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Michigan Governor Unleashes “Citizens United on Steroids”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 25/09/2017 - 2:40am in

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Less than six hours after its passage by the Republican-controlled state legislature, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law this week a measure that, effective immediately, allows candidates to raise unlimited sums of money for super PACs, which can then promptly spend that money supporting those candidates—or attacking their rivals.

It also allows consultants to simultaneously work for a campaign and a super PAC at the same time, making a joke of the supposed independence of the two groups.

It’s a brazen move for Snyder, who is term-limited out of office in 2018, to so fully embrace the post-Citizens United world dominated by big-money super PACs. Watchdogs warn that the law—which they have described as “Citizens United on steroids”— effectively creates an end-run around the state’s limits on campaign contributions and further obliterates the already-thin line that is supposed to maintain super PAC independence from candidates. That opens the door for the state’s wealthy donors to wield even more influence over the political system.

The move is of a piece with a long-running Republican strategy, rarely matched effectively by Democrats, to tilt the political playing field in a partisan direction. On top of sophisticated gerrymandering, right-to-work laws have smashed the electoral power of unions in states where they’ve been enacted, such as Michigan and Wisconsin, which have tilted right as organized labor has been suppressed. Add to that voter suppression laws targeting minorities, college students, and anybody else suspected of voting Democratic, and Republicans are able to create a field in which majority support of an agenda is not necessarily required.

By winning at the state level and enacting laws that benefit the party in future elections, state GOP parties have been able to put once blue states in play, paving the way for Trump’s surprise victory in November.

Opening the campaign finance floodgates is part of that agenda. “Gov. Snyder rode in to Lansing on the white horse of transparency but will leave cloaked in secrecy, driving a hearse carrying our democracy,” Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan, said in a statement on Wednesday. “Today it has been made clear that Gov. Snyder is doing everything he can to cement his legacy as one of the least transparent and most spineless governors Michigan has ever had.”

Snyder claims the law simply provides legal clarity by codifying the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which declared that corporations and labor unions are allowed to make unlimited amounts of independent campaign contributions. “The Supreme Court of the United States ruled on this issue more than seven years ago, and still there has been confusion about how this decision affects Michigan law,” Snyder said in a statement Wednesday. “Under the bills signed into law today, the Department of State finally has clear statutory authority to regulate independent expenditure committees, to mandate registration and reporting of contributions and expenditures, and to investigate and punish entities violating those regulations.” (Citizens United applies to federal election law, not state law, but many states have changed their laws in the wake of the ruling to avoid legal challenges.)

However, as campaign-finance watchdogs point out, this law goes above and beyond what is set out by Citizens United. “This is bad policy wrapped in lies,” said Paul S. Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation for Common Cause, which advocates for stronger regulations on campaign finance. “The notion that Citizens United somehow leads to this is false.” The ruling does not say that states have to allow candidates to raise money for super PACs.  

In fact, the Supreme Court reasoned in Citizens United that unfettered spending by outside groups is permissible on the grounds that it is truly independent from candidates. Since then, federal candidates and their enterprising lawyers have aggressively pushed the boundaries of federal regulation in ways that have turned aligned super PACs into shadow campaigns. Still, as porous as they are, there are federal regulations that aim to limit coordination, including restrictions on the type of information and strategy that campaigns and super PACs can share with each other. The Federal Election Commission appears to require a 120-day cooling-off period before a campaign staffer can theoretically do strategic work for a super PAC. While the FEC allows federal candidates to raise money for super PACs, they are restricted to soliciting $5,000 per donor.

Watchdogs say the Michigan law ignores Citizens United’s emphasis on independence. Not only does the new Michigan law allow candidates to rake in unlimited amounts of money for super PACs, eschewing the meager federal limit, it also allows a candidate’s consultants, vendors, and attorneys to simultaneously work for a super PAC, so long as that person doesn’t pass strategic information between the two. That’s impractical though, since political consultants or ad buyers can’t simply forget what they know about a campaign’s internal strategies. In reality, critics say the law sends a clear message to potential donors that an aligned super PAC is the candidate’s in all but name and that their money will be put to good use for the candidate. “It really does make a mockery of the concept of independence,” Larry Noble, general counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, told The Intercept.

Now, if a candidate running for governor can get a donor to make a six-figure contribution to an allied super PAC, then the $6,800 contribution limit for statewide candidates is rendered useless and the barrier between independent-expenditure groups and candidates all but disappears. Candidates can essentially outsource their campaign operations to an allied super PAC that’s bankrolled by a select few mega-donors. “Multiple Republican lawmakers have said to me, ‘Why would anyone use a candidate committee with this law in place?” said Craig Mauger, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, which lobbied against the law.  

One of the law’s leading proponent is Bob LaBrant, a key mastermind behind the Republican Party’s political takeover of the Michigan state government. For decades, he ran the Michigan Chamber of Commerce’s political and legal operations, aggressively pursuing campaign-finance litigation that sought to expand corporations’ political funding power. His efforts brought a case of his before the Supreme Court in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which laid the legal groundwork for Citizens United. Now, in advocating for the state to codify Citizens United, and then some, he’s succeeded yet again in pioneering campaign-finance deregulation.

Snyder’s office denies that the state legislation is more permissive than federal law. “Citizens United determined that nonprofits, for-profits, labor unions and other associations can make unlimited contributions for unlimited expenditures,” Anna Heaton, the governor’s press secretary, said in a statement to The Intercept. “The state cannot limit the amount those entities can contribute, so provided there is no coordination between a candidate and a committee, the legislation permits a candidate to solicit to a committee.”

“The Secretary of State will have the responsibility to investigate complaints of improper coordination, just like they have for the last seven years,” Heaton added.

Mauger said that proving coordination is nearly impossible and that the new law adds fuel to an already out-of-control fire. Michigan was ranked dead last in a nationwide 2015 study of state accountability and transparency laws conducted by the Center for Public Integrity. The state has a reputation as the dark-money capital of the country thanks to its lax transparency laws and preponderance of 501(c)4 groups and shadowy LLCs, and Mauger predicts that those types of groups will flood unaccountable dark money into super PACs that are now cozier than ever with politicians.

The governor’s office, however, does not share the concern that tax-exempt organizations will exploit the law. “501(c)(4)s, like other entities, can contribute to independent expenditure committees because they, like other entities, have a First Amendment right to engage in political speech,” Heaton said. The new law, she added, “does not deal positively or negatively with so-called ‘dark money.’”

If the new law exacerbates the already-increasing cost of elections in the state, that’s bad news for Democrats, who are headed into the 2018 elections trying to win back the governorship and make gains in the statehouse. Labor unions, which are major Democratic funders, have been dramatically weakened by the Republicans’ passage of a right-to-work law in 2012. Meanwhile, the Republican Party is flush with eager donors like the DeVos family and the Chamber of Commerce.

Michigan’s passage of the law appears to be unprecedented among state governments. Some states, like Minnesota, have made proactive efforts to more clearly restrict candidate fundraising for and coordination with super PACs. But most states have not addressed the matter, creating something of a legal gray area in which there are no statutory limits on coordination or candidate fundraising for independent groups. Michigan, though, appears to be the first state to affirm the right of state politicians to raise unlimited amounts of money for super PACs.

Reform advocates are concerned that Michigan has found an alternative route to more subtly undermine its campaign-finance laws and could provide a roadmap for other states that are wary of eliminating contribution limits outright to follow suit. “It gives them certain amount of cover by saying this is just codifying Citizens United,” Noble said. “For those states where legislators and governors are worried about public reaction [to campaign finance deregulation] this could be way to avoid real pushback.”

TOP PHOTO: Rick Snyder on Wall Street, pleased.

The post Michigan Governor Unleashes “Citizens United on Steroids” appeared first on The Intercept.

Bernie Sanders para os Democratas: como é uma política externa radical

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 25/09/2017 - 1:28am in

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Bernie Sanders, que agora é, de longe, o político com maior popularidade dos EUA, está há muito tempo obcecado em quebrar grandes bancos e levar o Medicare a todos os americanos. Ele consegue falar durante horas sobre os demônios da desigualdade de renda e o grotesco da “classe bilionária”.   

E de política externa? Nem tanto.

No entanto, ainda esta semana, o senador independente fez finalmente seu principal discurso sobre política externa no Westminster College, em Fulton, Missouri, como parte da Green Foundation Lecture series. Winston Churchill proferiu o discurso “Sinews of Peace” no Westminster College — no qual ele apresentou ao mundo, como é notório, o conceito de “Cortina de Ferro” — também como parte dessa série em 1946. Foi parte dela ainda o memorável relato de Mikhail Gorbachev em 1992 sobre como terminou a Guerra Fria. Portanto, com base em sua presença em Fulton, poderíamos dizer que Sanders agora está entre os grandes nomes da política externa.

Ele conversou comigo antes para explicar com detalhes suas ideias sobre assuntos globais.

“Acho que temos que analisar onde estamos hoje em termos de política externa e onde estivemos por muitos anos”, disse Sanders quando fui encontrá-lo em seu gabinete no Senado em Washington DC na véspera de seu grande discurso em Missouri. “Acredito que o principal ponto que deve ser colocado é que nem os Estados Unidos nem nenhum outro país consegue fazer isso sozinho. Para abordar as complicadas e profundas questões internacionais, precisamos de cooperação.”

O senador está sem gravata e veste um terno azul-marinho, amarrotado, com uma camisa azul-claro. Sua cabeleira, como de costume, despenteada. Parece distraído e exausto, talvez por que tenha passado a semana anterior discursando para o Congresso e para o país seu emblemático projeto de lei do Medicare para todo e qualquer contribuinte.

“Muitos colegas, republicanos, aqui no Senado, por exemplo, menosprezam as Nações Unidas” disse, sentado do outro lado da mesa, em frente a uma parede com pôsteres de turismo de Vermont. “Se por um lado a ONU poderia ser claramente mais eficaz, por outro, é determinante que nós fortaleçamos as instituições internacionais, porque, no fim das contas, embora possa não ser atraente, glamoroso e não gere grandes repercussões, a simples ideia… de pessoas se unindo, conversando e discutindo é muito melhor do que a de países indo para a guerra.”

Eu lhe pergunto qual a diferença entre essa retórica e os discursos anteriores em defesa da ONU e da cooperação internacional feitos por líderes democratas, como Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton e John Kerry.

“Desculpe.” Sanders não gosta de ser interrompido. “Deixe-me só falar um pouco do ponto ao qual quero chegar.”

O senador esclarece que o “unilateralismo, o pensamento de que podemos simplesmente derrubar governos que não queremos, precisa ser reexaminado” Após citar a Guerra do Iraque –“um dos maiores erros da política externa na história deste país”– o senador menciona outro erro histórico que, para ele, poucos de seus colegas do senado estariam dispostos a discutir e, menos ainda, a criticar. “Em 1953, os Estados Unidos, com os britânicos, derrubaram [Mohammed] Mossadegh, o primeiro-ministro do Iran– para atender os interesses britânicos relacionados ao petróleo” lembra. “O resultado foi que o xá – um homem implacável– assumiu o poder, e com isso tivemos a Revolução Iraniana, que nos traz para onde estamos agora.”

Será que ele se arrepende de não ter falado com tanta paixão, franqueza e insights sobre política externa nas primárias em que foi derrotado por Hillary Clinton? Ele nega com a cabeça. “Não, acho que fizemos o tipo de campanha que queríamos fazer.” Faz-se uma pausa. “Mas acho que política externa é claramente muito, muito importante.”

Durante as primárias dos Democratas para a campanha presidencial, políticos e especialistas concordaram que Sanders tinha um déficit no assunto. “A política externa,” escreveu David Ignatius, decano do Washington Post no assunto, “é o que falta à política de Sanders.” Seu colega Patrick Leahy, também senador por Vermont, foi um pouco mais diplomático em entrevista ao New York Times. “Pode-se dizer que não é o tema em torno do qual ele gravita”, reconheceu Leahy.

O discurso sobre política externa prometido durante tanto tempo na campanha nunca aconteceu, e faltou uma página no site dedicada ao assunto nos primeiros meses de sua candidatura. Algumas das figuras identificadas pelo senador como assessores externos para questões de segurança nacional mais tarde alegaram mal o conhecerem.

Seu desconforto com o tópico é palpável, mas a verdade é que Sanders, com 76 anos, está longe de ser um neófito em política externa. Nos anos 1980, como prefeito de Burlignton, Vermont, era um crítico ferrenho das intervenções dos EUA na América Latina, tornando-se o funcionário eleito mais alto na hierarquia do do país a visitar a Nicarágua e encontrar-se com o presidente Daniel Ortega (o que rendeu a este o apelido “Sandernista”). Em sua lua de mel, ele até foi à União Soviética em 1988, como parte de seu esforço para estabelecer um programa de cidades-irmãs entre Burlington e Yaroslavl.

Desde 1991, Sanders trabalhou no Congresso como membro da Câmara e depois do Senado, debatendo e votando sobre ação militar, tratados internacionais, acordos de comércio, venda de armas, ajuda internacional e acordos para mudanças climáticas. Poucos críticos pararam para pensar no fato de que Sanders teria chegado à Casa Branca em janeiro de 2017 com muito mais experiência em política externa do que Obama, George W. Bush e Bill Clinton (ah, e claro, do que a ex-estrela de um reality show Donald J. Trump).

No entanto, persiste a impressão de que Sanders está fora de sua área quando o assunto é o mundo lá fora. Talvez, antes de outra campanha presidencial em três anos, o senador de Vermont esteja dando passos para corrigir tal impressão. Neste ano, até agora, Sanders contratou Matt Duss, respeitado analista de política externa e ex-presidente da Foundation for Middle East Peace, a FMEP [Fundação para a paz no Oriente Médio] como seu assessor de política externa, e fez discursos no J Street, grupo judaico liberal lobista, nos quais condenou “a ocupação contínua dos territórios palestinos por Israel”, dizendo que ela é “contrária aos valores fundamentais americanos” e no centrista Carnegie Endowment of International Peace, onde criticou o presidente da Rússia Vladimir Putin por “tentar enfraquecer a aliança transatlântica”.

 Matt Roth for the Intercept

Sen. Bernie Sanders, à esquerda, é entrevistado por Mehdi Hasan, do The Intercept, à direita, em Washington DC. quarta-feira, 20.set.2017. No meio, Rachael London, engenheira de som, grava a entrevista.

Foto: Matt Roth para The Intercept

Na semana passada, meu colega Glenn Greenwald publicou uma coluna no The Intercept com o título “The Clinton Book Tour Is Largely Ignoring the Vital Role of Endless War in the 2016 Election Result” [Turnê do livro de Hillary Clinton ignora amplamente o papel vitar da guerra sem fim no resultado das eleições de 2016]. Greenwald afirmou que “a defesa de Clinton por múltiplas guerras e outras ações militares” joga alguns eleitores indecisos nos braços de Donald Trump e de candidatos de terceiros partidos, como Jill Stein. Pergunto a Sanders se ele concorda com essa análise.

“Bem, essa é uma outra história. E não tenho resposta.”

Insisto. Certamente ele admitiria que a política externa foi um fator na derrota de Clinton?

Ele não cede. “Quero falar sobre meu discurso, não sobre Hillary Clinton.”

Então a política externa não desempenha nenhum papel nas eleições?

“A resposta é que eu não sei”, diz ele farto. “Você pode dizer que alguém falaria, ‘bem, Bernie Sanders foi brando demais em relação à defesa, não vou votar nele porque não está preparado para bombardear todos os países do mundo’. Você sabe quantos eleitores eu perdi por causa disso? Não sabemos, é especulação.” (Nem tanto: Greenwald citou um estudo acadêmico publicado este ano que defende “que se os EUA tivessem entrado em menos guerras, ou pelo menos experimentado menos baixas, Clinton teria… vencido as eleições.”)

Pergunto se há uma política externa equivalente ao Medicare for All [Medicare para todos] – ou seja, uma proposta de política progressista radical que Sanders tenha pretensão de pôr em campanha e tornar mainstream.

“Eu não veria dessa forma”, diz ele. “Quem pensa que há uma solução simples para lidar com todos os conflitos duradouros e horríveis do mundo está enganado… Temos que ser radicais é no entendimento de que não podemos continuar simplesmente usando o exército como meio para tratar questões de política externa.”

Embora certa vez tenha posto uma imagem do legendário ativista anti-guerra Eugene Debs em seu gabinete no congresso, Sanders não é um pacifista. Ele apoiou a campanha aérea da Otan no Kosovo em 1999 e a invasão e a ocupação do Afeganistão lideradas pelos EUA em 2001. No entanto, foi contrário à Guerra do Iraque e votou contra armar e treinar rebeldes sírios. Então, penso, será que ele tem seus próprios requisitos que devem ser cumpridos antes de os Estados Unidos usarem a força?

O senador esclarece que, de seu ponto de vista, a ação militar deveria ser o último recurso, exceto em casos de genocídio. “Deve haver um entendimento legítimo de que os interesses americanos estão sob ameaça. Obviamente, se alguém fosse travar uma guerra contra os Estados Unido, atacar o país, haveria uma ótima razão para responder.” Continua: “Quando analisamos situações de genocídio, nas quais as pessoas são mortas aos milhares… precisamos de forças internacionais de paz.”

Nesta semana, o presidente dos Estados Unidos fez o que alguns chamam de ameaça genocida na ONU em Nova York: “Se [os EUA] forem forçados a defender-se ou a defender seus aliados, não teremos outra opção a não ser destruir a totalmente a Coreia do Norte.”

Lembro ao senador de que tanto Obama quanto Trump assumiram a presidência com a promessa de encontrar o líder norte-coreano — mas Obama nunca o fez, e Trump está ocupado zombando de Kim Jong-un, chamando-o de “homem foguete”. Será que Sanders acha que um encontro entre os dois chefes de Estado será útil? 

O senador diz que não teria objeções a encontros “frente-a-frente” realizados com boa fé” – em vez de oportunidades cínicas de fazer fotos — e afirma que “em geral, discussões e encontros presenciais” merecem apoio.

Então, para esclarecer, será que ele apoiaria um presidente americano conversar com o líder da Coreia do Norte para tentar resolver a crise nuclear? Ele encolhe os ombros. “Será que eu conseguiria imaginar isso? Sim, creio que sim.”

Uma questão de política externa, no entanto, contra a qual Sanders recebeu críticas de integrantes de sua própria base de esquerda é o conflito Israel-Palestina. Alguns progressistas pró-Palestina acusaram-no de fazer vista grossa com a Israel.  Em uma entrevista em abril, por exemplo, Sanders rejeitou o movimento Boicote, Desinvestimentos e Sanções; ele também endossou uma carta controversa atacando a ONU por ela ter uma agenda antissemita”.

No entanto, é inegável que nos últimos anos o senador de Vermont, que é judeu e morou por um breve período em um kibutz em Israel nos anos 1960, vem assumido uma posição mais pró-Palestina no conflito, especificamente contra o governo de direita de Benjamin Netanyahu. “Chegará uma hora em que… teremos que dizer que Netanyahu não está certo o tempo todo”, afirmou ele a Clinton durante o debate das primárias dos Democratas em abril de 2016.

Hoje em dia, ao contrário dos outros congressistas, Sanders não tem dúvidas quanto a identificar e condenar a ocupação israelense na Cisjordânia e na Faixa de Gaza. Mas será que ele aceita que os Estados Unidos sejam cúmplices na ocupação de Israel, por meio de ajuda militar e venda de armas? E será que ele também aceita, portanto, que a ocupação dos territórios palestinos nunca acabará até que os Estados Unidos parem de armar e financiar o Estado Judaico?

“Certamente os Estados Unidos são cúmplices, mas isso não quer dizer… que Israel seja o único culpado”, diz. Contudo, afirma, “em termos das relações Israel-Palestina, os Estados Unidos precisam desempenhar um papel muito mais imparcial. Claramente, não é o que acontece hoje”.

Será que ele, portanto, consideraria votar pela redução da ajuda americana a Israel – de pelo menos US$ 3 bilhões por ano – ou da venda de armas para o exército israelense?

“O financiamento dos Estados Unidos tem um papel muito importante, e eu adoraria ver as pessoas no Oriente Médio se reunirem com o governo dos EUA para descobrir como a ajuda dos país pode unir as pessoas e não apenas resultar em uma guerra de armas naquela área. Então, creio que há um potencial extraordinário para que os Estados Unidos ajudem os palestinos a reconstruir Gaza e outras regiões. Ao mesmo tempo, isso demanda que Israel, com seus próprios interesses de certa forma, trabalhe com outros países em questões ambientais.” Ele finalmente responde minha pergunta: “Então, a resposta é sim.”

É uma resposta – pelo nível desanimadoramente baixo da política moderna americana – notável e, arrisco dizer, radical de Sanders. “A ajuda a Israel no Congresso e a comunidade pró-Israel tem sido sagradas,” publicou a Jewish Telegraphic Agency este ano, “e nenhum presidente propôs cortá-la de forma séria desde Gerald Ford em meados dos anos 1970.”

 Matt Roth for the Intercept

Bernie Sanders é entrevistado sobre sua visão de política externa em seu gabinete no Dirksen Senate Office Building em Washington DC na quarta-feira, 20.set.2017.

Foto: Matt Roth para The Intercept

Jeremy Corbyn, líder do Partido dos Trabalhadores, de esquerda, no Reino Unido, que com frequência é comparado a Sanders, ganhou as manchetes em maio, depois de fazer um discurso estimulando os britânicos a “serem bravos o suficiente para admitir que a guerra ao terror simplesmente não está funcionando” e a estabelecer “conexões entre as guerras apoiadas por nosso governo ou aquelas nas quais ele entrou em outros países e o terrorismo em território nacional.” No passado, o líder dos trabalhadores rotulou a Otan de um “perigo para a paz mundial” e fez um chamado ao engajamento em grupos como o Exército Republicano Irlandês, o Hezbollah e o Hamas.

Pode-se pensar que Corbyn é um radical genuíno em política externa. Será que o Sanders mais cauteloso está disposto a combinar a retórica do líder do partido dos trabalhadores sobre terrorismo e a resposta do Ocidente à questão? Será que ele acredita que os Estados Unidos, por exemplo, perderam a chamada guerra ao terror?

“Bem, não, é uma pergunta muito ampla,” responde com desdém. “Acho que a melhor forma de lidar com o terrorismo é tentar entender as causas iniciais dos problemas: a pobreza massiva, a ausência de educação, quando você lança um drone, por exemplo, que mata homens, mulheres e crianças inocentes, isso gera apenas mais antagonismo em relação aos Estados Unidos.”

Pergunto sobre o papel da Arábia Saudita em supostamente apoiar e financiar o terrorismo. Não vamos esquecer que 15 dos 19 sequestradores eram cidadãos sauditas. Então, o país é aliado ou inimigo dos Estados Unidos?

Não é só que muitos homens-bomba do 11 de setembro eram da Arábia Saudita”, diz, “o mais significativo para mim é… continuar a financiar madrassas e difundir uma doutrina wahhabi extremamente radical em muitos países ao redor do mundo. E eles estão financiando as mesquitas, as madrassas, e fomentando muito o ódio”.

Sanders quer que os Estados Unidos se afastem do apoio cego e acrítico ao reino do Golfo. Ele parece até sugerir que os Estados Unidos abracem o inimigo mortal dos sauditas: os iranianos.

Então, será que isso poderia ser o Medicare for All da política externa? Tentar acabar com quase quatro décadas de hostilidade e desconfiança entre os Estados Unidos da América e a República Islâmica do Irã? Sem disparar um tiro? Seria uma mudança dramática e histórica na abordagem. Durante as primárias presidenciais, Sanders foi atacado for por sugerir que os EUA deveriam “mexer-se da forma mais agressiva possível para normalizar as relações com o Irã”.

No entanto, quase dois anos depois, ele não teme defender a mesma ideia. “Creio que umas das áreas que precisamos repensar em termos de política externa é nossa posição em relação ao Irã e à Arábia Saudita”, diz, inclinando-se para frente em sua cadeira. “Por algum motivo – e acho que sabemos que algumas das razões tem a ver com a palavra petróleo – os Estados Unidos de certa forma têm feito vista grossa para o fato de que a Arábia Saudita é um país incrivelmente antidemocrático e tem desempenhado um papel muito ruim em termos internacionais, mas temos muitas vezes ficado lado a lado com ele, enquanto o Irã, que acaba de fazer eleições, cujos jovens realmente querem apoiar o Ocidente, estamos… continuamos a condená-lo.”

Enquanto Sanders tem “preocupações legítimas… sobre a política externa do Irã”, ele quer uma abordagem mais imparcial dos Estados Unidos no conflito “Irã-Arábia Saudita”. 

Tento então pressioná-lo sobre a natureza da relação entre os EUA e a Arábia Saudita e pergunto outra vez: será que ele considera ou não a Arábia Saudita um aliado dos Estados Unidos na chamada guerra ao terror?

Ele faz uma pausa. “Se eu a considero um aliado? Considero-a um país antidemocrático que tem apoiado e alimentado o terrorismo ao redor do mundo, então, não posso… Não, não é um aliado dos Estados Unidos.”

Espere, talvez isso seja o equivalente do Medicare For All na política externa – rebaixar laços diplomáticos com um dos piores regimes do planeta. Distanciando Washington de Riyadh. Mas será que Sanders realmente conseguiria tornar isso realidade? Ajudar a convencer seus colegas senadores de ambos os partidos a deixar o consenso bipartidário de longas décadas que considera a Arábia Saudita um aliado fundamental dos EUA? Em junho, o senador reuniu quatro republicanos e 42 democratas para tentar e bloquear a venda de US$ 510 milhões de munições guiadas de precisão  para a Arábia Saudita. Foram derrotados – mas por apenas seis votos.

Recebido por uma multidão entusiasmada de estudantes na quinta-feira e premiado pelo college com um título honorário antes do discurso, um Sanders sério denunciou a guerra global ao terror como “desastre para os americanos” porque ela “responde aos terroristas dando a eles exatamente o que querem.”

Ele fez ainda uma defesa inflamada do legado fundamental de Obama na política externa: o acordo nuclear com o Irã. “Precisamos proteger esse acordo”, disse Sanders ao público, citando o acordo nuclear como um exemplo de liderança real por parte dos Estados Unidos.

Durante uma hora na quinta-feira, o senador independente mostrou uma visão da política externa dos Estados Unidos no século 21 desinibidamente progressista, voltada para a diplomacia e não-militarizada: “O objetivo não é que os Estados Unidos dominem o mundo… Nosso objetivo deveria ser um compromisso global baseado em parceria e não em dominação.”

Em um momento em que o presidente dos EUA está promovendo a guerra, ameaçando “destruir totalmente” a Coreia do Norte e deixar o acordo nuclear com o Irã, é animador e admirável ouvir um político importante dos EUA falar de forma tão direta. Sanders diz que  quer uma “discussão séria sobre política externa” – o que, lamentavelmente, é algo com que seus colegas democratas do Senado ainda precisam concordar. Por exemplo, ele destaca uma votação no Senate que autorizou um enorme aumento anual de US$ 80 bilhões nos gastos do Pentágono. “Será que é realmente um investimento inteligente?”, pergunta.

“Arrisco dizer,” acrescenta em tom ácido, “que a maioria das pessoas que votaram a favor desse aumento enorme nos gastos militares realmente não saberia dizer exatamente por que isso é necessário.”

Apenas quatro senadores democratas se uniram a Sanders para votar contra o projeto de lei. Por que ele acha que todos os outros votaram a favor?

“Você deve perguntar a eles”, replica seco.

Alguns de seus críticos da esquerda, no entanto, não acham que Sanders chegue longe o suficiente. Em julho, o Jacobin’s Branko Marcetic castigou Sanders por causa de seu “silêncio relativo sobre a política externa de Obama” e seu “pensamento bastante convencional em relação ao assunto durante sua carreira em Washington.” Tais críticas tendem a querer uma denúncia vociferada, ao estilo Noam Chomsky, do imperialismo americano por parte de Sanders – e para ontem.

É interessante que, em 1985, Sanders convidou Chomsky para falar na prefeitura de Burlington, apresentando-o à multidão como “uma voz muito ressonante e importante no deserto da vida intelectual nos Estados Unidos” e dizendo que estava “encantado em receber uma pessoa de quem, acredito, todos temos muito orgulho.” Em 2016, quando entrevistei Chomsky para meu programa UpFront, na Al Jazeera English, o filósofo veterano, crítico da política externa, rasgou elogios a Sanders dizendo que ele era um político “decente, honesto” e com “as melhores políticas”. 

Pergunto a Sanders se, três décadas depois, ele ainda concorda com a crítica ferrenha de Chomsky sobre a política externa em todos os setores, incluindo sua descrição provocativa dos Estados Unidos como um “estado-pária”.

Sanders me interrompe antes que eu termine minha pergunta. “OK, entendi. Noam Chomsky teve um papel extraordinariamente importante. Sou senador dos Estados Unidos. Vivemos em mundos diferentes.” Ele muda de assunto depressa – e convenientemente. “O principal ponto é que temos que repensar a política externa… e isso significa lidar com questões como desigualdade na distribuição da renda e da riqueza, que não é apenas uma questão dos EUA, mas uma questão horrível global.” Sanders agora está à vontade e em uma maré boa.  “Nós temos seis das pessoas mais ricas que têm mais riqueza do que a metade inferior da população mundial. Precisamos lidar com a questão das mudanças climáticas, porque, se não agirmos juntos em nível internacional, talvez não tenhamos planeta para nossos filhos e netos “.

Vamos ser claros: sobre a política externa, Sanders não vai tão longe em direção à esquerda como seu velho amigo Noam Chomsky ou mesmo seu colega britânico Jeremy Corbyn. Mas o seu renovado interesse pelo assunto e sua vontade de romper com o consenso estabelecido podem estar entre seus atos mais radicais.

“Onde devemos ser radicais”, diz Sanders, “é ao entender que não podemos continuar simplesmente usando o exército como meio de tratar questões de política externa. Onde devemos ser radicais e vigorosos, de forma sem precedentes, é ao forçar debates e discussões sobre as causas do conflito internacional — e, certamente, não temos feito isso e precisamos de mais lideranças americanas para tanto.”

Foto principal: o senador Bernie Sanders durante uma entrevista em Washington, D.C,. em 20.set.2017.

Tradução: Maria Paula Autran

The post Bernie Sanders para os Democratas: como é uma política externa radical appeared first on The Intercept.

Syrian Widows in Jordan Take Charge of Their New Lives

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 24/09/2017 - 11:00pm in

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Amal al-Mugdad was always devout, but as the Syrian conflict engulfed her hometown of Dera’a, her prayers grew increasingly desperate. Rising daily before dawn, the slight young woman unrolled her prayer mat, her ears strained for the sound of bullets. On her knees in the dark, she begged for peace in her country and mercy for her people. By daylight, though, there were few signs that Allah had heard her plea. Regime aircraft rattled against the sky. Neighborhood streets grew inscrutable, blocked by shifting checkpoints and sprawling rubble.

Fear whittled Amal’s world. By 2012, her universe encompassed only three points: her sons, Khalid and Ma’an, then ages two years and six months, respectively; and her 24-year-old husband, Mahmood. It was her husband — the man she married at 19, whom she privately called Hamoodi — that worried her the most. This was a conflict with a particular appetite for young, able-bodied men, targeting them with checkpoints and home raids. By 2015, an estimated 65,000 people were “disappeared” by the regime, forced to enlist in President Bashar al-Assad’s army or vanished into the underworld of government prisons. Others were felled by snipers, for reasons never given.

Amal’s nightmare arrived on a sunny winter’s day. It was December 19, 2012. Mahmood stepped out to call Amal’s cousin to lunch. A soldier shot him through the heart. “I had my boys in my arms,” Amal recalled, five years later. “I don’t remember what I did with them.” She went on: “Then I was in the street. I saw his body. He looked like he was sleeping. I couldn’t stop screaming.” She lunged at the soldier, her brother holding her back. “I cried, Why, why him?” There was no reply.

They buried Mahmoud immediately. Amal was taken, in shock, to a nearby uncle. A few weeks later, her relatives persuaded her to flee, rousing Amal with the one message that could still reach her: It would be safer for her boys, outside Syria. On foot, she followed the stream of refugees south, toward the porous Jordanian border. Ma’an, drenched in winter rain, developed a wrenching cough. “He kept crying and I was crying too, calling out, ‘My God, my God.’ I didn’t know what to do,” Amal told me. As the sounds of war grew distant, Amal was stirred by a new fear: how would she, a woman, shoulder the burden of her fledgling family alone?

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The road to Karama leads well outside Jordan’s capital, Amman, past rural neighborhoods, military facilities, and up a isolated hillside. January 12, 2017.

Photo: Sarah Aziza

A dozen miles outside the Jordanian capital of Amman, over 300 Syrians, mostly women and children, work to construct meaning from the fragments of exile. They occupy “Karama,” an isolated strip of apartment buildings atop a rocky hill, run by a local charity to shelter some of the area’s most destitute refugees. Men under 40 are rare; like Amal, most of the women of Karama were widowed or separated from their husbands by the war, and now find themselves at the head of sprawling, often desperate, families. Bereft of their traditional guardians and providers, these women have been forced to reimagine their lives outside the traditional economic and social expectations of gender.

The upending of these norms can create huge anxieties for women, compounding their existing trauma and entrenching them in poverty. For many, survival becomes contingent on their ability to take on new, traditionally male roles, said Bothaina Qamar, who until this month worked as a livelihoods specialist at U.N. Women in Jordan. “Back in Syria, only 14 percent of women were engaged in the labor market,” Qamar said, “especially among rural communities, the men dominate the society outside the home.”

As of 2016, roughly 40 percent of Syrian refugee households in Jordan were headed by women, most of them responsible for numerous children and one or more elderly relatives. Even so, many these now-single women have been reluctant or unable to find formal employment. “Some are raised to believe it is dishonorable or dangerous for women to work outside the home,” said Qamar, “and many are accustomed only to agricultural and domestic work.” Of the more than 58,000 work permits that have been to Syrians as of last month, 4 percent have been to women.

Many women feel uncomfortable being outside the home without a male relative and feel ill-equipped to make financial decisions. Although Amal attended university before the war, she would never before have considered traveling without her husband, father, or brother. “Before the azma”— crisis — “I never left my neighborhood without Hamoodi or a man from my family,” she told me.

Lucy Cracknell, protection adviser for the International Medical Corps in Jordan, said these single women often have real reason to worry about safety as refugees in Jordan. Both women and children in female-headed households face greater risk of sexual harm and gender-based violence, a fact that often drives women to self-isolate. This compounds poverty, creating severe economic straits that can lead to “negative coping mechanisms,” Cracknell said, including “child marriage or child labor for their children, sex work, other risky behaviors.”

For all the stigma and fear some Syrian women feel about working, most of them are in urgent need of an income. As of 2016, four out of five Syrian households in Jordan live below the poverty line, and among female-headed households, the situation is more grim. As of 2016, at least 10 percent of these families faced immediate eviction from their homes, and one-third were in debt to their landlords. According to another recent study by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, 63 percent of Syrian refugees in Jordan were “vulnerable to food insecurity,” and 22 percent were “food insecure” with female-headed households suffering some of the greatest deprivation.

Amal, following the example of fellow refugees, registered with the UNHCR, according to her papers, and numerous charities upon arriving in Jordan. She received a modest food voucher for 30 Jordanian dinars (roughly $50) per month. For a time, Amal found shelter in the Jordanian city of Salt with in-laws, where she lived in a fugue state and subsisted on U.N. aid. Later, when her relatives left Jordan, Amal faced the dreaded prospect of transferring to one of Jordan’s overcrowded refugee camps. “I had no hope,” Amal recalled.

In early 2015, however, Amal’s fate took a rare, fortunate turn. Her application for housing assistance won her a spot at Karama, which had recently been expanded by the projects’ sponsor, the Islamic Charity Center Society. The young mother moved in April, bringing 11 relatives with her, including her ailing mother and several nieces and nephews. An ICCS bus drove them out of Amman, past a run-down military airport, and up a rocky hill to a row of solitary, sand-colored apartment buildings. This, they told Amal, was her new home.

In her new apartment, Amal, Ma’an, and Khalid took one of the three small bedrooms. After unpacking her family’s one suitcase, Amal sank to the floor. “Everything looked black, dark. There was no future,” she recalls, “My soul was tired. My soul was sick.” For the next several months, she would remain inside the crowded apartment where she seldom spoke and shed her tears in secret.

Amal’s sons grew fitful, clinging to her at times, lashing out at others. Three-year-old Khalid was frequently awakened by nightmares of approaching planes and soldiers. “The boys would ask, ‘Where’s Baba? Where’s Baba?’ For a long time, they thought he was still in Syria. They didn’t understand what death is.” But, she added, “They know now.”

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Yousra, right, rouses students and parents alike at a community gathering during Ramadan in 2017.

Photo: Sarah Aziza

Yousra Mofalani also struggled in the early days of her displacement. She and her sister, Somia, fled Syria for Jordan in 2012, leaving behind 10 siblings and their father’s grave in the yard of their childhood home. On a winter’s day in 2017, Yousra, who is 43 years old, and I strolled up Karama’s single, dusty lane. Recalling the first leg of their journey, Yousra’s brown eyes deepened with tears, her thick brows arching to constrain her emotion. “That was the house my father built with his hands, where we all grew up. It was harder to leave that house than to leave the country itself,” she said, “Without our ahl” — one’s people or family — “we feel lost.”

The women spent their first months as refugees in Mafraq, where they rented a poorly maintained apartment from a Jordanian landlord at exorbitant prices. Winning a spot at Karama was a huge financial relief, but the location — far from central Amman — left them feeling more isolated than ever. “There was no one around,” Somia said, “At night, it was totally dark — and so quiet.” Most of their fellow residents were widows, too, many strapped with young children and ailing elderly relatives. An air of despair prevailed. “It was like life stood still. Everyone was in shock, many people were injured or had halat nafsiya” — a phrase that loosely translates to psychological problems. “We were all in shock. And for the women, they were afraid to go to town or even leave their house.”

During the war, Yousra had braved the occupied streets of her city, Dera’a, during curfews to gather food for her extended family; rebuilding her life as a refugee would require a new kind of courage. “I told myself, remember how much strength you have, that God has given you,” she said. “And that’s what we forget — we women — how much strength we have in ourselves.” As she roused herself from her depression, Yousra began searching for ways to channel this strength into agency.

A few months after her arrival at Karama, Yousra approached the ICCS administrator of the housing project, Ibrahim Salah al-Rawajeh, who goes by the honorific Abu Omar, with several requests. “I told him the women here need things to do and so do the children,” she told me. “We need activities, we need to keep learning, so we can feel that our lives are not over.” Abu Omar was struck by the small, vigorous woman. “She’s a natural leader,” he said, sitting in his cramped office at Karama. In his many years of humanitarian work, Abu Omar has become accustomed to seeing dejection and apathy. “I never thought we’d meet a woman like Yousra here. These are some of the most unfortunate refugees, and when they came, most of them looked like they had given up hope. But she had a vision.” And, says Abu Omar, her vision aligned well with the goal of the ICCS: “We named this place Karama” — which means “dignity” — “for a reason: we wanted to help Syrians feel human again, by giving them control over their lives again.”

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A group of young Karama girls perform a dance at a Ramadan celebration, wearing matching dresses hand-made by Yousra, Somia, and other neighborhood women, on Jan. 12, 2017.

Photo: Sarah Aziza

Yousra’s first requests were simple. She wanted permission to use the ICCS office space for community gatherings “so the women could meet and strengthen one another.” She also asked Abu Omar for educational programs, pointing out that most of the Syrian children had fallen years behind their Jordanian peers in school. Together, they found qualified Syrian teachers among the Karama residents and arranged to offer remedial math, Arabic, and English classes to Karama’s 90-plus school-age children. Abu Omar also gave Yousra free reign over the ICCS multipurpose room, which Yousra hoped would serve as a gathering place for the neighbors.

Coaxing the bereaved women out of their apartments would prove the largest hurdle. Even Yousra’s own sister had lost heart, spending entire days lying flat on her mat, fixated on memories of her late father and lost home. Like many of her neighbors, Somia was terrified to go outside. Each morning, she implored Yousra not to leave the house. Yousra, on the other hand, had already moved on to her next campaign: lobbying Abu Omar to set up regular transportation to and from the Jordanian neighborhood where Karama’s children attended school. With time, Yousra began to embark on quests of her own, taking a series of shared taxis and public buses to travel to Amman proper in search of the Islamic books she liked to study. These errands gave her a sense of power. “Even in Syria I never took the bus!” she recalled. She continued, “Every morning I’d tell Somia, ‘Come on sister! You’ve got to get up and live your life. Just get out of bed. Do you think Allah let you survive the war for nothing? There is still so much left we can do.’”

This was Yousra’s message to Amal, too, when she came knocking on her door. Yousra was struck by the young woman’s pale, wilted features. “She wasn’t eating,” Yousra recalled. “She could barely speak.” Still, Amal valiantly followed custom, inviting Yousra in, guiding her to the deflating cushions that served as the family’s furniture. Over tea, Yousra gently prodded Amal with questions about her hometown, smiling when she discovered they’d both come from Dera’a. Yousra told her that many of the Karama residents came from Dera’a and urged her to join them in one of the social gatherings she and Somia organized in the multipurpose room down the road. Amal thanked her quietly and murmured the customary response, “Inshallah” — God willing. She found her visitor kind but was glad to see her go. Weeks went by. Amal stayed inside.

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The ladies — and children — of Karama’s preschool surprise Amal with a cake and song for her 26th birthday, on Jan. 15, 2017. She cried.

Photo: Sarah Aziza

By the end of her first year in Karama, Yousra had knocked on each of the 55 apartment doors in the housing project. Slowly, over shared meals and endless cups of tea, she had learned the stories of her compatriots. Her bedazzled Samsung phone became the local switchboard, lighting up with everything from news of an ailing neighbor — she’d be at their bedside within hours — to speculation over the latest developments in Syria. With the support of Abu Omar, Yousra and Somia hosted several town hall meetings, polling the women on their needs and urging them to recognize the importance of organizing. “We lost our families in Syria, and so many of us are women with no men, but we can strengthen each other,” Yousra explained, now sitting next to a smiling Somia in their clean, spare apartment. The smells of cooking rice and boiled chicken legs wafted from the tiny kitchen, where Isra’, their sister-in-law, stooped over a double-burner. Her two young daughters quietly scribbled in a notebook nearby. “When we come together,” Yousra went on, “then we can see what needs there are and we can take care of them ourselves.”

Bothaina Qamar, the now-former U.N. Women official in Jordan, says this kind of community organizing is key. “Humanitarian interventions are no longer what these communities need. It’s time to shift to development.” And getting Syrians to participate in making decisions for themselves is crucial, she adds. “When they feel they can make a difference in their lives, and they develop a sense of self-pride.”

Syrians across Jordan are finding a growing need to claim this kind of agency. With the Jordanian government beset by debt, many Syrians around the country are deprived of basic services, like sanitation, public transportation, and education. As many enter their fifth or sixth year as refugees, some Syrians, particularly in the Zaatari refugee camp, have begun forming neighborhood committees to represent their needs to local government and NGOs. Yet, so far, women are seldom included in these spaces. Women-only circles, like the one Yousra formed in Karama, are crucial entry points for women to gain a sense of confidence. “When they feel safe, they speak up,” said Qamar, “and when they speak with each other, they start to recognize they have many of the same problems.”

At Karama, one issue became apparent at the first meeting: There were gaggles of young children skirting between the gathered women, many of them fretful, clinging to their mothers or sucking on their thumbs with an unnatural urgency. “We realized we needed to do something for the very young children,” said Yousra. “They had so much nervous energy, and because their mothers stayed inside, the children were stuck there, too. We told Abu Omar we wanted to open a preschool.” After some persuasion, he granted the women permission to convert an unused garage into a classroom.

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One of the Karama students “reads” a book of the Arabic alphabet at the Karama preschool, on Jan. 12, 2017.

Photo: Sarah Aziza

The preschool opened in 2015 with roughly two-dozen students. At first, said Somia, most of the time was spent managing the symptoms of trauma. “Children would cry, or hide in the corners, or sometimes fight,” she said. “When we’d draw pictures, the drawings were always tanks, planes, blood, martyrs.” The school quickly morphed into a site of psycho-social triage. The ICCS brought in social workers to instruct the teachers in the basics of counseling and art therapy. In the last year and a half, said Somia, most of the children have shown remarkable improvement. “They’re changing,” she said. “They’ve started drawing things like animals, trees, and planes — not warplanes, but planes for traveling.” After hours, Somia uses the preschool’s space to teach classes on self-esteem and emotional health to teenage girls.

The services for mothers have grown, too. Yousra is insistent that the women in her community continue to develop their skills and self-reliance. In 2016, the ICCS made it possible for women to apply for small loans to support at-home enterprises. One of the first recipients was Maysa Nessar, who received several grants and loans from the ICCS and affiliates, as well as relatives, totaling about 800 Jordanian dinars. She used the money to begin an at-home operation making traditional yogurt and cheese for sale in local markets. Recounting her experience to me roughly five months into the venture, the 36-year old mother of four beamed. “I’ve never done anything like this before,” she said. “In Syria, I was just a housewife. Now I have my own business!”

Maysa considers herself blessed as one of the few women in Karama whose husband, Ahmed, is neither dead nor disappeared. However, Ahmed is paraplegic and unable to find traditional work, leaving Maysa to take the lead on many aspects of the business. “He’s my partner. I never dreamed I’d say that — my husband and I are business partners,” Maysa said with a laugh. She makes most of her money selling to Jordanian grocers. For her fellow Syrians, she said, she lowers the price. “Because, you, our people are in a hard situation,” she explained. She has plans to expand and has apprenticed herself to a male neighbor who makes and sells pickled vegetables. “It’s a lot of work, of course,” she said, as she cradles her 5-year-old son. “But when you work hard, and then you see that you accomplished something — you feel like a human being.”

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Yousra cracks up while MC-ing a Ramadan celebration at the community center in Karama. on June 9, 2017.

Photo: Sarah Aziza

It would be Amal’s love of prayer that finally drew her out of her self-imposed exile. After their first meeting, Yousra persisted in her efforts to coax the younger woman out of her apartment, inviting her to lunches, seminars, and neighborhood meetings. Undeterred by her consistent rejections, Yousra dropped by one day to tell Amal of a new Quran class she’d organized for the women of Karama. Amal was intrigued by the prospect of learning tajweed, the art of Quranic recitation. Since childhood, Amal had practiced reading and memorizing the Quran with her uncle, and the holy book was her one remaining source of solace. “Something happens to my heart when I hear the Quran,” she told me. “It makes my heart quiet down. It feels like peace.” When the class met the following Friday, Amal was there, her small body fitting perfectly in the school desks Yousra borrowed from the ICCS classroom. Amid her 20 classmates, Amal’s timid presence was easy to overlook.

The course was taught by Amal’s neighbor, a widow who lost three sons to the Syrian war. Halfway through the class, she called on Amal to recite a portion of the Surah of Maryam. Amal’s lilting, articulate voice brought a hush to the classroom. “Mashallah, she has a real gift for the tajweed,” Yousra told me. A few weeks later, the teacher and Yousra asked Amal to become an instructor for a Quran class of her own, teaching younger girls. Amal agreed. Soon, she was at the ICCS center multiple times a week, teaching as well as studying, staying long after class to discuss favorite ayat, or verses, and offer girls extra pointers on their diction. Not long after, she began bringing Ma’an and Khalid to the preschool. At first, the boys clung anxiously to her knees, so Amal stayed through class to reassure them. Before long, she was helping manage other children, too. Somia saw an opportunity. “She has a gift with children,” she said. Somia soon recruited Amal to join the team of single women — today eight in all — who run the school.

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Amal teaches a geography lesson to group of Karama children including Ma’an, on Jan. 12, 2017.

Photo: Sarah Aziza

Now, during daylight hours, Amal is rarely at home. Her days swing by quickly, mornings and early afternoons filled with teaching duties. After work, she frequently joins her neighbors for tea, bringing her boys along to play with their own newfound friends. Often, the trio will stay for dinner, Amal joining her hosts in cramped kitchens to help create elaborate Syrian dishes. She’s a faithful attendee of ICCS-sponsored classes, including a module on single parenting, and another on “life skills development.” Along with Yousra and Somia, she’s working toward a teacher certification, administered via Skype and annual visits by a British educational specialist. “When we finish, I’ll have a diploma — a real diploma, with my name. This is an amazing thing for me,” Amal said, her voice reverent. “Not just any girl in Syria could get a diploma. I can’t believe that this is what Allah has brought me, even when I thought my life had ended.” At this, she allowed herself a rare, private smile.

Even so, for Amal all roads still lead back to her country. “One day, inshallah, we will return to Syria,” she said. “But we can’t go with empty hands, weak and broken down. Syria has been destroyed, broken down to zero, less than zero. We must work on ourselves, make ourselves stronger, to rebuild our country. This is what Yousra has been teaching me.”

There are still nights, she admitted, when she is shrouded again by grief, but when the morning comes, she finds courage in her sons. “Who knows why this war came to us. But I know one thing, the children did nothing wrong. So, I cannot give up. I want to finish my teaching course and then, when peace comes, go back to Syria and start a school. I want to help the children of this war get back what was stolen from them. I want them to have a future in Syria.”

Top photo: Somia, left, and Amal, right, lead a group of Syrian refugee children in a series of songs at their community-run preschool in the Karama refugee complex in Jordan on Jan. 12, 2017.

The post Syrian Widows in Jordan Take Charge of Their New Lives appeared first on The Intercept.

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Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 24/09/2017 - 10:00pm in

Ken Burns Says the Vietnam War Was “Begun in Good Faith.” So Was Every Other Lousy War.

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At the start of the American plunge into the Vietnam War, the State Department circulated an optimistic cable about Nguyen Van Thieu, the South Vietnamese president who had just taken power with U.S. support:

His speeches and appeals to the people of Vietnam are directed at ensuring the national independence of Vietnam; rallying the people together; carrying out a progressive, democratic policy; observing legality; establishing firm law and order; and having a humane attitude toward people.

The U.S. has given consent to the Vietnamese government to the introduction of a small military contingent for a period of time. Its very presence in Vietnam will serve as a guarantee against sudden armed attacks of hostile foreign forces.

These were internal U.S. communications; it was simply the government talking to itself, with no reason to lie.

Moreover, it was no aberration. U.S. government archives are filled with impressive declarations about America’s idealistic goals in Vietnam.

So what does it mean? It means that the tremendously compelling 10-part documentary on the Vietnam War directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick is right when it begins with this somber narration:

America’s involvement in Vietnam … was begun in good faith, by decent people, out of fateful misunderstandings …

Except that actually wasn’t a U.S. State Department cable about Vietnam and Nguyen Van Thieu. It was a December 27, 1979 missive from the Soviet Foreign Ministry about the new Afghan president Babrak Karmal, who had been installed by the Soviet troops who had just entered Afghanistan. All that was changed from the original Soviet cable is a substitution of references to Vietnam with Afghanistan and mentions of the U.S. with the Soviet Union. (As Thieu’s predecessor Ngô Dình Diem had dissatisfied the U.S. and somehow ended up dead, so too with the Soviets and Karmal’s predecessor.)

So what does this Soviet cable — filled with sincere moral fervor about helping Afghanistan — demonstrate? That all catastrophic wars are started by people who believe they’re the good guys.

So Burns and Novick aren’t wrong, exactly, about the good faith of the decent Americans who devastated Vietnam. But what truly matters is, what difference does it make? Saying that these U.S. officials wanted to do the right thing is the same as explaining, “America’s involvement in Vietnam was begun by human beings, who breathed air, ate food, and used their legs to walk around.”

The infinite capacity of the powerful for self-serving delusion is something you should hopefully figure out by the time you get a driver’s license, and definitely before you direct a $30 million TV series. Everyone, including the worst figures of history, believes – even if they couldn’t be 100 percent honest, or had to cut some moral corners, or were forced by their domestic rivals to do terrible things to stay in power – that they’re on the side of good.

So the fact that this was true about the people who started the Vietnam War has literally no significance. What actually matters is that it was an insanely brutal, cruel, evil imperial war of aggression.

If Americans want to understand this, all we need to do is read more of the internal deliberations of the Soviet Union as it conducted its own insanely brutal, cruel, evil imperial war of aggression in Afghanistan. Were the Russians making these decisions “decent,” and acting in “good faith”? If we’re judging them by the same standards as we judge American leaders, absolutely. Did they then have “fateful misunderstandings” that led them astray? They sure did.

The leaders of both countries were deeply concerned with the morality of their decisions, and the leaders of both countries also instigated spectacular bloodbaths.

Indeed, if you read the Soviet archives, it’s nearly impossible — just as with the above cable — to distinguish Russia’s deliberations about Afghanistan from internal American discussions about Vietnam. Start with a Soviet Politburo discussion on March 17, 1979.

Afghanistan had always been heavily influenced by its much larger northern neighbor. But in 1978 a coup led by the People’s Democratic Party led to the establishment of a formally communist Afghan regime. It soon signed a treaty of “friendship, good neighborliness and cooperation” with the Soviets.

Within a year, however, the Politburo grew concerned that their ally President Mur Muhammed Taraki was losing control of the country – partly, they believed, due to his own viciousness and partly because other countries were supporting Afghan rebels who were carrying out savage attacks of their own.

“The situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated sharply,” Andrei Gromyko, the Soviet minister of foreign affairs, told his comrades. “Bands of saboteurs and terrorists, having infiltrated from the territory of Pakistan, trained and armed not only with the participation of Pakistani forces but also of China, the United States of America, and Iran, are committing atrocities in Herat.”

They had to do something. But what? “We still don’t know exactly what is happening in Afghanistan,” worried Soviet Premiere Alexei Kosygin. Their Afghan allies, he said, “are good people, that is apparent, but all the same they are concealing a great deal from us.”

Andrei Kirilenko, another member of the Politburo, emphasized that they couldn’t just send the Soviet army: “We cannot deploy troops without a request from the government of Afghanistan.” Moreover, it was crucial that the Soviet Union demand a halt to abuses by the Afghan government, which included “executions” and “torture.” “This is a major policy issue,” said Kirilenko. “Taraki must ensure, with all decisiveness, that no illicit measures whatsoever are undertaken by them.”

The next day Yuri Andropov, the head of the KGB, declared that they had the military strength to keep their communist allies in power. But they could not use it, thanks to the Soviet code of ethics. “We can suppress a revolution in Afghanistan only with the aid of our bayonets,” said Andropov, “and that is for us entirely inadmissible.”

Gromyko chimed in to agree, bringing up the crucial issue of international law: “We must keep in mind that from a legal point of view too we would not be justified in sending troops. According to the U.N. Charter a country can appeal for assistance, and we could send troops, in case it is subject to external aggression. Afghanistan has not been subject to any aggression.”

Soon afterward, Gromyko, Andropov and others circulated a Communist Party central committee memo on the situation. It lamented that despite the “recommendations and advice” of the Soviet Union, the Afghan government had engaged in “extreme measures and unjustified repression,” as well as “violence towards arrested persons during investigations.”

The Soviet Union must redouble its efforts to stop such pernicious behavior, said the memo, and firmly advise their Afghan allies to “develop and enact a constitution which will secure the democratic rights of the people.”

At about the same time, the top Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev met with Taraki in person in Moscow. Taraki wanted the Soviets to send troops to support him. No, Brezhnev told him: “We examined this question from every angle, weighed it carefully, and, I will tell you frankly: This should not be done.”

Yet the Soviet Union ended up invading Afghanistan nine months later, around Christmas of 1979.

Soviet Aeroflot helicopters at Kabul airport on 16 January 1980. News reports Soviet reinforcements into embattled Afghanistan are being stepped up.(FILM) AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read HANS PAUL/AFP/Getty Images)

Soviet Aeroflot helicopters at Kabul airport on Jan. 16,1980.

Photo: Hans Paul/AFP/Getty Images

Remarkably, even though the Soviet archives are now largely open, no records make precisely clear how or why this decision was made. It was likely due largely to the further deterioration of the Afghan government’s power, especially after an official named Hafizullah Amin overthrew and murdered Taraki in October. The Soviets were also concerned that rising Islamic militancy, both next door in Iran and in Saudi Arabia, would triumph in Afghanistan as well and then spread to the Muslim areas of the Soviet Union itself.

In any case, by early 1980 there were 100,000 Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan. And yet the Soviets still managed to justify the decision on moral grounds: Just as Soviet leaders had seen their earlier decision not to invade as the ethical thing to do, they were certain only a short while later that sending troops was also morally correct.

Another report to the Communist Party’s Central Committee from Gromyko and Andropov explained why it had to be done. Amin, it said, had “established a regime of personal dictatorship in the country,” including “repressions, mass executions, and disregard for legal norms.” Fortunately, the new president, Babrak Karmal, with the support of the courageous Soviet military, was committed to the “national-democratic, anti-feudalistic, anti-imperialistic revolution, and to defend Afghan independence and sovereignty [as well as the] broad democratization of social life and ensuring a law-abiding society.”

From that point forward, the Soviet attack on Afghanistan went pretty much like the American attack on Vietnam: carpet bombing, tons of napalm, widespread rape, countless massacres of civilians. Just as in Vietnam, we have only the vaguest sense of how many people were killed, because no one with power was counting.

Similarly, the eventual Soviet departure from Afghanistan was as long and pointlessly drawn out as the U.S. exit from Vietnam. President Richard Nixon knew the U.S. was beat for years but insisted on a process of “Vietnamization” and “peace with honor” rather than admit the truth. The last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, realized the occupation was a disaster when he came to power in 1985, but Soviet troops didn’t start leaving until 1988 and weren’t fully out for another year after that. As Gorbachev later explained, “We had to finish this war. But in a way so the Russian people would understand why tens of thousands had died. We couldn’t just run away from there in shame. No, we needed to find a process.”

The upcoming final episode of Ken Burns’s “Vietnam War” will end with its narrator — after repeated revisions by Burns and Novick, to be sure they were expressing themselves precisely — coming to the following conclusion: “The Vietnam War was a tragedy, immeasurable and irredeemable.”

So despite the voluminous evidence the series itself provides, it turns out the Vietnam War was not a crime, nor a malefaction, nor an abomination. It was merely a tragedy, as the directors also say twice in a New York Times op-ed.

The decent Soviets, filled with their good faith, would have known just where “The Vietnam War” is coming from. As the Soviet troops began departing Afghanistan in 1988, one member of the Politburo mused about what had gone so terribly wrong:

There were serious miscalculations and mistakes both in our domestic affairs as well as in foreign policy. I believe, for example, that if all of the democratic institutes had been working, the Afghan tragedy which, as you know, has been very costly to us, would not have happened. We did not take note of the deep-seated processes taking place in our society.

Top photo: The second wave of combat helicopters of the 1st Air Cavalry Division fly over American troops on an isolated landing zone during Operation Pershing, during the Vietnam War.

The post Ken Burns Says the Vietnam War Was “Begun in Good Faith.” So Was Every Other Lousy War. appeared first on The Intercept.

The View From the End of the American Empire

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 24/09/2017 - 9:15pm in

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In his United Nations General Assembly speech last week, President Donald Trump loudly stated his intention to effectively dismantle the world order that the United States painstakingly built over the past century. Trump lauded nationalism before the assembled delegates at the same global institution that the U.S. helped create: “I will always put America first just like you, the leaders of your countries, should put your countries first,” he thundered. “There can be no substitute for strong, sovereign, independent nations.”

Trump’s speech was a remarkable departure from decades of U.S. policy aimed at creating an integrated post-nationalist world under its own leadership. At the end of the Second World War, the U.S. emerged for the first time in its history as a true superpower: a country able to reach out beyond its borders and reshape the nature of global politics. Most people alive today were born into a world whose institutions, economic systems, legal rules, and political boundaries have all been shaped to some degree by American influence. While the U.S. has never been comfortable with embracing its identity — preferring to refer to itself with such euphemisms as “the indispensable nation” — a sober accounting of America’s influence on world affairs can only arrive at the designation of an “empire.”

Through a network of nearly 800 military bases located in 70 countries around the globe, in addition to an array of trade deals and alliances, the U.S. has cemented its influence for decades across both Europe and Asia. American leaders helped impose a set of rules and norms that promoted free trade, democratic governance — in theory, if not always in practice — and a prohibition on changing borders militarily, using a mixture of force and suasion to sustain the systems that keep its hegemony intact. Meanwhile, although the U.S. generally eschewed direct colonialism, its promotion of global free trade helped “open a door through which America’s preponderant economic strength would enter and dominate all the underdeveloped areas of the world,” wrote the revisionist historian William Appleman Williams in his more-than-half-century-old classic, “The Tragedy of American Diplomacy”.

That strategy of “non-colonial imperial expansion,” as Williams called it, became the basis for U.S. foreign policy over the past century. For American elites, such a policy has provided remarkable benefits, even if the resulting largesse has not always trickled down to the rest of the country. Thanks to its status as the world’s only superpower, the U.S. today enjoys the “exorbitant privilege” of having its dollar serve as the world’s reserve currency, while U.S. leaders dominate the agenda of international institutions promoting governance and trade. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990 and the successful creation of a global military alliance to repel Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait that same year, America’s imperial confidence reached a zenith; President George H.W. Bush publicly declared the start of a “new world order” under American leadership.

Looking back on Bush’s speech a few decades later, however, that prediction of a stable U.S.-led order seems to have been wildly optimistic. The world today faces a range of interwoven crises related to migration, inequality, war, and climate change, yet the structures and leadership needed to meaningfully respond to them seem woefully inadequate. Instead of the U.S. embracing the role of global leadership and filling the vacuum created by the fall of the Soviet Union, Americans have seen their country consumed by domestic crises and have responded with a mixture of ineptitude and paranoia towards international ones.

Meanwhile, the global system of free trade deals and military deployments built by U.S. leaders over the past 75 years — the hard infrastructure supporting America’s hegemony — has come to be viewed by many Americans as a costly burden rather than a benefit. Even before Trump rode to victory on a wave of promises to knock over the pillars of the post-World War II international order, the possibility that the U.S. would continue to enjoy clear primacy seemed questionable even with competent governance. With Trump now in power and doing his utmost to tank America’s global standing, what kind of new world order is actually coming into existence?

 US President Donald Trump waits after making a speech during the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly at the UN Headquarters in New York, United States on September 19, 2017. (Photo by Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

U.S. President Donald Trump waits after making a speech during the 72nd session of the U.N. General Assembly at the U.N. Headquarters in New York, on Sept. 19, 2017.

Photo: Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Although there is a long history of “declinist” writing about U.S. power, the election of a president hostile to the U.S.-created order marks the start of a genuinely unprecedented era. Imminent preparations now being made for a post-American global future. Two recent books — “All Measures Short of War: The Contest for the 21st Century and the Future of American Power,” by Thomas J. Wright, a fellow at the Project on International Order and Strategy at the Brookings Institution, and “In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power,” by Alfred McCoy, a legendary investigative journalist and a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin–Madison — offer a glimpse into what such a world may look like.

Although both books deal with the subject of America’s imperial decline, their approach differs in both scope and definition. Whereas McCoy explicitly discusses the rise and fall of America as an “empire,” a word that he intends not as an epithet but as an honest descriptor of the U.S. global footprint, Wright speaks about the possible collapse of the American-led “liberal international order” — the system of rules, norms and institutions that have governed global affairs in America’s favor since the end of World War II.

Wright sees the system under threat from a combination of newly emerging powers and recent American missteps. McCoy, for his part, sees the unraveling of the U.S. empire as analogous to the series of events that led to the decline of the British and French empires before it. The first step is the loss of support from local elites in territories under imperial influence, a process that McCoy says is clearly underway for the U.S. in many critical regions of the world. In recent years, America has seen its ties strained with military partners such as Turkey, the Philippines, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, while major U.S. allies like Germany and South Korea have increasingly come to question America’s capacity to continue leading the imperial system that it created.

It is the Arab Spring uprisings against mostly pro-U.S. dictators, however, that McCoy says marked the slow beginning of the end of American imperium. While the revolts are widely judged to have failed in bringing about liberal democracy, they did succeed in unseating longtime American allies in Tunisia and Egypt, while straining U.S. ties with Gulf Arab countries and even Iraq. As McCoy writes, “All modern empires have relied on dependable surrogates to translate their global power into local control.” He adds, “For most of them, the moment when those elites began to stir, talk back, and assert their own agendas was also the moment when you knew that imperial collapse was in the cards.” The British empire famously became a “self-liquidating concern” when local elites across the empire began demanding self-rule, as did France’s far-flung rule when it was forced to wage a grinding war of attrition to keep control over Algeria. The Arab Spring and the forces it unleashed, which have reduced U.S. influence while exhausting its resources to deal with terrorism and migration, “may well contribute, in the fullness of time, to the eclipse of American global power.”

Compounding these pressures is the threat to American hegemony posed by a rising China, a country which reasonably expects to be given an opportunity to reshape the U.S.-created global order in proportion to its size, influence, and self-perception as a nation denied its rightful role in world affairs over the past century. While the U.S. possesses a conventional military advantage over China that is not likely to evaporate overnight, China has begun taking steps to challenge American preeminence in new realms of warfare. And the Chinese advances are directed at areas likely to be most important in the 21st century: cyberspace and outer-space. A growing educational gap between Chinese and American students in key STEM research fields means that a divergence in talent may place the U.S. at a disadvantage. Meanwhile, as the U.S. has been dealing with the turmoil wrought by its most recent election, China has been moving ahead with plans to connect the Eurasian continent through Chinese infrastructure and transit links, an ambitious endeavor named “One Belt, One Road” (also known as the Silk Road Initiative), an economic and political strategy that would reorient large swaths of the developing world around a Chinese metropole.

While McCoy prefaces his argument by acknowledging the inherent difficulties of prognosticating world events, the case he makes for a precipitous decline in U.S. power over the next decade is compelling. If trends continue, by 2030 the American Century — proclaimed with such confidence not long ago — could be “all over except the finger-pointing.”

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks at a UN Security Council meeting on non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction on September 21, 2017 at the United Nations in New York.<br /><br /> Tillerson joined foreign ministers from China, Russia and Japan at the UN Security Council to discuss the issue and press calls for sanctions against North Korea to be enforced. / AFP PHOTO / DON EMMERT        (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks at a U.N. Security Council meeting on non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction on Sept. 21, 2017 at the United Nations in New York.

Photo: Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images

The argument taken by Wright’s book is less dramatic, though in practice his conclusions are not vastly different. In the aftermath of a bruising decade-a-half of failed wars, financial crises, and political dysfunction, the U.S. seems to have lost both the will and ability to hold off threats to the international system it created. For their part, the American people have also lost faith in the ability of their elected officials to govern international affairs competently or deliver on any of the grand promises that have accompanied past wars and interventions.

Partly as a consequence of so many self-inflicted losses, China, Russia, and Iran have all mounted growing challenges to American hegemony in recent years, contesting the tenets of the U.S.-enforced order in the South China Sea, eastern Europe and the Middle East, respectively. Russia has successfully annexed territory and asserted its influence along its periphery, in places like Ukraine, while China has moved ahead with plans to put the economically-vital South China Sea region under its control. Instead of a world in which a hegemonic U.S. enforces the political and economic rules of engagement in these regions, its now possible to see a future in which the world is carved up into a “spheres of influence” system that gives regional powers wide latitude to set the agenda in their immediate neighborhood.

Such a development should give principled opponents of U.S. foreign policy pause. Although the crimes and follies of American imperialism over the past several decades are clear, it’s not obvious that a world divided between several regional hegemons would be more peaceful or stable. In the absence of the U.S. hegemonic presence, the world would likely see numerous sub-imperial states emerge, each seeking to impose their own vision of political order onto their region and being unconstrained by the threat of an outside power intervening to stop them. What’s worse, none of the powers seeking to replace the U.S. is even notionally committed to liberal principles like international human rights, meaning the likely retreat of such concepts along with U.S. influence. The damage that the U.S. did to its own professed values through direct abuses as well as the politicization of humanitarian discourse in recent years did little to help their survival. Like the British and French empires before it, the use of torture helped undermine the America’s reputation and its ability to use cultural persuasion instead of force as a means of building popular support. In the absence of the U.S., though, it remains unlikely that a reconstituted system of Russian, Chinese, or Iranian local imperialisms would take meaningful steps to uphold liberal values that the U.S., at least on occasion, made gestures toward promoting.

According to Wright, the strength of America’s global governance has always lain in the fact that the ideals that it promoted were genuinely popular, even if they were applied with inconsistency. Principles like free trade and the promotion of human rights standards boasted significant popular support around the world, while small states benefitted from the American commitment to curb the predatory behavior of their larger neighbors. Even in a world where the U.S. has been cut down to size and reduced to the status of a former global hegemon, it’s still possible for it to remain a leader among the countries in its own neighborhood. Barring a continued hard turn toward nativism, the U.S. would have an important role to play as the anchor state of the Western Hemisphere, serving as an economic and political fulcrum for the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.

As the American global empire begins its long and fitful decline — a process initiated by the calamitous 2003 invasion of Iraq that has now given rise to the presidency of Donald Trump — the most worrisome prospect may be how this affects the U.S. itself. Writing in 2010 the late intellectual Tony Judt reflected on the world of emerging instability and uncertainty being wrought by the financial crises and wars that had opened the new century. Less than a decade later, his words seem remarkably prescient in anticipating America’s imperial twilight and the rise of its new demagogic politics:

[We] feel more comfortable describing and combating the risks we think we understand: terrorists, immigrants, job loss or crime. But the true sources of insecurity in decades to come will be those that most of us cannot define: dramatic climate change and its social and environmental effects; imperial decline and its attendant “small wars”; collective political impotence in the face of distant upheavals with disruptive local impact. These are the threats that chauvinist politicians will be best placed to exploit, precisely because they lead so readily to anger and humiliation.

The United States will leave behind a complex legacy as its global footprint recedes. Despite well-documented crimes during wars of choice in Vietnam, Iraq, and other peripheral regions of its global empire, much of the world also experienced advancements in human rights and economic prosperity during the period of America’s post-World War II hegemony. The late British empire left behind a similarly complicated legacy: one that included massacres and disastrous geographic partitions, but also left many parliamentary democracies in the lands of its former colonies. Likewise, the final judgment on the U.S. empire might be more nuanced than a rigid ideological position can accommodate. As it continues its descent from superpower status, those of us born into the world shaped by the United States can only hope that its collapsing imperial system experiences a soft landing – and that American leaders can learn to make peace with a world in which their country is but one power among many.

Top photo: White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, left, and U.S. President Donald Trump are reflected in a mirror as they listen to opening statements before a luncheon at the Palace Hotel during the 72nd United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 20, 2017 in New York.

The post The View From the End of the American Empire appeared first on The Intercept.

Poet Aja Monet: ‘White Folks Have to Face Who Trump Is’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 24/09/2017 - 9:00pm in

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The Brooklyn-born Cuban-Jamaican poet Aja Monet has emerged as a powerful voice of struggle for justice against police violence and violence against women. Her poems also critique capitalism and men who make war. Monet spent time in Palestine and has become an outspoken critic of Israeli occupation. Aja Monet’s weapon is her poetry and spoken word. She has a new collection of her poetry that has just been published by Haymarket Books. It is called “My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter.”

On the Intercepted podcast, we talked to Aja Monet about the struggles of being a woman in modern society, racism, war, and Donald Trump. She said that Trump has not changed her or her work. “It’s no different,” she said, adding, “I think it’s different for a lot of white people. I think a lot — a majority — felt like this country was progressive because it had a black president. And so I think people were really blind to what’s actually going on in this country and what’s always been going on. And so, for me, I think Trump is only a reflection of their quote-unquote “worst,” but there’s even worse out there. And I think white folks have to face who Trump is and they need to face what he represents and what he’s spewed to the world and the values that he’s demonstrating that he believes are American.” What follows is the transcript of the entire interview:

Jeremy Scahill: Aja Monet, welcome to Intercepted.

Aja Monet: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

JS: There’s a lot I want to ask you about, but I first wanted to go in on the title of your latest book, “My Mother Was A Freedom Fighter.” Maybe you could just explain where the inspiration for that title came from?

AM: So the title is from a poem that is called “My Mother Was A Freedom Fighter,” and the poem essentially covers what I feel is the story of the trajectory of women who have nurtured and who have had to take care of other people and raise society and raise cultures and raise civilizations. And we think about mothers in such a, like we say it in a very romantic way, like, “Oh, my mother, I wouldn’t be here without my mother,” blah blah blah. But I don’t think we talk about it very practically. Like, what women do and what specifically women who bear children and take care of children, or maybe not be able to bear children, but nurture and take care of other people’s children, they teach the values of society.

And so I feel like every woman I know who has tried to exist in contemporary society, at least, or in any society in their time, has struggled to be and exist and to love and to nurture, and to raise up other nurturing loving people. And I think we haven’t really seen, at least in America, we haven’t seen a lot of support around what women do for society and the values that they instill in people.

JS: It’s interesting how you write in some of your work about the about the body of women, and about stretch marks in particular, and you talk about it as like, almost like pieces of art in some of your writing. And also very powerfully talking about C-sections, contemplation of abortion, what it means then for the child that’s born. I mean it’s really visceral stuff that seems borne of your personal experience, too.

AM: Yeah I think part of it is my mom. I wouldn’t be here without my mother, of course. And it’s been a complicated relationship for me.

I think a lot of young women daughters go through that where a woman trying to raise a child but also a woman trying to raise another woman is in and of itself its own difficult journey. And no one really teaches you how to do that the right way. I don’t think there is a right way.

However, my mom was a single mother and so seeing her raise three kids by herself and seeing the decisions she had to make and the ways that she had to make them. And some of the stories she shared and the things that she — the trauma she carried. And the complication of having these children. Yes she loved us but it also made her life very hard and very difficult and there wasn’t a lot of help. You know, there weren’t people — my father wasn’t really there. And I think that there should be safety nets for women specifically who are creating quote-unquote “the labor force of society,” that there’s something more than just being a being a romantic notion of motherhood is great. It’s like, the struggle that women have around whether they should have children, not just because I want to be a pro-feminist and I’m like, “Oh, abortion is my right!” But it’s also like a lot of black women never had the right to have children, during slavery their children were taken from them.

So the whole, the story of the transatlantic slave trade, and what people had to go through during babies overboard. I mean that’s all part of our narrative. So our whole relationship to the right to have children and to raise them is a whole different narrative than the “white feminist” quote-unquote narrative which is, “I don’t want to be in the house and I don’t want to…”

You know, there’s a lot of black women know that we love the chance to be in the house and not have to always take on the role of both “the man” and “the woman,” quote-unquote.

Obviously gender is very different and depending on how people identify. However I do believe that the womb is non-gender-conforming. You know, I think that it holds both masculine and feminine energy. And those are things I question why are we so focused on this one performance of gender or what that is, when I believe women, as we call them, have defied what the performance of gender is supposed to be, and particularly mothers.

So that’s that struggle for myself has been there because I’ve seen my mother struggle with it. And I’ve gone through personal experiences where I’ve wanted to have children and I wanted to create a life, and maybe felt like I wasn’t in the best position and felt like I wasn’t supported.

And there’s so much fear around it, there is so much—just, we don’t talk about it in a very uplifting, loving way. You know? How the narrative built around family is so weird in America, is like the picket fence and that whole narrative. But the complication is not often told. And so, I think I look forward to sharing these poems because it complicates the narrative and it gives something else to show what motherhood could be, I think.

JS: Which piece do you think would be most relevant for this part of the conversation? I mean if you have one based on what you were just saying. I don’t want to tell you what to read.

AM: So, there’s so many different poems. There’s a poem that I wrote called, “Dream Deferred.” There’s also a poem called, “The Emerging Woman After Aborting A Girl.” “Dream Deferred” is shorter. So the first poem is called, “The Emerging Woman After Aborting A Girl.”

“Eight a.m. in September, my daughter chose to show up at my doorstep unannounced. Had the nerve to come talk to me about being a mother when I wasn’t ready for no giving up my life to mother no ungrateful child. Wasn’t in no place to open no doors, to let her see my empty cupboard, to open my empty fridge. I ain’t got time to explain to no child why I write poems to relic the ruckus, why I collect sally-made letters in bags and post collages on walls. Or why I can’t love the way nobody taught me how. Or why my flaws show up in her face. Or how my dimples fall deep in her cheekbone. Ain’t got the heart to reason with her. My selfish choices are all the ways I couldn’t be of sacrifice. I couldn’t be nobody’s Christ. I ain’t got enough hours in the day to be somebody’s God. And I look at her face. I couldn’t bring myself to open the door. I couldn’t stand to see her through the peephole. All my life flashed before my eyes and one day, one day she’ll be a woman or not, have some children of her own or not. She’ll understand or not. Not till she does will she know the depth how we raise our heartaches and love the world whole, healing through snatches at glimpses of ourselves while we offer pieces of flesh to earth. Naw, there ain’t no mother here. You best be on your way.”

AM: And, I’ll share why those two poems in a bit. But this is “Dream Deferred”:

“I wear a wreath of miscarriages, the right and wrong of it. Heavily drugged, I bled and bled, watching droplets of me swirl down the drain, my breasts were voltaic to touch, shouting words at doorknobs. I cry my worst cry,

ugly, my mouth is frightened, my partner cannot face me, he is on call. Everywhere we go, I am a single mother mourning in public, my joy is short-lived. I mutter confessions to strangers, “I’m fine, I promise, I’m fine.”

JS: So you chose those pieces in the context of this conversation. What was going through your mind, or what was the connection?

AM: Well, for me, there’s several different poems I could have chosen, that all touched on different parts of what I was saying. But I think the first one was a poem that I wrote trying to reconcile my own — the things that were told to me about having a child and how that might have shaped the moment where I didn’t want to have to have a child, and I didn’t think I was ready, and I didn’t think the life was really … You know, I mean, I say, “Eight a.m. in September, my daughter chose to show up at my doorstep unannounced.” You know? And, “Had the nerve to come talk to me about being a mother when I wasn’t ready for no giving up my life to mother no ungrateful child.”

Part of that is these are things that are said from mothers, and my mother, that I know had she had more support or had she been around a better relationship with her mother, that perhaps it would’ve been a very different response to having a child, and joy that you come with having child. And I think I think there’s a different woman who emerges after a woman decide to not keep a child. I think you come into questions about what does it mean to be a woman why are you bestowed this “responsibility,” quote-unquote? Why does your body change? And what does it do and how does that affect you?

And so, I think it was a moment where I felt mostly transformed, and also that I needed to find a way to process what I was feeling, you know? That sometimes words help you communicate that.

And these are two very different situations. “Dream Deferred” was, for me, it has a lot of meanings and I don’t know without crying, I don’t know how comfortable I will feel speaking about it. But my partner is the head of organization called Dream Defenders and Langston Hughes wrote a poem speaking on “Dream Deferred, and “a raisin in the sun” and “what happens to a dream deferred?” And he speaks about it from the perspective of a black person in America, what happens to someone when they don’t fulfill their dream. And, for me, this was a time when I was in a different place in my life and I thought I would have loved to have a child and I was at the best place to, in my spirit and ability, and I couldn’t. I didn’t.

And everyone around me had seen the hysteria of what I was in engaging in, or what that felt like, but they couldn’t understand it. And so that’s why I said, “I’m a single mother mourning in public.” Something about it was you felt like, he couldn’t understand it, he couldn’t empathize, there was no–as sad as it is, there was little to no compassion. And I think men have very little understanding of what questions women are forced to face in light of how their bodies are. You know in light of a lot of what their bodies do and speak and say for them and the spirit of that.

And I think that there was a moment for me in this poem where I felt like I spoke up, feeling so silenced about the whole situation. A lot of my poems are the ways that I kind of speak to the situation and I try to resolve something in it.

JS: In terms of the world that you live in, and the work that you do and the creativity of your work, does it change from president to president, particularly in the case of having—I mean you wrote you wrote a poem that really cut to the heart of the hypocrisy of some key parts of Barack Obama’s legacy, which also is one of my favorite poems that you wrote in terms of the overtly political work.

Has it changed you or your view of the world at all to have someone like Donald Trump in power? And saying some things overtly and plainly that are considered a little more couth if you say them, if you only whisper them in the corridors of power in Washington, rather than tweet them or say them out loud?

AM: I think it’s not different. It’s no different. I think it’s different for a lot of white people. I think they, a lot — a majority — felt like this country was progressive because it had a black president. And so I think people were really blind to what’s actually going on in this country and what’s always been going on.

And so, for me, I think Trump is only a reflection of their quote-unquote “worst,” but there’s even worse out there. And I think white folks have to face who Trump is and they need to face what he represents and what he’s spewed to the world and the values that he’s demonstrating that he believes are American.

Because I’ve always known America was not him and I’ve always known that America was not great. And so it’s not lost on me that we have a lot of work to do. We’ve always had a lot of work to do.

I think now it just gets more people at the protests maybe, you know? Maybe more people show up to the rallies and maybe more people are trying to do things like this in interviews or new marketing, and people are trying to find their own ways of making a difference in a more profound. Because I think for a lot of America it was all about “how much money can I make?”; “how much money can I make?”; “how much —?” and when you brought up race or sexism or any of those things it was like, “Oh you get in the way of money, so shut up.” You know?

And so I think we have to find ways to really redefine what it means to be human. We’ve always had to do that. And what it means to love one another and to truly stand for freedom, equality, justice. Those are all things that only the people who have been fighting this country really know, because they’ve been pushing the country to really stand for what it means.

And am I scared of the fact that women are under threat, et cetera and he says crazy things?

Yeah, but, honestly I was talking to someone today, I feel like it might have been worse if Hillary Clinton was in office. Because people thought Obama made racism a foreign thing, and all we saw was the escalation of racial violence because people were so just disgusted by the possibility that a black man could be president. And I feel like if Hillary would’ve won, it might have been, there might have been women getting in all types of crazy situations.

So I think, regardless, we’re in a country that has not faced itself and has not done the work it needs to do. And most countries, nation-states, whatever have to re-evaluate what it stands for, why it is, who it is, and who does it represent. And, so we’re in a place where we need to do that. And we’re a young country. You know, we’re fairly young.

JS: Maybe you could share, given that we were just talking about the previous presidency, “It Is What It Was.”

AM: “It Is What It Was.”

“it is what it was”: “When your president bails out the banks, not the students, it don’t make no difference

if he’s black or blue. All you care about is how much money you got before you overdraft your account, for reading books and writing essays, and all you got to show for it is garnished checks, cups of noodles, fancy friends, and terms your family don’t understand.

They just want to know why you got two degrees and no health care and no decent income. I tell them, I got all the ways of talking about the problem but no way to make solutions. So, dear Mr. crazy foreign policies, false flags, war and propaganda, Mr. GMOs, chem trails, drones and deportations, dear Mr. false hopes and bamboozled dreams, Mr. Osama bin Laden and Gaddafi killer, Mr. no powers to close Gitmo while chastising black folk to defend your white cousins, we know Trayvon could’ve been your son. Sad thing is, he was. He was you, too.

JS: We only have minutes left and I want to try to run through two other quick parts of your work.

First, talk about your involvement with making, I mean, some people think of it as a hash tag, #sayhername, because it went viral on Twitter and on social media.

But maybe talk about that campaign and your role in it and what was at the center of it.

AM: Well, I was reached out to by Eve Ensler, who was working with, I believe it was Kimberly Crenshaw she was working with on it. And there was another friend of mine, Rachel Gilmer, who now is the co-director of Dream Defenders in South Florida, who was helping to organize this event that they wanted to do that would share and pay homage to all the women who have been murdered by police. Because, I don’t think it matters whether you’re women or men, who’s murdered by the police, it’s just wrong.

However, we do tend to memorialize and lift up the names of men a lot more than we do women. I think that’s just in all fields, in all scenarios that happens. And in this specific situation, the mantra was “Say Her Name.” You know? There’s power in a name. There’s power and people’s spirits are carried through names, and so how do we lift up these names and let them know that one, they’re not forgotten, and two, the world is going to do something about it and that their lives were not lost in vain?

And so, Eve Ensler asked me if I would read a poem, and at the at the time I didn’t know what I was going to read or what I was going to say, and so I wrote this maybe about a few hours before the actual rally in Union Square.

And I was, I think there’s a lot of pressure when you’re a writer, just in general, to write things on a deadline. But there is always even more pressure when it is for the people, and you want the people to feel it, and you want them to know where you’re coming from and you want people to feel elevated or risen in some way.

And so I think there was a, there’s still issues I always have with my writing, where I’m constantly grappling with: Did I communicate when I really want? Did people really get, come away with what I hope they did? And did I, did I speak truth to power for myself?

And so “Say Her Name” for me was a poem that I felt needed to be written. And I was grateful I was asked to read it because it was my marching order, it was what I was called to do so.

So, “Say Her Name”: “I am a woman carrying other women in my mouth. Behold a sister, a daughter, a mother, dear friend. Spirits demystified in a comrade’s tone. They gather to breathe and exhale, a dance with the death we know is not the end. All these nameless bodies haunted by pellet wounds in their chest. Listen for us in the saying of a name you cannot pronounce. Black and woman is a sort of magic, you cannot hash tag the mere weight of it, too vast to be held.

We hold ourselves, an inheritance felt between the hips, woman of soft darkness, portal of light, watch them envy the revolution of our movement. We break open to give life flow, while the terror of our tears, torment of our taste, my rage, is righteous, my love is righteous, my name, is righteous. Hear, what I am not here to say: We too have died. We know we are dying too. I am not here to say: Look at me, how I died so brutal a death, I deserve a name to fit all the horror in. I am here to tell you how if they mentioned me in their protest and their rallies, they would have to face their role in it, too. My beauty, too.

I died many times before the blow to the body. I have bled many months before the bullet to the flesh. We know, we know the body is not the end. Call it what you will. But for all the hands, cuffed wrists of us, shackled ankles of us, the bend over to make room for you of us. How dare we speak anything less than: I love you?

We, who love, just as loudly in the thunderous rain as when the sun shines golden on our skin and the world kissed us unapologetically. We be so beautiful when we be. How you gonna be free without me?

Your freedom tied up with mine at the nappy edge of my soul, singing for all my sisters, watch them stretch their arms and my voice, how they fly open chested toward your ear. Listen for Rekia Boyd, Tanisha Anderson, Yvette Smith, Aiyana Jones, Kayla Moore, Shelly Frey, Miriam Carey, Kendra James, Alberto Spruill, Tarika Wilson,, Shereese Francis, Shantel Davis, Malissa Williams, Darnisha Harris, Michelle Cassell, Pearlie Golden, Kathryn Johnston, Eleanor Bumpers, Natasha McKenna, Sheneque Proctor, Sandra Bland.

We are each saying we do not vanishing the baited breath of our brothers. Show me. Show me a man willing to fight beside me, my hand in his, the color of courage. There is no mountaintop worth seeing without us. Meet me in the trenches where we lay our bodies down, in the valley of a voice. Say it. Say her name.”

JS: I wanted to ask you also about the time that you spent in Palestine and you see the connection between the other work that is so clear in your work, in your written work and your spoken work, the work that you’re doing on a daily basis. What is the connection between that and the time you spent in Palestine?

AM: Well, I met my partner in Palestine. I was invited by a friend of mine, Maytha Alhassen, who’s a credible scholar. And she’s been writing it for her entire career.

JS: She wrote the forward to your book, also.

AM: Yes. And she had been writing about, she spends a lot of time looking at the relation between African-American and Arab-American communities and she studied a lot, extensively, Malcolm X and the ways in which poetry showed up in his work and Arabic poetry in particular. And that there’s been these connections, even though the narrative has not always been showing or demonstrating that.

And she thought would be powerful to have a poet go on this delegation that they were helping to organize with Dream Defenders.

And the delegation started Ahmed Abu-Zaid, he is from Palestine, he had been working with Dream Defenders from its inception and essentially saw the connection between what was happening here in the state violence against black and brown bodies and what was happening in Palestine and the violence, the state violence, the state of Israel’s violence against Palestinians.

And, so, for him it seemed like a no brainer. And he wanted, it was always his dream to be able to bring people to learn about the culture and just everything that’s happening there. And he believes, as I do, that in order for our resistance movements to be strong, we have to be united and we have to, you know, wherever injustice is taking place I think we should be speaking against the injustices of human dignity and human kind in freedom and existence. And that’s definitely taking place in the state of Israel against the Palestinian people.

And so, we were we were very vocal about wanting to demonstrate our, our solidarity with them and what that means for me is engage witness, it means carrying the debt with them. It means saying, “I don’t go through the same exact thing as you. It’s very different in actuality. However, I see the complicities of my country. I see what my tax dollars goes towards. I see that it is unjust in many ways back home. But now I’m less alone, I feel less alone and almost less afraid because I know I’m less alone.”

And building that those relationships with Palestinians is part of our humanitarian work as international peoples, you know, people of the diaspora.

So, you know, there’s so many layers and so many connections. And for me, I’m still learning, still processing. We want arts and culture to be a big part of how we demonstrate solidarity because we believe art and culture is how we help introduce new values, ideas and and start to understand the meaning of why are we here, what are we here for, and what is our purpose together.

And so, we’re trying to make more ways for Palestinian artists to be heard and seen and spoken for, and, for themselves. And to make it so that conversation is not all one sided, the master narrative is often from the perspective of Israelis, Zionist Israelis. So how do we lift up the counter-narratives, the stories of people who have been oppressed and silenced? And we’re still discovering what that relationship-building looks like.

And we believe in engaged witnessing. Not just coming and being a tourist and go, “That’s really sad over there.” But how do we take action? How do we see something and not try to speak for other people, but empower each other to be free by our shared love of humanity and dignity and justice?

JS: There’s so many more poems and pieces I’d like to ask you about, but we’re short on time. So, I’ll just ask you to end with what I thought was a really beautiful, albeit very short, poem: “Undressing A wound.”

People often accuse the left of having no sense of humor or of being all fire and brimstone about how terrible everything is. I used to joke when I would go on book tour that I would give out razors to people to just end it after the talk.

AM: Oh man!

JS: But there were flashes of the famous Che Guevara quote, when I was reading this for me, about that the “true revolutionary is guided by love.” And I don’t know if that’s intentional or not, but to me it’s kind of an epic, almost mini-anthem that you wrote here, for hope. And I was just wondering if you’d share, “Undressing a wound.”

AM: Oh, you mean the little thing on the bottom?

JS: It’s simple, but I love it.

AM: “Undressing A Wound: “Radically loving each other is the only everything worth anything.”

JS: Aja Monet, thank you very much for joining us on Intercepted.

AM: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

The post Poet Aja Monet: ‘White Folks Have to Face Who Trump Is’ appeared first on The Intercept.

Blue Topology

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 24/09/2017 - 7:30pm in

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An interesting but somewhat problematic paper from the Blue Brain project claims that the application of topology to neural models has provided a missing link between structure and function. That’s exciting because that kind of missing link is just what we need to enable us to understand how the brain works.  The claim about the link is right there in the title, but unfortunately so far as I can see the paper itself really only attempts something more modest. It only seems to offer  a new exploration of some ground where future research might conceivably put one end of the missing link. There also seem to me to be some problems in the way we’re expected to interpret some of the findings  reported.

That may sound pretty negative. I should perhaps declare in advance that I know little neurology and less topology, so my opinion is not worth much. I also have form as a Blue Brain sceptic, so you can argue that I bring some stored-up negativity to anything associated with it. I’ve argued in the past that the basic goal of the project, of simulating a complete human brain is misconceived and wildly over-ambitious; not just a waste of money but possibly also a distraction which might suck resources and talent away from more promising avenues.

One of the best replies to that kind of scepticism is to say, well look; even if we don’t deliver the full brain simulation, the attempt will energise and focus our research in a way which will yield new and improved understanding. We’ll get a lot of good research out of it even if the goal turns out to be unattainable. The current paper, which demonstrates new mathematical techniques, might well be a good example of that kind of incidental pay off. There’s a nice explanation of the paper here, with links to some other coverage, though I think the original text is pretty well written and accessible.

As I understand it, topological approaches to neurology in the past have typically considered neural  networks as static objects. The new approach taken here adds the notion of directionality, as though each connection were a one-way street. This is more realistic for neurons. We can have groups of neurons where all are connected to all, but only one neuron provides a way into the group and one provides a way out; these are directed simplices. These simplices can be connected to others at their edges where, say, two of the member neurons are also members of a neighbouring simplex. Where there are a series of connected simplices, they may surround a void where nothing is going on. These cavities provide a higher level of structure, but I confess I’m not altogether clear as to why they are interesting. Holes, of course, are dear to the heart of any topologist, but in terms of function I’m not really clear about their relevance.

Anyway, there’s a lot in the paper but two things seem especially noteworthy. First, the researchers observed many more simplices, of much higher dimensionality, than could be expected from a random structure (they tested several such random structures put together according to different principles). ‘Dimensionality’ here just refers to how many neurons are involved; a simplex of higher dimensionality contains more neurons. Second they observed a characteristic pattern when the network was presented with a ‘stimulus’; simplices of gradually higher and higher dimensionality would appear and then finally disperse. This is not, I take it, a matter of the neurons actually wiring up new connections on the fly, it’s simply about which are involved actively by connections that are actually firing.

That’s interesting, but all of this so far was discovered in the Blue Brain simulated neurons, more or less those same tiny crumbs of computationally simulated rat cortex that were announced a couple of years ago. It is, of course, not safe to assume that real brain behaves in the same way; if we rely entirely on the simulation we could easily be chasing our tails. We would build the simulation to match our assumptions about the brain and then use the behaviour of the simulation to validate the same assumptions. In fact the researchers very properly tried to perform similar experiments with real rat cortex. This requires recording activity in a number of adjacent neurons, which is fantastically difficult to pull off, but to their credit they had some success; in fact the paper claims they confirmed the findings from the simulation. The problem is that while the simulated cortex was showing simplices of six or seven dimensions (even higher numbers are quoted in some of the media reports, up to eleven), the real rat cortex only managed three, with one case of four. Some of the discussion around this talks as though a result of three is partial confirmation of a result of six, but of course it isn’t. Putting it brutally, the team’s own results in real cortex contradicted what they had found in the simulation. Now, there could well be good reasons for that; notably they could only work with a tiny amount of real cortex. If you’re working with a dozen neurons at a time, there’s obviously quite a low ceiling on the complexity you can expect. But the results you got are the results you got, and I don’t see that there’s a good basis here for claiming that the finding of high-order simplices is supported in real brains. In fact what we have if anything is prima facie evidence that there’s something not quite right about the simulation. The researchers actually took a further step here by producing a simulation of the actual real neurons that they tested and then re-running the tests. Curiously, the simulated versions in these cases produced fewer simplices than the real neurons. The paper interprets this as supportive of its conclusions; if the real cortex was more productive of simplices, it argues, then we might expect big slabs of real brain to have even more simplices of even higher dimensionality than the remarkable results we got with the main simulation. I don’t think that kind of extrapolation is admissible; what you really got was another result showing that your simulations do not behave like the real thing. In fact, if a simulation of only twelve neurons behaves differently from the real thing in significant respects, that surely must indicate that the simulation isn’t reproducing the real thing very well?

The researchers also looked at the celebrated roundworm C. Elegans, the only organism whose neural map (or connectome) is known in full, and apparently found evidence of high-order simplices – though I think it can only have been a potential for such simplices, since they don’t seem to have performed real or simulated experiments, merely analysing the connectome.

Putting all that aside, and supposing we accept the paper’s own interpretations, the next natural question is: so what? It’s interesting that neurons group and fire in this way, but what does that tell us about how the brain actually functions? There’s a suggestion that the pattern of moving up to higher order simplices represents processing of a sensory input, but in what way? In functional terms, we’d like the processing of a stimulus to lead on to action, or perhaps to the recording of a memory trace, but here we just seem to see some neurons get excited and then stop being excited. Looking at it in simple terms, simplices seem really bad candidates for any functional role, because in the end all they do is deliver the same output signal as a single neural connection would do. Couldn’t you look at the whole thing with a sceptical eye and say that all the researchers have found is that a persistent signal through a large group of neurons gradually finds an increasing number of parallel paths?

At the end of the paper we get some speculation that addresses this functional question directly. The suggestion is that active high-dimensional simplices might be representing features of the stimulus, while the grouping around cavities binds together different features to represent the whole thing. It is, if sketchy, a tenable speculation, but quite how this would amount to representation remains unclear. There are probably other interesting ways you might try to build mental functions on the basis of escalating simplices, and there could be more to come in that direction. For now though, it may give us interesting techniques, but I don’t think the paper really delivers on its promise of a link with function.

more crumhorn consort (die vie branlen)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 24/09/2017 - 2:01pm in

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50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street / Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome 

Worldwide Deaths, by Cause & Age, 1990 v. 2016

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 24/09/2017 - 10:28am in

Here’s a fascinating graph from an article in the Lancet: Click to embiggen. (The figure should show deaths all the way to >95 years) The graph is a bit complicated at first, but it will convey some interesting information if you stare at it. What jumps out at me is how many more people were […]

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