach

To thoroughly understand what drives Morocco in the search for peace, a regional, even continental, approach is required. Yet in the many analyses of the crisis in Libya and the wider Sahel, the Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD), which has 28 members (two-thirds French speaking) and is a key geopolitical bloc, has been neglected if not overlooked. Qaddafi, the mastermind behind the foundation of CEN-SAD in 1998, had a strategic ambition thereby to reduce French influence on African countries, while counterbalancing the AU, and poured petro-dollars into this regional grouping.

Since his overthrow in 2011, however, CEN-SAD has been deprived of much of its financing, removing any impediments for France to reactivate its policy in the Sahel—as witnessed since the advent of the crisis in Mali. For Rabat, controlling CEN-SAD or, at least, being perceived as a proximate supporter of Libya could be highly beneficial. Such a strategy would provide this close and historical French ally with an elevated leading role alongside France, which already has a substantial number of troops in the region, and an even greater opportunity to influence the Sahel.

In June 2012, a meeting of CEN-SAD foreign ministers took place in Morocco, officially to find a lasting peace in Mali. In reality, this was a unique occasion for Rabat to showcase its new-found interest in Sahel stability.

The fall of Qaddafi and the changing regional political landscape have provided Morocco with the opportunity to influence the Sahel states in its own long-term continental interests. Moroccan diplomats have been extremely active in the Sahel and the Maghreb, trying to reap the benefits of the continuing geopolitical and strategic reshuffling.

By giving a lead—directly or indirectly—to CEN-SAD, Morocco aims to strengthen its international position, in Africa in particular, which would facilitate the kingdom’s eventual return to the AU. The union currently recognises as a member the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, which contests Rabat’s illegal colonisation of the Western Sahara territory since 1975, and so Morocco remains outside.

Mutual efforts

Like Egypt (and the AU), Algeria is convinced that only a political solution will eventually put an end to the stalemate in Libya and privileges political dialogue. Aided by regular diplomatic meetings, these two north African giants converge behind mutual efforts to find a lasting, peaceful solution and combat the growing threat from terrorism in the region. 

The recent peace accords in Mali, signed in Bamako, emerged under the patronage of Algiers. Yet, despite hosting various meetings with the different Libyan protagonists, it has not enjoyed the same success in that arena. It’s not just the complexity of the Libyan equation but what the Algerian daily El Watan characterises as a ‘two-headed diplomacy’.

Exerting more pressure on Libyans and putting before them a fait accompli is surely not the best option to find a lasting peace.

Oddly, Algeria has both a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MFAIC), headed since September 2013 by Ramtane Lamamra, and a Ministry for Maghreb and African Affairs and the Arab League (MMAAAL), led by Abdelkader Messahel. Both are highly respected and experienced diplomats, with a massive knowledge of African affairs.

Lamamra (dubbed ‘Mister Africa’), a former AU peace and security commissioner, is the chief author of the reinvigoration of Algeria’s foreign policy, internationally and on the African continent—for too long neglected. He is also behind the flow of African and western diplomats, presidents and ministers to Algiers in the past 18 months.

Officially, this dual diplomacy is due to the numerous international files in which Algeria is implicated, in Africa and beyond. But this bicephalous approach is vulnerable to personal rivalries and competitive ambitions. And, if the former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger once famously asked ‘who do I call if I want to call Europe?’, foreign chancelleries might soon ask ‘what foreign ministry shall we call in Algeria?’.

Jumble

To add to this jumble of conferences and round tables, Ethiopia has recently called for a gathering of African foreign ministers on Libya, probably during the AU summit to be held next month in Johannesburg. But given the scale of the challenge, it is hard to envisage any strategy arising from this meeting, as against a loud diplomatic cacophony. And this multiplication of initiatives may only complicate an already complex Libyan and regional geopolitical situation.

Worse still, Leon’s exasperated declaration last month may not only indicate that the UN is losing ground. Exerting more pressure on Libyans and putting before them a fait accompli is surely not the best option to find a lasting peace. And while all actors must help Libyans find an overdue political solution, the AU and its member states, supported by the UN, should be the prime driving force.

It is thus paradoxical and puzzling that the UN could perceive Morocco, though not a member of the AU, as a viable broker for Libya. If Rabat could harvest any laurels from the thorny Libyan political stalemate, it would open a regional Pandora’s box—with dramatic consequences for the Western Sahara conflict. And if the UN has a viable strategy for stability and security in Libya and the Sahel-Maghreb as a whole, it is not at all evident what it is.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Libya: the pressing need for dialogue Libya, containing the danger Libya’s downward spiral Country or region:  Libya Topics:  Conflict International politics
Catégories: les flux rss

Morocco, UN myopia and the Libyan crisis

Open Democracy News Analysis - 24. Mai 2015 - 20:29

It may be understandable that the UN should clutch at any straws to address the miasma in Libya. But Morocco shouldn’t be one of them.

Those were the days: celebrating the liberation of Benghazi from the Qaddafi dictatorship in October 2011. Flickr / Magherabia. Some rights reserved.

Since the fall of Muammar Qaddafi’s regime in 2011, Libya has been plunged into civil war. No one really knows where it will lead but it is indefinitely postponing a political transition essential for the country's stability.

For some time the African Union (AU), Egypt and Algeria seemed to be key actors in the search for peace but their efforts, under the patronage of the United Nations (UN), have led only to impasse. Enter Morocco, which has in recent weeks organised several intra-Libyan round tables under UN sponsorship.

During one such event in April, in the coastal town of Skhirate (near Rabat), the UN special envoy, Bernardino Leon, warned that “the talks would be the last chance to end the conflict” and that “the patience of Libyans and the international community” was exhausted. And there have even been media suggestions that some western officials see such talks in Morocco as the only hope of forming a unity government and halting the fighting.

Continental approach

To thoroughly understand what drives Morocco in the search for peace, a regional, even continental, approach is required. Yet in the many analyses of the crisis in Libya and the wider Sahel, the Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD), which has 28 members (two-thirds French speaking) and is a key geopolitical bloc, has been neglected if not overlooked. Qaddafi, the mastermind behind the foundation of CEN-SAD in 1998, had a strategic ambition thereby to reduce French influence on African countries, while counterbalancing the AU, and poured petro-dollars into this regional grouping.

Since his overthrow in 2011, however, CEN-SAD has been deprived of much of its financing, removing any impediments for France to reactivate its policy in the Sahel—as witnessed since the advent of the crisis in Mali. For Rabat, controlling CEN-SAD or, at least, being perceived as a proximate supporter of Libya could be highly beneficial. Such a strategy would provide this close and historical French ally with an elevated leading role alongside France, which already has a substantial number of troops in the region, and an even greater opportunity to influence the Sahel.

In June 2012, a meeting of CEN-SAD foreign ministers took place in Morocco, officially to find a lasting peace in Mali. In reality, this was a unique occasion for Rabat to showcase its new-found interest in Sahel stability.

The fall of Qaddafi and the changing regional political landscape have provided Morocco with the opportunity to influence the Sahel states in its own long-term continental interests. Moroccan diplomats have been extremely active in the Sahel and the Maghreb, trying to reap the benefits of the continuing geopolitical and strategic reshuffling.

By giving a lead—directly or indirectly—to CEN-SAD, Morocco aims to strengthen its international position, in Africa in particular, which would facilitate the kingdom’s eventual return to the AU. The union currently recognises as a member the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, which contests Rabat’s illegal colonisation of the Western Sahara territory since 1975, and so Morocco remains outside.

Mutual efforts

Like Egypt (and the AU), Algeria is convinced that only a political solution will eventually put an end to the stalemate in Libya and privileges political dialogue. Aided by regular diplomatic meetings, these two north African giants converge behind mutual efforts to find a lasting, peaceful solution and combat the growing threat from terrorism in the region. 

The recent peace accords in Mali, signed in Bamako, emerged under the patronage of Algiers. Yet, despite hosting various meetings with the different Libyan protagonists, it has not enjoyed the same success in that arena. It’s not just the complexity of the Libyan equation but what the Algerian daily El Watan characterises as a ‘two-headed diplomacy’.

Exerting more pressure on Libyans and putting before them a fait accompli is surely not the best option to find a lasting peace.

Oddly, Algeria has both a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MFAIC), headed since September 2013 by Ramtane Lamamra, and a Ministry for Maghreb and African Affairs and the Arab League (MMAAAL), led by Abdelkader Messahel. Both are highly respected and experienced diplomats, with a massive knowledge of African affairs.

Lamamra (dubbed ‘Mister Africa’), a former AU peace and security commissioner, is the chief author of the reinvigoration of Algeria’s foreign policy, internationally and on the African continent—for too long neglected. He is also behind the flow of African and western diplomats, presidents and ministers to Algiers in the past 18 months.

Officially, this dual diplomacy is due to the numerous international files in which Algeria is implicated, in Africa and beyond. But this bicephalous approach is vulnerable to personal rivalries and competitive ambitions. And, if the former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger once famously asked ‘who do I call if I want to call Europe?’, foreign chancelleries might soon ask ‘what foreign ministry shall we call in Algeria?’.

Jumble

To add to this jumble of conferences and round tables, Ethiopia has recently called for a gathering of African foreign ministers on Libya, probably during the AU summit to be held next month in Johannesburg. But given the scale of the challenge, it is hard to envisage any strategy arising from this meeting, as against a loud diplomatic cacophony. And this multiplication of initiatives may only complicate an already complex Libyan and regional geopolitical situation.

Worse still, Leon’s exasperated declaration last month may not only indicate that the UN is losing ground. Exerting more pressure on Libyans and putting before them a fait accompli is surely not the best option to find a lasting peace. And while all actors must help Libyans find an overdue political solution, the AU and its member states, supported by the UN, should be the prime driving force.

It is thus paradoxical and puzzling that the UN could perceive Morocco, though not a member of the AU, as a viable broker for Libya. If Rabat could harvest any laurels from the thorny Libyan political stalemate, it would open a regional Pandora’s box—with dramatic consequences for the Western Sahara conflict. And if the UN has a viable strategy for stability and security in Libya and the Sahel-Maghreb as a whole, it is not at all evident what it is.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Libya: the pressing need for dialogue Libya, containing the danger Libya’s downward spiral Country or region:  Libya Topics:  Conflict International politics
Catégories: les flux rss

Porous borders allow migrants into Germany. And?

Open Democracy News Analysis - 24. Mai 2015 - 15:52

Many are desperately trying to get into a country that’s perceived as Europe’s best. Some are vociferously unhappy about this. Politicians thrive in such petty-minded zeitgeist. Do true democrats need to worry?

A member of the newly formed HoGeSa group. Wikimedia. Public domain.Consider HoGeSa, Pegida, and Bavaria’s recent complaints about a sieve-like Italy, unable to choke off the influx of migrants travelling beyond the Alps. These are visible symptoms of a deepening malaise: Germans worry there are too many foreigners in their country and that many more are coming through porous borders. Politicians masterfully stoke resentment for political gain.

“We are not the social services for the whole world,” Horst Seehofer almost shouted in February. The prime minister of Bavaria and leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU) summed it all up with his inflammatory, populist utterance: conservative forces all over Germany seem to agree with these words and tone, according to the main media outlets.

Munich paper Süddeutsche Zeitung explained that Seehofer’s statement was “almost literally quoting  campaign slogans by Alternative for Germany [AfD] and the National Democratic Party of Germany [NPD].” AfD is a fiercely anti-immigration organization akin to the UK Independence Party; NPD places itself on the very edge of extreme far-right politics (and perhaps beyond). All of which says a lot about CSU itself.

But are immigration-afraid ordinary citizens – the ones paying for Seehofer’s wages – wrong in feeling the way they do? No, of course not. These are unprecedented times for everyone: for those hoping to improve their lives, opportunities are aplenty; while for those, who are supposed to accept newcomers and just get on with it, it is also a new thing.

Some travelling souls are happy-go-lucky and call themselves fortunate enough to have reached Italy, Greece, or even Bulgaria. But often they’re exploited as cheap labourers. If you can, you’d rather avoid breaking your back by picking strawberries all day for literally pittance.

Understandably others aim higher: at Europe’s kernel; maybe Scandinavia. Can you blame them for being ambitious? Southern Europe, in fact, can put immigrants off (and not just them). A young Eritrean committed suicide in Switzerland not long ago: authorities there ruled he must head back to Italy. He didn’t want to; they found him hanged. This speaks volumes about the levels of psychological stress migrants undergo. They are tough, sure, but there’s only so much even they can put up with. It’d be worth raising more awareness among western audiences on this neglected aspect.

If you’ve proved yourself through bravery and stamina – as anyone who’s crossed the Mediterranean has – then surely you don’t think twice about going the extra mile. Northern Europe seems quite naturally within reach.

So that’s the attitude which rich and suspicious Europe is being confronted with. You can see through the phenomenon and spot the human capital in it: many migrants are young, fit, hungry for life. Just take a look at them, if you can, in one of the hotspots en route.

In South Tyrol, for example, in an effort to leave Southern Europe for good, you find them desperately trying to board a Deutsche Bahn train. They all brim with youthful energy and ingenuity, and become visibly disappointed when policemen brusquely stop them. A roll of the eyes is all they do, though.

You’d expect these young immigrants (mostly men) to complain vehemently, but they don’t; being used to being pushed around, they couldn’t care less. In fact they know they just have to wait for a window of opportunity. They’ve already come a long way. What’s another 500 kilometres?

Maybe they’ll get on the next train, a local one. A few lucky ones manage to hire a taxi, according to Bavarian public radio station BR Aktuell. They’re getting closer and closer to the target, anyway. Some might have a contact waiting for them in Germany; or another place in the north. They’d call it the ‘promised land’ if they were Christian.

The majority of them are not. A conspicuous minority of Europeans find this troubling. Pegida was mentioned at the beginning. Reams upon reams have been written on this movement, verging on the racist (some may argue Pegida is actually downright xenophobic.)

HoGeSa looks even worse. It stands for Hooligans Against Salafists. A hilarious choice of words. Are these guys actually taking the mickey out of Pegida, the way Monty Python might’ve done in its day?

If only. They’re damn serious. Multiculturalism is obviously not their thing. Their motto: “We don’t want a theocracy!” Who does in 2015 Europe? Such words conceal the anguish of ordinary individuals, who deep down feel in competition for resources with immigrants; the latter can also access Hartz IV, the German long-term unemployment benefit system. Has this anything to do with widespread resentment?

Muslims invading the sacred Old Continent is another, age-old cliché. But how can you possibly equate ordinary people to warring medieval tribes? And ‘Salafist’, how silly and even highfalutin is that as a choice of word? Is HoGeSa suggesting it’s intellectually serious and should be trusted for moral guidance? A broad democratic discourse ought to allow all that, supposedly. One is nevertheless left wondering where the boundaries of free speech lie.

In Europe burgeoning ageing populations are set against ever fewer young people struggling to contribute to ill-devised pension systems; many can’t see that the influx of energetic individuals – mostly willing to comply with Europe’s rules and pay their tax – are in this respect a (secular) blessing.

Immigrant numbers are relatively quite low: European societies can absorb them. Think for a moment of our continent in its entirety, with its numerous languages (Maltese is Semitic!), histories, traditions, sensitivities and religions (Islam is a lesser, indigenous faith of our southern fringes): surely, collectively, we should enjoy and welcome diversity. It’s about who we are; and it’s what we need to continue thrive. Forget about porosity.

If you enjoyed this article then please consider liking Can Europe Make it? on Facebook and following us on Twitter @oD_Europe

If you enjoyed this article then please consider liking Can Europe Make it? on Facebook and following us on Twitter @oD_Europe

Sideboxes Related stories:  PEGIDA: a post-Nazist uprising? Country or region:  Germany
Catégories: les flux rss

Porous borders allow migrants into Germany. And?

Open Democracy News Analysis - 24. Mai 2015 - 15:52

Many are desperately trying to get into a country that’s perceived as Europe’s best. Some are vociferously unhappy about this. Politicians thrive in such petty-minded zeitgeist. Do true democrats need to worry?

A member of the newly formed HoGeSa group. Wikimedia. Public domain.Consider HoGeSa, Pegida, and Bavaria’s recent complaints about a sieve-like Italy, unable to choke off the influx of migrants travelling beyond the Alps. These are visible symptoms of a deepening malaise: Germans worry there are too many foreigners in their country and that many more are coming through porous borders. Politicians masterfully stoke resentment for political gain.

“We are not the social services for the whole world,” Horst Seehofer almost shouted in February. The prime minister of Bavaria and leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU) summed it all up with his inflammatory, populist utterance: conservative forces all over Germany seem to agree with these words and tone, according to the main media outlets.

Munich paper Süddeutsche Zeitung explained that Seehofer’s statement was “almost literally quoting  campaign slogans by Alternative for Germany [AfD] and the National Democratic Party of Germany [NPD].” AfD is a fiercely anti-immigration organization akin to the UK Independence Party; NPD places itself on the very edge of extreme far-right politics (and perhaps beyond). All of which says a lot about CSU itself.

But are immigration-afraid ordinary citizens – the ones paying for Seehofer’s wages – wrong in feeling the way they do? No, of course not. These are unprecedented times for everyone: for those hoping to improve their lives, opportunities are aplenty; while for those, who are supposed to accept newcomers and just get on with it, it is also a new thing.

Some travelling souls are happy-go-lucky and call themselves fortunate enough to have reached Italy, Greece, or even Bulgaria. But often they’re exploited as cheap labourers. If you can, you’d rather avoid breaking your back by picking strawberries all day for literally pittance.

Understandably others aim higher: at Europe’s kernel; maybe Scandinavia. Can you blame them for being ambitious? Southern Europe, in fact, can put immigrants off (and not just them). A young Eritrean committed suicide in Switzerland not long ago: authorities there ruled he must head back to Italy. He didn’t want to; they found him hanged. This speaks volumes about the levels of psychological stress migrants undergo. They are tough, sure, but there’s only so much even they can put up with. It’d be worth raising more awareness among western audiences on this neglected aspect.

If you’ve proved yourself through bravery and stamina – as anyone who’s crossed the Mediterranean has – then surely you don’t think twice about going the extra mile. Northern Europe seems quite naturally within reach.

So that’s the attitude which rich and suspicious Europe is being confronted with. You can see through the phenomenon and spot the human capital in it: many migrants are young, fit, hungry for life. Just take a look at them, if you can, in one of the hotspots en route.

In South Tyrol, for example, in an effort to leave Southern Europe for good, you find them desperately trying to board a Deutsche Bahn train. They all brim with youthful energy and ingenuity, and become visibly disappointed when policemen brusquely stop them. A roll of the eyes is all they do, though.

You’d expect these young immigrants (mostly men) to complain vehemently, but they don’t; being used to being pushed around, they couldn’t care less. In fact they know they just have to wait for a window of opportunity. They’ve already come a long way. What’s another 500 kilometres?

Maybe they’ll get on the next train, a local one. A few lucky ones manage to hire a taxi, according to Bavarian public radio station BR Aktuell. They’re getting closer and closer to the target, anyway. Some might have a contact waiting for them in Germany; or another place in the north. They’d call it the ‘promised land’ if they were Christian.

The majority of them are not. A conspicuous minority of Europeans find this troubling. Pegida was mentioned at the beginning. Reams upon reams have been written on this movement, verging on the racist (some may argue Pegida is actually downright xenophobic.)

HoGeSa looks even worse. It stands for Hooligans Against Salafists. A hilarious choice of words. Are these guys actually taking the mickey out of Pegida, the way Monty Python might’ve done in its day?

If only. They’re damn serious. Multiculturalism is obviously not their thing. Their motto: “We don’t want a theocracy!” Who does in 2015 Europe? Such words conceal the anguish of ordinary individuals, who deep down feel in competition for resources with immigrants; the latter can also access Hartz IV, the German long-term unemployment benefit system. Has this anything to do with widespread resentment?

Muslims invading the sacred Old Continent is another, age-old cliché. But how can you possibly equate ordinary people to warring medieval tribes? And ‘Salafist’, how silly and even highfalutin is that as a choice of word? Is HoGeSa suggesting it’s intellectually serious and should be trusted for moral guidance? A broad democratic discourse ought to allow all that, supposedly. One is nevertheless left wondering where the boundaries of free speech lie.

In Europe burgeoning ageing populations are set against ever fewer young people struggling to contribute to ill-devised pension systems; many can’t see that the influx of energetic individuals – mostly willing to comply with Europe’s rules and pay their tax – are in this respect a (secular) blessing.

Immigrant numbers are relatively quite low: European societies can absorb them. Think for a moment of our continent in its entirety, with its numerous languages (Maltese is Semitic!), histories, traditions, sensitivities and religions (Islam is a lesser, indigenous faith of our southern fringes): surely, collectively, we should enjoy and welcome diversity. It’s about who we are; and it’s what we need to continue thrive. Forget about porosity.

If you enjoyed this article then please consider liking Can Europe Make it? on Facebook and following us on Twitter @oD_Europe

If you enjoyed this article then please consider liking Can Europe Make it? on Facebook and following us on Twitter @oD_Europe

Sideboxes Related stories:  PEGIDA: a post-Nazist uprising? Country or region:  Germany
Catégories: les flux rss

Discovering Diwane: ancestral African ritual music

Open Democracy News Analysis - 24. Mai 2015 - 9:12

The history of Algerian Diwane is as rich as the musical tradition itself. Gaâda Diwane de Béchar are playing at Rich Mix in London, Thursday, May 28, 8pm.

Diwane is more than just a music genre; it is a socio-cultural practice, a form of music therapy and redemption. It emerged many centuries ago, following the arrival in the Maghreb (Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia) of the first waves of black slaves brought in by the slave trading caravans travelling through Ghana, Timbuktu, Abalessa, Mali, Guinea and Sudan.

The origins of a black African community in the Maghreb can be traced back as far as Sultan Ahmad al Mansur of Morocco’s conquest of the Songhai Empire in western Sahel in 1590. The sultan took advantage of civil strife in the empire and dispatched his army across the Sahara to conquer and pillage, bringing north several thousand men and women as slaves and servants.

Great pain and suffering was the inevitable result of the uprooting and enslavement of these diverse populations, who in exile took on a collective identity that gave birth to a new form of expression. Like any art, it was used to exteriorise feelings, voicing the torments of slavery and exile and serving as a reminder of motherland, ancestors, and prevailing social injustice. It gave birth to the Diwane in Algeria, the Gnawa in Morocco and the Stambali in Tunisia, all of which have more similarities than differences.

A Diwane musician of Algeria with his guembri, around 1901. Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.

Tamara Turner, a doctoral researcher in ethnomusicology, specifically the musical repertoire and history of Diwane, says that this musical conglomeration of the many ethno-linguistic groups who were brought to North Africa—Bambara, Hausa, Songhai, Fulani/Peul, Bornou, and Boussou—shows mostly Hausa and Songhai influences.

Diwane became deeply rooted in the culture of the Algerian southwest and some circles in the southeast. Its practice remains exclusive and is reserved for connoisseurs of its rituals and spiritual dimension.

Over almost five centuries, the practices metamorphosed through the adoption of Islam as a religion and through close contact with the Berber-Arab culture of the Maghreb. This gave way to a new form of congregation, in the form of brotherhoods and zaouias (institutions) dispersed throughout the region, which perform healing rituals for Diwane followers and those who seek healing and spiritual guidance. The rituals are considered sacred and their methods are diligently kept secret.

Diwane in the family - Oran, west Algeria. Algiers Archives/Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.

Diwane is part of a system of secret knowledge much like Sufism, and for a long time it was accessible only to the privileged few who had earned the knowledge. The master (ma’alem) conducts ceremonies known as hadra, or lila, an entire night of rich song, music, dance, costume, and incense, ending around dawn. The ritual enables partakers to enter the trance state of jadba for therapeutic and healing purposes, although there are those who believe it has supernatural power.

These ritual songs and lyrics were passed down for generations, transmitted orally from the ma’alem to the guendouz (disciple), never transcribed or translated. Composed in the different dialects of the Sahel region, they relate stories and legends of the past, of their slave ancestors, of separation from the land, abduction and ultimately redemption.

With Islamic influence, the lyrics shifted to invocations of God, the Prophet Mohammed and various Muslim saints, moving closer to strands of Sufism. Diwane is always performed following the minimalist melodies of a guembri, the looped rhythms of the metallic karkabou, or the beat of the bendir.

A Diwane night in Béchar, the capital of Diwane

Modernisation of Diwane

Although Diwane remains protected and exclusive to private ceremonies in certain regions of southern Algeria, where zaouias and Sufi-inspired brotherhoods prosper, this is inevitably changing. The rise of the ‘world music’ scene has meant the fusion and commercialisation of the music, which is frowned upon by the older generation and by the ma’alems. They strongly believe that the purpose of Diwane is healing, and find it upsetting that the younger generations vulgarise this music by playing it on stage “for money" and "glory," ignoring ancestral traditions.

However, some ma’alems have come to terms with the popularity of the genre and have found a middle ground where they recognise both dimensions, the musical and the spiritual, and separate between the Diwane of the stage and that for healing/ritualistic purposes. One ma’alem explained that in the latter, the followers follow a structure where the ritual takes precedence, whereas on stage it is the music that trumps, played for a public that becomes the master of the lila.

In recent years, Diwane has become a very prominent genre on the Algerian music scene (much like gnawa in Morocco), with several national festivals dedicated to it and a lot more attention from the government. This does not, however, reflect any real change in the social status of the Afro-Maghrebi population.

In the last years, it has become a much tapped source for the Algerian musicians inspired by its rhythms and lyrics, such as Gnawa Diffusion and Gaâda Diwane Béchar. Their repertoires assert solidarity with other revolutionary music of the African diaspora, such as Gnawa and reggae, which also evoke the struggle for emancipation and freedom and suggest the possibility of redemption.

Diwane has to be experienced and not just listened to; Gaâda Diwane Béchar, one of the veteran Algerian Diwane groups, will be performing at Rich Mix on Thursday 28 May, bringing to east London a spiritual ceremony to heal all ills. Although they do not replicate the vivid healing ceremonies, they very much reflect the feel of the lila and perfectly exude the essence of the tradition. Gaâda Diwane Béchar’s musically induced trance and moving sound is accessible and enjoyable, and the late veteran world music DJ Charlie Gillett said of them in the Telegraph that they are as good as anything he’s heard in years.

Gaâda Diwane de Bechar performing Ya Chafi Ya Afi

Sideboxes Related stories:  Protests in Algeria intensify as shale-gas drilling continues The wretched of the sea: an Algerian perspective Beyond Arab vs Berber: the rich complexities of Algerian identity should be celebrated, not feared A history of Algeria in six objects North African diversities: Algeria in flux Country or region:  Algeria Topics:  Culture
Catégories: les flux rss

Discovering Diwane: ancestral African ritual music

Open Democracy News Analysis - 24. Mai 2015 - 9:12

The history of Algerian Diwane is as rich as the musical tradition itself. Gaâda Diwane de Béchar are playing at Rich Mix in London, Thursday, May 28, 8pm.

Diwane is more than just a music genre; it is a socio-cultural practice, a form of music therapy and redemption. It emerged many centuries ago, following the arrival in the Maghreb (Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia) of the first waves of black slaves brought in by the slave trading caravans travelling through Ghana, Timbuktu, Abalessa, Mali, Guinea and Sudan.

The origins of a black African community in the Maghreb can be traced back as far as Sultan Ahmad al Mansur of Morocco’s conquest of the Songhai Empire in western Sahel in 1590. The sultan took advantage of civil strife in the empire and dispatched his army across the Sahara to conquer and pillage, bringing north several thousand men and women as slaves and servants.

Great pain and suffering was the inevitable result of the uprooting and enslavement of these diverse populations, who in exile took on a collective identity that gave birth to a new form of expression. Like any art, it was used to exteriorise feelings, voicing the torments of slavery and exile and serving as a reminder of motherland, ancestors, and prevailing social injustice. It gave birth to the Diwane in Algeria, the Gnawa in Morocco and the Stambali in Tunisia, all of which have more similarities than differences.

A Diwane musician of Algeria with his guembri, around 1901. Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.

Tamara Turner, a doctoral researcher in ethnomusicology, specifically the musical repertoire and history of Diwane, says that this musical conglomeration of the many ethno-linguistic groups who were brought to North Africa—Bambara, Hausa, Songhai, Fulani/Peul, Bornou, and Boussou—shows mostly Hausa and Songhai influences.

Diwane became deeply rooted in the culture of the Algerian southwest and some circles in the southeast. Its practice remains exclusive and is reserved for connoisseurs of its rituals and spiritual dimension.

Over almost five centuries, the practices metamorphosed through the adoption of Islam as a religion and through close contact with the Berber-Arab culture of the Maghreb. This gave way to a new form of congregation, in the form of brotherhoods and zaouias (institutions) dispersed throughout the region, which perform healing rituals for Diwane followers and those who seek healing and spiritual guidance. The rituals are considered sacred and their methods are diligently kept secret.

Diwane in the family - Oran, west Algeria. Algiers Archives/Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.

Diwane is part of a system of secret knowledge much like Sufism, and for a long time it was accessible only to the privileged few who had earned the knowledge. The master (ma’alem) conducts ceremonies known as hadra, or lila, an entire night of rich song, music, dance, costume, and incense, ending around dawn. The ritual enables partakers to enter the trance state of jadba for therapeutic and healing purposes, although there are those who believe it has supernatural power.

These ritual songs and lyrics were passed down for generations, transmitted orally from the ma’alem to the guendouz (disciple), never transcribed or translated. Composed in the different dialects of the Sahel region, they relate stories and legends of the past, of their slave ancestors, of separation from the land, abduction and ultimately redemption.

With Islamic influence, the lyrics shifted to invocations of God, the Prophet Mohammed and various Muslim saints, moving closer to strands of Sufism. Diwane is always performed following the minimalist melodies of a guembri, the looped rhythms of the metallic karkabou, or the beat of the bendir.

A Diwane night in Béchar, the capital of Diwane

Modernisation of Diwane

Although Diwane remains protected and exclusive to private ceremonies in certain regions of southern Algeria, where zaouias and Sufi-inspired brotherhoods prosper, this is inevitably changing. The rise of the ‘world music’ scene has meant the fusion and commercialisation of the music, which is frowned upon by the older generation and by the ma’alems. They strongly believe that the purpose of Diwane is healing, and find it upsetting that the younger generations vulgarise this music by playing it on stage “for money" and "glory," ignoring ancestral traditions.

However, some ma’alems have come to terms with the popularity of the genre and have found a middle ground where they recognise both dimensions, the musical and the spiritual, and separate between the Diwane of the stage and that for healing/ritualistic purposes. One ma’alem explained that in the latter, the followers follow a structure where the ritual takes precedence, whereas on stage it is the music that trumps, played for a public that becomes the master of the lila.

In recent years, Diwane has become a very prominent genre on the Algerian music scene (much like gnawa in Morocco), with several national festivals dedicated to it and a lot more attention from the government. This does not, however, reflect any real change in the social status of the Afro-Maghrebi population.

In the last years, it has become a much tapped source for the Algerian musicians inspired by its rhythms and lyrics, such as Gnawa Diffusion and Gaâda Diwane Béchar. Their repertoires assert solidarity with other revolutionary music of the African diaspora, such as Gnawa and reggae, which also evoke the struggle for emancipation and freedom and suggest the possibility of redemption.

Diwane has to be experienced and not just listened to; Gaâda Diwane Béchar, one of the veteran Algerian Diwane groups, will be performing at Rich Mix on Thursday 28 May, bringing to east London a spiritual ceremony to heal all ills. Although they do not replicate the vivid healing ceremonies, they very much reflect the feel of the lila and perfectly exude the essence of the tradition. Gaâda Diwane Béchar’s musically induced trance and moving sound is accessible and enjoyable, and the late veteran world music DJ Charlie Gillett said of them in the Telegraph that they are as good as anything he’s heard in years.

Gaâda Diwane de Bechar performing Ya Chafi Ya Afi

Sideboxes Related stories:  Protests in Algeria intensify as shale-gas drilling continues The wretched of the sea: an Algerian perspective Beyond Arab vs Berber: the rich complexities of Algerian identity should be celebrated, not feared A history of Algeria in six objects North African diversities: Algeria in flux Country or region:  Algeria Topics:  Culture
Catégories: les flux rss

UK nuclear weapons: a source of insecurity?

Open Democracy News Analysis - 24. Mai 2015 - 8:46

The UK doggedly maintains an ‘independent nuclear deterrent’ but a naval officer has blown the whistle on the system’s inherent insecurity—with its potentially incalculable implications.

The Royal Navy might have hoped that the detention on 18 May of Able Seaman William McNeilly, who had just revealed the poor security of Britain’s submarine-based nuclear-weapons system, might bury the issue of its safety in public. If so, it was not reckoning with the capacity of the massively-enlarged contingent of Scottish National Party MPs, following the general election, to make hay at Westminster—the four Trident submarines are based at Faslane in Scotland and the SNP had made opposition to the system’s expensive replacement a campaigning focus. Now it has secured a debate on Trident safety on 28 May.

This is not just a Scottish concern: it brings into question whether the UK is the responsible nuclear-weapons state it presents itself to be. McNeilly claimed a disaster was waiting to happen, which might not just affect those manning the submarines.

The navy will no doubt attempt to rectify many of the problems and reassure the public via the government benches on Thursday. But these revelations expose muddled thinking around the need for continuous patrolling—one submarine is supposed to be at sea at all times, with the other three undergoing refit or being used for training—and highlight the need for a reassessment by the new government.

While the navy categorically denied the charges, there were no doubt a lot of red faces in the senior service. McNeilly’s claims included shockingly lax security arrangements on shore and on the at-sea submarine, which would open up nuclear-weapons operations to insider attack. They involved disturbing and willful neglect of safety measures on board, threatening fire and other lethal accidents. They also highlighted the willingness to go to sea with faulty systems and a disregard of alarms, compromising the smooth, safe and stealthy operation of the submarine. When these breaches were pointed out to senior staff, however, they were largely ignored.

The navy and regulators will be all over the case in the coming days, urgently reviewing management, safety and security protocols. They may find scapegoats, at least internally. They will also need to brief whichever junior minister is appointed to defend the service on Thursday on their improvements. Yet these will have unintended, negative side-effects.

Stricter security protocols are expensive and intrusive, and leave those subject to them experiencing inconvenience and feeling resentment. The navy demands a great deal from its submariners, and recruitment and retention is already a problem. Could, for instance, the more effective enforcement of regulations banning the use of electronics on board in most areas (including living quarters) affect morale?

Incredulous

If the UK is to field such dangerous and highly complex systems the rational approach must include expensive and robust arrangements to minimise the potentially horrific risks. McNeilly described a practice of removing fire-fighting equipment from the submarine when in port, so that it was more easily accessible for teams entering the submarine to respond to any incident, and was incredulous that in a system costing billions each year such cost-saving practices could be pursued.

Forced to endure months under the water in unpleasant incarceration, it is no wonder they cut corners for an easier life.

There are also conflicts with other objectives. As John Borrie pointed out in a Chatham House blog post, readiness and alert status rub up against safety and security. This was particularly clear during the cold war, when corners were cut in terrifying and reckless ways, in the race to achieve capability against what was seen as an urgent and very potent Soviet threat. It was a minor miracle that numerous accidents did not result in a nuclear catastrophe. British submarines may now be at lower levels of alert but, as the BASIC Trident Commission heard in evidence, their nuclear payloads could be launched in upwards of just 15 minutes.

Yet there are also problems which arise because the Trident mission has not been clear since the Soviet Union collapsed. McNeilly described human error and complacency, inevitable in a system thankfully never tested in combat since it began almost 50 years ago (with the prior Polaris submarines). No amount of training or indoctrination can force human beings to operate inconvenient procedures when they do not see the point, particularly when there is no immediate threat or identified enemy.

No rationale

Some familiar with the submarine service claim that to drop continuous patrolling would harm morale. But the clear implication of McNeilly’s testimony is that, while submariners may believe in the continuing need for a British nuclear-weapons capability, many on patrol have lost any sense of its particular rationale for them—because, with no strategic threat to the UK and no chance of engagement, there is none. Forced to endure months under the water in unpleasant incarceration, it is no wonder they cut corners for an easier life.

If the UK is to maintain Trident submarines in a responsible and cost-effective manner, it is time for the posture to reflect the threat level. Occasional patrols should have particular purposes—training and testing in maintaining the systems for a possible future when patrols could actively deter a real and present threat.

No doubt some may exploit this story to claim that the Vanguard-class submarines will soon require replacing, and that there is no time to waste in bringing forward the construction and deployment of their successors. But this would be completely to miss the point. Any institutional reassurance that these systems are foolproof must be treated with scepticism. There is no such thing as a completely safe and secure system—particularly one involving such technical complexity that it relies upon demanding human management, where the implications of any shortfall could be so immeasurable.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Trident: weak defence Would Scotland's nationalists disarm Trident? Country or region:  UK
Catégories: les flux rss

UK nuclear weapons: a source of insecurity?

Open Democracy News Analysis - 24. Mai 2015 - 8:46

The UK doggedly maintains an ‘independent nuclear deterrent’ but a naval officer has blown the whistle on the system’s inherent insecurity—with its potentially incalculable implications.

The Royal Navy might have hoped that the detention on 18 May of Able Seaman William McNeilly, who had just revealed the poor security of Britain’s submarine-based nuclear-weapons system, might bury the issue of its safety in public. If so, it was not reckoning with the capacity of the massively-enlarged contingent of Scottish National Party MPs, following the general election, to make hay at Westminster—the four Trident submarines are based at Faslane in Scotland and the SNP had made opposition to the system’s expensive replacement a campaigning focus. Now it has secured a debate on Trident safety on 28 May.

This is not just a Scottish concern: it brings into question whether the UK is the responsible nuclear-weapons state it presents itself to be. McNeilly claimed a disaster was waiting to happen, which might not just affect those manning the submarines.

The navy will no doubt attempt to rectify many of the problems and reassure the public via the government benches on Thursday. But these revelations expose muddled thinking around the need for continuous patrolling—one submarine is supposed to be at sea at all times, with the other three undergoing refit or being used for training—and highlight the need for a reassessment by the new government.

While the navy categorically denied the charges, there were no doubt a lot of red faces in the senior service. McNeilly’s claims included shockingly lax security arrangements on shore and on the at-sea submarine, which would open up nuclear-weapons operations to insider attack. They involved disturbing and willful neglect of safety measures on board, threatening fire and other lethal accidents. They also highlighted the willingness to go to sea with faulty systems and a disregard of alarms, compromising the smooth, safe and stealthy operation of the submarine. When these breaches were pointed out to senior staff, however, they were largely ignored.

The navy and regulators will be all over the case in the coming days, urgently reviewing management, safety and security protocols. They may find scapegoats, at least internally. They will also need to brief whichever junior minister is appointed to defend the service on Thursday on their improvements. Yet these will have unintended, negative side-effects.

Stricter security protocols are expensive and intrusive, and leave those subject to them experiencing inconvenience and feeling resentment. The navy demands a great deal from its submariners, and recruitment and retention is already a problem. Could, for instance, the more effective enforcement of regulations banning the use of electronics on board in most areas (including living quarters) affect morale?

Incredulous

If the UK is to field such dangerous and highly complex systems the rational approach must include expensive and robust arrangements to minimise the potentially horrific risks. McNeilly described a practice of removing fire-fighting equipment from the submarine when in port, so that it was more easily accessible for teams entering the submarine to respond to any incident, and was incredulous that in a system costing billions each year such cost-saving practices could be pursued.

Forced to endure months under the water in unpleasant incarceration, it is no wonder they cut corners for an easier life.

There are also conflicts with other objectives. As John Borrie pointed out in a Chatham House blog post, readiness and alert status rub up against safety and security. This was particularly clear during the cold war, when corners were cut in terrifying and reckless ways, in the race to achieve capability against what was seen as an urgent and very potent Soviet threat. It was a minor miracle that numerous accidents did not result in a nuclear catastrophe. British submarines may now be at lower levels of alert but, as the BASIC Trident Commission heard in evidence, their nuclear payloads could be launched in upwards of just 15 minutes.

Yet there are also problems which arise because the Trident mission has not been clear since the Soviet Union collapsed. McNeilly described human error and complacency, inevitable in a system thankfully never tested in combat since it began almost 50 years ago (with the prior Polaris submarines). No amount of training or indoctrination can force human beings to operate inconvenient procedures when they do not see the point, particularly when there is no immediate threat or identified enemy.

No rationale

Some familiar with the submarine service claim that to drop continuous patrolling would harm morale. But the clear implication of McNeilly’s testimony is that, while submariners may believe in the continuing need for a British nuclear-weapons capability, many on patrol have lost any sense of its particular rationale for them—because, with no strategic threat to the UK and no chance of engagement, there is none. Forced to endure months under the water in unpleasant incarceration, it is no wonder they cut corners for an easier life.

If the UK is to maintain Trident submarines in a responsible and cost-effective manner, it is time for the posture to reflect the threat level. Occasional patrols should have particular purposes—training and testing in maintaining the systems for a possible future when patrols could actively deter a real and present threat.

No doubt some may exploit this story to claim that the Vanguard-class submarines will soon require replacing, and that there is no time to waste in bringing forward the construction and deployment of their successors. But this would be completely to miss the point. Any institutional reassurance that these systems are foolproof must be treated with scepticism. There is no such thing as a completely safe and secure system—particularly one involving such technical complexity that it relies upon demanding human management, where the implications of any shortfall could be so immeasurable.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Trident: weak defence Would Scotland's nationalists disarm Trident? Country or region:  UK
Catégories: les flux rss

On the movement to shut down Yarl’s Wood

Open Democracy News Analysis - 23. Mai 2015 - 23:41

“Headbutt the bitch, I’d beat her up,” said one Serco guard, caught on camera at the notorious UK immigration removal centre. Cartoonist Lucie Kinchin on activist efforts to set the women free:

 

  • Lilija’s account of protecting the other detainee is here at Detained Voices.
  • Movement for Justice By Any Means Necessary are committed to building an independent, integrated, mass, youth-led civil rights movement. You can find out more on Facebook, on Twitter @followMFJ and at www.movementforjustice.org/
  • Find out more about the demonstration on the 6th June here on Facebook. The demo is supported by several groups including Women for Refugee Women.  
Sideboxes Related stories:  'Headbutt the bitch' Serco guard, Yarl’s Wood, a UK immigration detention centre UK immigration detention: the truth is out Death at Yarl’s Wood: Women in mourning, women in fear Yarl’s Wood: legal black hole The truth about sexual abuse at Yarl's Wood detention centre Neglect and indifference kill American man in UK immigration detention Investigating Mitie, the market leader in UK immigration detention The national shame that is healthcare in UK immigration detention The racist texts. What the Mubenga trial jury was not told
Catégories: les flux rss

On the movement to shut down Yarl’s Wood

Open Democracy News Analysis - 23. Mai 2015 - 23:41

“Headbutt the bitch, I’d beat her up,” said one Serco guard, caught on camera at the notorious UK immigration removal centre. Cartoonist Lucie Kinchin on activist efforts to set the women free:

 

  • Lilija’s account of protecting the other detainee is here at Detained Voices.
  • Movement for Justice By Any Means Necessary are committed to building an independent, integrated, mass, youth-led civil rights movement. You can find out more on Facebook, on Twitter @followMFJ and at www.movementforjustice.org/
  • Find out more about the demonstration on the 6th June here on Facebook. The demo is supported by several groups including Women for Refugee Women.  
Sideboxes Related stories:  'Headbutt the bitch' Serco guard, Yarl’s Wood, a UK immigration detention centre UK immigration detention: the truth is out Death at Yarl’s Wood: Women in mourning, women in fear Yarl’s Wood: legal black hole The truth about sexual abuse at Yarl's Wood detention centre Neglect and indifference kill American man in UK immigration detention Investigating Mitie, the market leader in UK immigration detention The national shame that is healthcare in UK immigration detention The racist texts. What the Mubenga trial jury was not told
Catégories: les flux rss

'This is Not Our City': Latest Attacks Bring the Battle Into Kabul's Stately Courtyards

alternatives international - 23. Mai 2015 - 17:11

So much has changed since I first came to Kabul in the spring of 2006, living in a small guesthouse close to the target of last week's

The name of Kolola Pushta, an upmarket residential area in Kabul, means "round hill". The term refers to a small peak visible on the horizon of the neighbourhood, with a fort on top. It is a pleasant sight, especially in spring when the dust of Kabul is briefly washed away by the rains, and the silhouette of the peak shimmers against a blue sky. When I first came to Kabul in the spring of 2006, I arrived at a small guesthouse in this locality. The place where I spent my first few weeks getting to know the city was close to the Park Palace Guesthouse, the target of last week's horrific attack that killed 14. The Taliban have claimed responsibility for the attack as part of their annual “spring offensive”, a spate of fighting since April after the relative calm of the winter months. In the past three weeks, “Operation Azm” (meaning "resolve" or "determination") has unleashed five major attacks on the embattled capital.

Kolola Pushta has been an elite neighbourhood since the 1970s – a quiet, leafy quarter that housed the city's wealthy. When I first saw it, many of these old homes had been rented out to various embassies and offices for European missions and agencies. Back then, it was possible to walk down the main road of the locality and get a glimpse of the lush lawns and gracefully proportioned buildings that lay behind tall walls, sheltering them from the street.

Rich history

My own guesthouse had been the Austrian Embassy in the 1970s. It had been converted after 2001 with an eye on the lucrative market of accommodation for the influx of expatriates by its owner, who had returned to Kabul after years spent abroad. The room I lived in had been built around a courtyard that overlooked a different hill. Cats lounged in the warmth of a sitting room that had been remodelled as a dining area. A short while into my stay, the trees in the garden began to burst with lavish blossoms, pink and white. All the other guests at this residence were also foreign workers, usually arriving and departing too rapidly for me to exchange greetings. In this first house in Kabul, I got an early glimpse of the rich history and sophisticated culture of the city, as well as the nature of its post-2001 development.

A few weeks into our stay my husband and I moved to the top floor of a house just down the road, where we were tenants of a retired commercial pilot who occupied the ground floor with his family. Our rooms had a view of the hill that anchored our neighbourhood. In December 1928, the Kolola Pushta fort had been the site of key events in a tribal uprising against the then ruler, King Amanullah, widely seen as a response to his measures to “modernise” Afghanistan. These had included discouraging the veil and polygamy, as well as reforms in education and the army. The march to Kabul was led by Habibullah Kalakani, whose humble origins gave him the name “Bacha-e-Saqao”, or “Son of a Water Carrier”. Kalakani, writes historian Nancy Dupree, “advanced on Kabul with 1,000 men. Successfully capturing the fort at Kolola Pushta, which was fully stocked with arms and ammunition, they bombarded the city until it fell to them...” Kalakani went on to be “Amir” for a brief period before being defeated and executed in Kabul in 1929. While there were paths leading to the fort, we were advised to avoid walking up the hill for fear of landmines.

Reminder of home

Next door to our place was a large compound that accommodated Indian workers who were employed by an upmarket hotel in Shahr-e-Nau, a glitzy commercial area not far from Kolola Pushta. On Fridays, which is the weekly off in Afghanistan, they would play cricket and the afternoon peace of the holiday would be rent by their curses and cheers. This was not the only reminder of home I encountered. At the time the city experienced regular power cuts, and I would watch from my balcony as people switched on generators and batteries so they could watch the Indian TV show "Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi". The dubbed version in Dari, that was usually simply called “Tulsi”, had taken the nation by storm.

A short walk down the main road was the iconic gueshouse of the United Nations International Community Association, the boozy heart of the city's expat community for close to 50 years, known simply as the UNICA Guesthouse. Thanks to the club's somewhat-diplomatic status, it had been possible to get a drink at its bar even during the Taliban years. In 1993, it had been the unlikely location for an improvised aid programme, when it was closed briefly to dole out food and tea to an influx of refugees. After 2001, its swimming pool and Thursday night parties drew lively crowds. It was finally forced to close in 2010, not by war or security threats, but when the property was bought over by a developer. We walked past the UNICA gates on our way to go shopping at Shahr e Nau, or to the smaller stalls nearby. Each time we ventured out we would be invited by shopkeepers to share their meals and have a cup of tea, and be told how much they loved and admired Indians, who were friends of Afghans and creators of magical Bollywood films. Each evening we would walk to the nanbai (baker) on our corner to buy bread for dinner, which we carried home wrapped in newspapers. Its smell was heady enough to speed our steps home.

The transformation

The transformation of Kolola Pushta coincided with the changes across Kabul, as suicide bombings and attacks led to tightening security norms across the city. When I visited our old landlord over trips in 2009 and 2010, it was a challenge to find my way around the neighbourhood. The embassies and offices had vanished behind concrete walls that took over the pavement with their sprawl and were topped with hurricane wire. Most of the guesthouses that dotted the streets had also changed hands and been through various security revamps. I tried to find the place I had lived in. The lone security guard at the gate had been replaced by several armed men, barely visible behind sandbags and barriers.

But it was not just insurgency that transformed Kolola Pushta in lasting ways. It was also recast by Kabul's real estate bubble, that caused rents and property values to jump to eye-watering heights. A small house in the area was likely to cost around $200,000 at the time, and rents were anywhere between $1,000-$1,500. Old homes were replaced by “modern” apartments, with shiny steel and glass façades modelled on structures seen in Dubai or Pakistan. These were sold as aspirational living for Kabul's new elite, as well as investments. Ironically, they proved to be extremely difficult to live in, as they froze in the Kabul winters, and were warm through the summer. As property became valuable almost overnight, many places were torn down and open construction pits and boards announced new projects. By 2013, with the withdrawal of US troops in sight, several of the apartments had slid into decay. Large pits that had been carved in the heart of the locality remained open and raw, a relic of the many kinds of violence that unfolded in Kabul.

Blurring distinctions

Since the attack on Park Palace guesthouse, there have already been two other major attacks in Kabul – one near the airport, and one targeting the Ministry of Justice. The attack on an establishment frequented by foreigners is part of the strategy of the Taliban aimed at getting the attention of the international press, and playing up the glory of their fighters. As analysts have pointed out, the attack shows the disturbing blurring of distinctions by the group between civilian and military targets by dubbing all foreigners, regardless of nationality and occupation, as “invaders”. The attack also saw five Afghans killed, dismissed as “hirelings” by their attackers. This is not the first such attack on a guesthouse used by foreign and Afghan civilians, and is unlikely to be the last.

Each year I spent in Kabul I read news reports detailing the spring fighting. The count kept mounting each year, and is increasing now. (According to UNAMA, 25% more civilians were killed in the conflict in 2014 than the previous year. That number is likely to rise this year.) The majority of the dead, both civilian and military, are Afghans. Yet after each attack that saw foreigners killed, Afghan friends would tell me, “This is not us. This is not our culture.” Perhaps that was their way of mourning their own city. The latest spate of attacks are yet another instance of the blurring lines of the battles being fought across Kabul, from its streets and ruined forts into its courtyards.

Source: http://www.scroll.in/article/729041/this-is-not-our-city-latest-attacks-bring-the-battle-into-kabuls-stately-courtyards

Catégories: les flux rss

Private finance and the post-2015 development agenda

Open Democracy News Analysis - 23. Mai 2015 - 17:05

Proposals for development financing in the post 2015 era highlight a major role for private finance. The Third International Conference on Financing for Development in July may run counter to the original vision of the sustainable development goals.  

Deforested rural Ethiopia. Demotix/ Joshua Hergesheimer. All rights reserved.At the end of this year the Millennium Development Goals or MDGs, which have provided the overarching framework for international development for the last fifteen years will be succeeded by a new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework.

The idea of the SDGs came out of the “Rio+20” UN Conference on Environment and Development  conference, held in Brazil in June 2012 twenty years after the landmark 1992 Earth Summit : which established an "inclusive and transparent intergovernmental process open to all stakeholders, with a view to developing global sustainable development goals to be agreed by the General Assembly".

While the process of formulating and agreeing the SDGs has been UN-led, the World Bank Group has taken a lead in developing recommendations for financing the post-2015 development agenda , in the lead up to the Third International Conference on Financing for Development, to be held in Addis Ababa in July.

The key message is that Financing for Development (FFD) in the post-2015 era, needs to go ‘beyond aid’, to include domestic resource mobilisation, ‘smarter’ aid (drawing lessons from private philanthropy, for example) and the mobilisation of private finance. In the case of private finance, the public sector is to play a ‘catalytic role’ in attracting the resources of the private sector.

Financialisation as development?

If adopted, these proposals will represent a significant shift in donor policy. Development funding in the MDG-era was ODA driven, and included a central role for the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Debt Relief programme, which ends this year. In contrast, many developing countries, notably in Sub Saharan Africa are now borrowing directly from international capital markets, prompting concerns about an impending debt crisis. For example Ghana, the first sub Saharan African nation after South Africa to borrow from international capital markets after South Africa, has a debt-to-GDP ratio of 60.8 per cent.

Proposals to ‘unlock the potential of private finance’ for development are framed in terms of a shift from ‘isolated pilot activities’ to a ‘broad transformative agenda’. Such pilot activities include conventional public private partnerships, promoted since the 1990s by international finance institutions (IFIs) ‘as a way around the fiscal limits which the same IFIs were imposing on developing countries’. However these financing arrangements have proved inefficient and expensive in the long run, often the result of a lack of transparency inherent in negotiation processes that privilege commercial confidentiality over the public interest. Today, an emerging trend of de-privatisation underway in the water sector suggests a re-evaluation of this approach, rather than its acceleration, would be timely.

The World Bank publication outlines a range of ‘emerging, inclusive and innovative sources of finance’, for example bond financing, sovereign wealth funds and advance marketing commitments. The strategy of financial sector development in developing countries is also highlighted. Using ‘trickle down’ reasoning, it is assumed that a combination of financing deepening (liberalising financial markets, developing capital markets and introducing more complex financial instruments) and financial inclusion (extending access to financial products and services) will ‘accelerate private sector growth, an important driver for poverty reduction and shared prosperity‘. 

The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector arm of the World Bank Group, is already active in this area, channeling funding directly to financial intermediaries in developing countries.  A recent report from the Bretton Woods Project highlights the scale of investment to date: ‘Between July 2009 and July 2013 the IFC invested $36 in FIs. This is three times as much as the rest of the World Bank Group invested directly into education and 50% more than into health care’. This means that ‘just five years after a major financial crisis, the financial sector is now the largest beneficiary of World Bank Group investment.  

New frontiers: food, farming and farmland

The channelling of funds directly into financial sectors in emerging markets (by institutions such as the IFC) is a strategy whose clear goal is to advance processes of financialisation. In ‘non-financial’ sectors such as the agri-food sector, however, processes of financialisation underway can be more difficult to identify, as they blur the boundaries between financial and ‘real’ sectors. Nevertheless, this ‘new frontier of financialisation’ has implications for developing country agriculture, and for donor programmes purportedly designed to support smallholder farming in Sub Saharan Africa.

Financialisation in the agri-food system was made possible by the deregulation of markets in agricultural derivatives, beginning in the late 1970s with the ‘New Financial Architecture’  and culminating in the Commodity Futures Modernisation Act (CFMA), in 2000. The CFMA removed ‘position limits’ for speculators, and allowed additional investors (e.g. hedge funds, pension funds, insurance companies, sovereign wealth funds and investment banks) to enter these markets, tipping the balance from a market shaped primarily by hedging to one driven by speculative betting. New types of product, such as the commodity index funds (CIF) pioneered by Goldman Sachs - which bundled derivatives for a variety of commodities into a single value - became the investment vehicle of choice for institutional investors who had limited knowledge of commodity markets.

While most of us are aware of the dominance of large supermarket chains, less visible has been the involvement of financial actors who, together with large retailers, have come to dominate agri-food value chains at the expense of agricultural producers and labourers, and suppliers. In this case, financialisation of food retailing has ‘blurred the boundaries’ between financial and ‘real’ sectors. While financiers have gained a stake in food sales (the takeover of Somerfield Supermarkets by a private equity consortium being just one example), food retailers earn more revenues from financial activities, either by redirecting cash flows into financial (rather than productive) investments or by diversifying their own activities into financial services such as credit cards, insurance products, etc.

Similar dynamics can be found in the food manufacturing and processing and grain trading sectors. Ryan Isaksen’s analysis of strategies of the ‘ABCDs’ (the four largest grain traders - ADM, Bunge, Cargill, Louis Dreyfus illustrates how these large conglomerates blur the boundary between finance and food. While these businesses have always hedged against price movements there has been a clear shift towards speculative activity. Since they are often the first to know about supply conditions, the ABCDs’ financial products are sought after by investors wanting to speculate on agricultural derivatives. Meanwhile, financial actors are becoming active in food trading, not only by investing in grain traders’ funds, but in physical storage and transport of commodities. So they benefit from fees charged for services and access to market information.

This blurring of financial and ‘real’ assets and activities is also illuminated by Madeleine Fairbairn’s research on investment in farmland. Previously an ‘investment backwater’, farmland has become increasingly attractive to investors looking for more secure and profitable places to put money following the commodity price spikes and collapse of the US housing bubble, leading to an escalation of ‘land grabs’. Importantly, while the ‘turn to farmland’ may appear to indicate a shift away from financialisation, towards investment in ‘real’ assets, developments in the farmland sector point to the emergence of a ‘new form of financialisation’. A new type of institution is emerging, across the financial and agri-business sectors, which allows financiers to ‘use land as a productive asset, while operators are using land as a financial asset’. Farmland is fast becoming a ‘quasi-financial asset’ (‘like gold with yield’ ): or a productive asset that ‘moonlights as a financial asset’.

Inducing food insecurity?

A focus on processes of financialisation in the global agri-food system reveal how new risks and uncertainties are being generated, particularly for smallholder farmers. Nevertheless, an emerging consensus among donors positions corporate agri-business investment as the actor best placed to reinvigorate smallholder agriculture in the region and “raise 50 million people out of poverty in the next decade” These developments present new challenges to civil society organisations engaging in debates about the future of sustainable agriculture and development.

The role of speculation in agricultural derivatives in the global food price supply spikes of 2008/9 - vis-à-vis conventional explanations in terms of a mismatch of supply and demand - have been much debated. While the causal connection between speculative activity and global food price volatility is contested, there is convincing evidence that speculation influenced prices by shaping expectations. The impact on farmers, particularly smallholder farmers, has been particularly severe, as they receive ‘wrong price signals’ and experience higher levels of uncertainty.

Nevertheless, international donors continue to promote derivatives and other financial instruments as development tools for addressing poverty and food insecurity, particularly among smallholder farmers.  Members of the World Bank Group have been key agents in facilitation of investments in ‘frontier’ markets, for example farmland in Latin America and Africa. The Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), for example, provides contracts that guarantee FDI against ‘non-commercial’ risks. The IFC has 'launched a US$500 million fund that protects investors with an exit option from funds operating in emerging markets, thereby making their investments more liquid. Taken together, these initiatives have facilitated financial actors’ acquisition of low-priced farmland in the South, while reducing the risks of doing so’. As the Third International Conference on Financing for Development approaches, there is a danger that it may become a vehicle through which these emerging practices are endorsed and legitimised, rather than subjected to closer scrutiny.

How has this been possible? Jennifer Clapp’s analysis of the ‘distancing’ effect of financialisation in the global food system sheds light on this question. This arises from the diversity of new actors that populate the food system, together with the proliferation of complex financial instruments, which both abstract the commodity from its physical form, and reconnect with physical markets in new and complex ways. The effect of this ‘distancing’ is that the role of financial actors is obscured, and this obscuring effect ‘shapes the political context’, in ways that enable financial actors that contributed to global crises to be presented ‘as providers of solutions rather than causes of problems’.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Food democracy South and North: from food sovereignty to transition initiatives
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