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‘Mob rule over the womb’: the Texas abortion law is a huge win for the Christian right

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 15/09/2021 - 7:51am in

Packed with far-right radicals during the Trump presidency, the Supreme Court is well-positioned to overturn Roe v. Wade.

In several articles written over the past few years, I have warned readers that a United States Supreme Court illegitimately packed with far right-wing Christian justices might overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion by locating a right to privacy in the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause. Quite a few pundits have long since dismissed this possibility, suggesting not only that Roe was settled law, but also, cynically, that the Republican Party needs Roe v. Wade as an ongoing campaign issue to play to its white Christian base and would thus never allow it to be overturned. But these pundits are, for the most part, not informed by intimate lived experience of the Christian right, so they underestimated the power of its zealotry.

In one sense only, they might nevertheless be proven correct. If the Supreme Court’s majority of conservative justices decides not to explicitly overturn Roe—because they want to avoid the fallout that would come from officially taking away a constitutional right, while still de facto ending that right—they will only be able to do so because the five most radical justices have already rendered the case a dead letter. “The Supreme Court ended Roe v. Wade,” wrote constitutional lawyer Andrew Seidel on September 2, a day after the court allowed Texas’s brutal Senate Bill 8 (SB8) to go into effect. The so-called “Texas Heartbeat Law” is deceptively named, given that electric activity is detectable in a fetus before an actual heart has formed. The scientifically inaccurate, rhetorically charged language of “unborn child” is also used throughout the legislation’s text.

Texas’s SB8 bans abortion after six weeks, which is only two weeks after it’s even theoretically possible for most women and trans men to know that they’re pregnant. In an even more twisted move, the law incentivizes abortion bounty hunting, empowering private citizens to receive at least $10,000 by suing not only abortion providers, but also anyone who “knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion.” By crafting the law to provide for private enforcement without creating a mechanism for state enforcement, the legislators behind Texas’s law hope to insulate the state from legal action that might prevent the unconstitutional legislation from going into effect. Thanks to the right-wing partisan makeup of both the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and the post-Trump Supreme Court, the tactic worked.

When Texas passed SB8, a coalition of women’s health clinics and funders promptly sued, pointing to its immediate harm; the law would effectively halt safe and legal abortions in Texas. A district court scheduled a preliminary injunction hearing that could have stopped the law from going into effect while litigation proceeded, but the defendants immediately appealed to the Fifth Circuit, where a three-judge panel featuring two Trump-appointed judges halted that process. The Supreme Court then failed to rule on the Fifth Circuit’s decision, allowing the law to go into effect at midnight on September 1. On September 10, the same Fifth Circuit panel ruled that state officials are immune from legal action against SB8 because “S.B. 8 emphatically precludes enforcement by any state, local, or agency officials.” Legal maneuvering will continue, including a suit to block the law brought by the Biden Administration’s Department of Justice; in the meantime, Texas’s essentially theocratic law will remain in effect.

Andrew Seidel, who is Director of Strategic Response at the Freedom from Religion Foundation, told The Conversationalist matter-of-factly that “in a normal world, with an apolitical judiciary,” the “one weird trick” employed by Texas Republicans to ensure SB8 went into effect would not have worked. “Normally, when a constitutional right is so clearly and obviously threatened, the judiciary preserves the status quo before that threat can be realized,” he said. This is what the district court was in the process of doing before it was overruled. “Courts don’t typically allow monumental shifts in constitutional rights to occur without a full hearing first.” The Fifth Circuit thus violated longstanding norms with its decision.

“The court is basically saying if you want to challenge this law, someone needs to sue to collect the bounty,” summarized Seidel. In his opinion, this is “absurd, because 90 percent of abortions in Texas have stopped.” Because no abortion provider will risk a lawsuit, said Seidel, the “right to bodily autonomy has been gutted” in Texas. The legislation, he added, amounts to de facto “mob rule over the womb.” There are, undoubtedly, authoritarian Christian zealots who are eager to sue, backed by the deep pockets and organizational prowess of the far right. Already in July, in anticipation of SB8 going into effect, the extremist anti-choice organization Texas Right to Life created a “prolife whistleblower” website through which users could snitch anonymously on abortion providers or those who “aided and abetted” any Texan seeking abortion care.

Tech-savvy teenagers led a recent campaign, organized primarily on TikTok, to inundate the site with false and nonsensical reports in the hope of overwhelming those behind it, preventing them from using the information to do harm. Seemingly as a result of all the buzz, the internet hosting service GoDaddy declared the site in violation of its terms of service. Since a new service willing to host the site has not yet been found, the site’s URL currently redirects to the Texas Right to Life homepage.

But what of the Supreme Court’s role in allowing SB8 to stand, effectively giving the green light to abortion vigilantism? Without hearing any arguments on the case, the high court allowed SB8 to go into effect by denying, in a single paragraph, an emergency request from the Texas plaintiffs to stop it. This non-transparent action is an example of the court using what is often referred to as “the shadow docket.” Imani Gandy, Senior Legal Analyst at Rewire News, explained that the term is one “court watchers use to refer to the sort of docket behind the docket.” Unlike the regular docket, which Gandy describes as “a public-facing schedule of the court’s business,” the shadow docket refers to the court’s use of emergency procedures allowing it to take action in a case without the presentation of arguments from the parties.

The shadow docket, explained Gandy, is “a break from normal procedure,” in that its justices hand down decisions quickly and with little explanation. By contrast, normal procedure takes about a year from the submission of documents through presentation of oral arguments before the high court, to the rendering of a decision that involves the release of detailed, signed opinions. In this case, Gandy said, “What Texas did is essentially nullify Roe in the span of two weeks,” a fact that she calls “remarkable.” In her view, the Supreme Court behaved very strangely in allowing SB8 to take effect while the lower courts are still litigating its legality. “What the court should have done,” Gandy said, “is looked at this blatantly unconstitutional six-week ban and said we’re going to enjoin enforcement of this law by anybody until we can figure out what’s going on with this new private enforcement mechanism that Texas has cooked up.”

Gandy called this “unacceptable judicial procedure” because of the non-transparent way in which “it allowed the Supreme Court to do what we had been afraid the Supreme Court was going to do, but without showing its work,” which Gandy objects to as “underhanded dealing outside the view of the public.” The high court did not explain “why it believes that this six-week ban may be constitutional, or at least constitutional enough to go into effect in Texas while the constitutionality of the law is being litigated,” she said. Instead, the court simply unleashed right-wing Christian culture warriors to harass vulnerable Texans in a devastating way, in addition to giving a tacit greenlight to other Republican-controlled states to pass similar bans.

The Supreme Court might still officially overturn Roe. In Gandy’s view, the court’s action in the Texas case “signals that Roe is very much up for grabs” in a Mississippi abortion ban case the court has also agreed to hear. But whether the court overturns this major precedent or not, the federally protected right to abortion care is effectively dead. Same-sex marriage and access to contraception will probably also take their turns on the judicial chopping block.

Asked what citizens can do to fight back against this brazenly partisan judicial activism and overreach, Seidel did not equivocate. “Whatever chaos reigns over the next few months, we are coming to a point where Roe v. Wade is dead and buried. The DOJ can get involved, Congress can pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, and those things should happen, but this court is still going to get a final say on all of it.” The only solution that might have a lasting impact, Seidel said, was to expand the federal courts. “Trump, McConnell, and the Federalist Society packed the courts. They’re gone for a generation. That is the underlying problem that we need to solve.”

If we fail to restore fairness, America almost certainly faces a future of minority authoritarian rule. As Max Fisher recently laid out in The New York Times, the state of women’s rights in a country tends to be a good indicator of how democratic or authoritarian it is. Where women’s rights are expanding, an overall process of democratization is generally taking place. And where women’s rights are contracting, so are democratic norms and freedoms. Only three countries have curtailed abortion rights since 2000. Two of them are Nicaragua and Poland. The other is the United States of America.

The post ‘Mob rule over the womb’: the Texas abortion law is a huge win for the Christian right appeared first on The Conversationalist.

According to Texas law, your body doesn’t belong to you

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 15/09/2021 - 7:49am in

If your internal organs are open to legislation you are not free.

On September 1 Texas enacted a law effectively banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, dealing a body blow to the physical autonomy of half the population. In a new and vicious twist, the law incentivizes Texans to report anyone who’s had an abortion, performed or assisted someone in obtaining an abortion, or merely “intends to engage in the conduct”—even if the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest—by offering them $10,000.

Much of what can be said about the law, TX SB8, has been said: It’s flatly unconstitutional; other states will use it as a template; it won’t stop abortion in Texas, only safe abortion; requiring survivors of rape and incest to carry to term pregnancies resulting from their violation is abhorrent; the law’s effect will be to deepen poverty, immiserate lives, and ruin the health of countless Texans, some of whom will no doubt die.

The Texas law is shocking and brutal. It is also a logical step in the steady, years-long erosion of reproductive rights across the United States. The patchwork of legislation, regulation, and flat out lies has done half the work simply by making abortion access confusing, chaotic, and difficult. With all the will in the world, the very young, the very poor, and the deliberately misinformed often see their luck and time run out; and where that doesn’t work, there’s always violence or the threat of violence to keep them away from abortion clinics. The goal, however, has always been not chaos but exquisite clarity: legal abortion, eliminated.

In the 48 years since the Supreme Court ruled that “a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy” falls under the rubric of the 14th Amendment’s definition of privacy, the abortion argument has been presented as a binary: “life” and “choice”—i.e., between carrying a pregnancy to term or choosing a termination. Anti-abortion activists accuse those who support the right to choose of murderous intent and licentiousness; we respond with tales of medical necessity and sexual assault. “Abortion is healthcare!” we shout—because it is. Occasionally we add that “women’s rights are human rights!”—because they are, but it’s only there, with that last rallying cry, that we begin to approach the true essence of the argument.

In a democracy, individual rights and freedoms— “to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” for instance—are the presumed foundation on which civic life is constructed. I would submit, however, that if your internal organs are open to legislation, you are, manifestly, not free.

Roughly half of all Americans, as a class and by virtue of the organs with which they were born, are judged not to have the bodily autonomy inalienable to the other half. Should anyone in that class happen to find themselves in a physical state that precludes fertility—whether youth, age, or any other physiological limitation—that fact reflects freedom  bestowed solely by fortune’s vicissitudes. Dodging a bullet doesn’t mean there was no gun. Either your body is yours to command—or it isn’t.

Some have recently appropriated the mantra of “my body, my choice” to different ends, however, so this last point bears further clarification: Much as “Blue Lives Matter” is a spurious hijacking of the ideas animating the Black Lives Matter movement, so too is the suggestion that government-mandated vaccinations are the moral and legal equivalent of government-mandated third-party control of one’s reproductive organs. A police officer can discard the uniform; an anti-vaxer can make choices—however onerous or unpleasant—to avoid vaccination. But neither skin color nor anatomy can be discarded or sidestepped.

The need to police that dividing line informs moral panics past and present surrounding not just women in society but also the visible existence of anyone in the LGBTQ community. This is particularly the case for those who identify as trans or nonbinary. If our relative humanity and relative position to power are determined by our internal organs, I really need to know which ones you have.

All of this is true no matter where you live or under what system of government; human rights are inherent to all humans and can’t be granted, only honored or violated. Yet for half the citizens of a democracy to be fighting, still, for the most basic liberty in their own persons is particularly striking. Were we all created equal? Or are people born in male presenting bodies more equal than others?

TX SB8 at least does us the favor of stripping away any pretense of the former. By cutting off access at six weeks, far too early for the vast majority of people to know if they’re pregnant, and failing to allow exceptions for rape or incest, behind which “moderates” have long been able to hide, the law clears up any ambiguity about who owns your ovaries. It’s not you.

But while this law is the work of the Texas GOP, it’s crucial that we consider not just the actions of Republicans. The “moderates,” across the political spectrum, have also been instrumental in bringing about this dark day.

I’ve been a Democrat and activist for women’s rights since before I could vote. My party has been bartering with and chipping away at my rights and freedoms for my entire life—usually, but not always, in the name of a “Big Tent” or “bipartisanship.” Misogyny is foundational not just to the GOP but to all of American society. It is the very definition of systemic.

Misogyny expresses itself in many ways but is at base a supremacist ideology; as with any supremacist ideology, it posits a strict dichotomy: There are those to whom power naturally inheres, who may act, and those who are, by nature, acted upon.

Open rejection of cisgender heterosexuality, gender binaries, or the inherent right of men to act on the lives of women threatens the power structure on which society rests, which is why so many citizens of a purported democracy are still struggling to attain the rights that cis, straight men take for granted—and that’s before we factor in the realities of race in America. As a white, upper-middle-class, straight, cis woman, I might not enjoy genuine freedom, but if I live in Texas and need an abortion, it’ll be a lot easier for me to find and pay for a simulacrum of it than almost anyone else born with the same set of parts.

And having said all that: It’s well and good for me to argue for a more essentialist and ultimately political understanding of the fight for reproductive freedom, but at the end of the day—at the end of this and every day, for the foreseeable future—lives are being destroyed by the entire web of American anti-choice legislation. I want my country, or at least the party for which I’ve voted and knocked on doors all my life, to acknowledge that abortion is a matter of the most basic rights that inhere to all humans, but I also want them to come to the immediate aid of those now in desperate need of help.

There’s still a long fight ahead. But right now, we can at least ease the path of some of those for whom we’re fighting. Americans can demand our elected representatives take action to secure abortion rights on a federal level (starting with the Biden Administration’s newly announced suit against the State of Texas); donate to legal defense or abortion funds; act to ensure the free exchange of trustworthy information; serve as clinic escorts; or just drive a scared friend across state lines. And should Texas blink and offer compromise legislation, we must not back down.

Feminism has always been the radical notion that women are people. To deny people born with a uterus the right to make decisions about their own organs is to legislate a lie about their humanity and undermine the very idea of democracy. Our efforts to build a more perfect union can only falter, as long as half of us are not yet, truly, free.

The post According to Texas law, your body doesn’t belong to you appeared first on The Conversationalist.

Black women shouldn’t have to assert their right to self care

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 10/09/2021 - 10:52am in

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The meme that was created to inspire Black women is now too often used to oppress them.

In her groundbreaking 1990 monograph Black Feminist Thought, sociologist Patricia Hill Collins argues that certain controlling images of the American Black woman—e.g., Mammy, Matriarch, Welfare Recipient, Jezebel, Unwed Mother—continue to pervade American culture and are still being used as tools of oppression. Social and government institutions in the United States continue to use these images, which work to perpetuate the erasure and oppression of Black women in a multitude of ways, limiting our rights and discrediting our experiences. Recent examples include: the faux right-wing uproar over Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B’s WAP music video; and the previous U.S. president’s demonstrably false claim that the majority of welfare recipients were Black. These incidents crystallize the pervasiveness of the Welfare queen and Jezebel tropes in American public discourse.

In 2013 Satoshi Kanazawa, an American evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics, set off an international firestorm with a blog post for Psychology Today, in which he asserted that Black women were objectively less attractive than white women. The magazine deleted the article and ended its relationship with Kanazawa, while the LSE censured him with a ban on publishing articles that were not peer reviewed. But the impact of Kanazawa’s post, excerpts of which were reprinted in other publications, continued to echo. Partly in response to the incident, CaShawn Thompson, a Washington, D.C.-based teacher, activist, and social media influencer, created the hashtag #BlackGirlMagic—to celebrate the value and accomplishments of Black women. “Each one of us,” Thompson said, “needed something that was all the awesomeness that we are.”

#BlackGirlsMagic has since become an American cultural phenomenon. It followed a remarkable trajectory, from a Twitter hashtag to a rallying cry and an aphorism. Today it is cited when referring to accomplishments ranging from the incredible gymnastic feats of Simone Biles to surviving another day in a workplace that is hostile to Black women. Celebrities like ballerina Misty Copeland, Barack Obama, Solange Knowles, and Michelle Obama often use the phrase when referring to the outsize accomplishments of Black women.

More recently, however, the slogan has become something less positive. In its current usage, it often acts to perpetuate the very archetypes—Mammy, Matriarch, Emasculator—that Patricia Hill Collins identified more than 30 years ago. Black Girl Magic now too often provides cover for the continued dehumanization of Black women. It also functions as a means of deflecting attention from the fact that to succeed and be recognized, Black women must still work infinitely harder than their white counterparts.

When Stacy Abrams’s voter registration drive delivered Georgia to the Democrats in the 2020 election, social media users and major media outlets referred to her accomplishment as Black Girl Magic. Similarly, the phrase was used to describe gymnast Simone Biles’s paradigm-shattering athleticism. When Serena Williams won the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant, Black Girl Magic was there. Even in my academic circle of Black women, we use Black Girl Magic to celebrate our publications and invited talks. But even as we celebrate our accomplishments, we fail to grapple adequately with the fact that racist, unjust institutions withhold recognition from all but the superhuman amongst us—and even then, that recognition often comes with insults.

To be sure, there have been waves of support for Biles, Osaka, Abrams, and Williams as they publicly battled racism, misogyny, and the stigma of mental health concerns. Their actions have sparked national conversations, particularly Biles and Osaka’s for their stance on athletic performance and mental health. But the personal cost of being open about their struggles has been high.

In a recent feature about Simon Biles in The Houston Chronicle, for example, the gymnast says she regrets that the artistry in her dance routines often goes unnoticed because the focus is on her strength and athleticism. Also interviewed for the article is Lauren Anderson, a former principal dancer with the Houston Ballet, who expresses her admiration for Biles’s sense of rhythm and movement. But while the body of the article does include several references to Biles’s artistry, the headline describes her athleticism as “beastly.”

Serena Williams, widely recognized as one of the greatest female tennis players in history, has for years had to defend herself against the demeaning accusation that she looks “too masculine.” She has, for example, been called the “n” word multiple times while competing, and she has been dehumanized and belittled in sports news cartoons. In an interview, Serena discussed the toll such comments took her. She said: “It was hard for me. People would say I was born a guy, all because of my arms, or because I’m strong.”

In Georgia, a conservative political group called Heritage Action is suing Stacy Abrams for the $100 million loss of the Major-League Baseball All-Star game, which relocated from Atlanta because she called for a boycott to protest state voter repression. Abrams’s feat of Black Girl Magic was made necessary by the blatant repression of minority voters in Georgia, which cost her a historic victory in the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial race.

Black Girl Magic marks the discursive transition of Black women from social problems to social saviors. Denigrated since the Reagan years as welfare queens and hoochie mamas, they are also widely identified as an essential element of American infrastructure. And just like all America’s infrastructure, Black women are taken for granted until there is a disaster. Time and time again, they save this country from itself—as Stacey Abrams is often credited with protecting democracy in Georgia. With the voting rights bill currently stalled in Congress, her approach to voting rights protections is one of the few options left to activists who are forced to compensate for the federal government’s incompetence.

Black athletes are celebrated when they bring praise and athletic glory to the United States, but when they show themselves as humans who need self-care, they become pariahs. Serena Williams and Simone Biles are widely praised for their unparalleled athletic strength. But when they seek to defend themselves from harm and own their labor, they face howls of outrage and charges of mediocrity. When Naomi Osaka quit the French Open because she refused to participate in the pre-match press conferences that exacerbate her anxiety and depression, the powerful blowback—from tournament officials and fellow athletes—prompted her to withdraw from competition. The fact that Osaka is one of the highest ranked tennis players and one of the highest-paid female athletes in the world was irrelevant to her detractors. Her refusal to labor for them on the court or in the press room was an affront. Her mental health be damned.

When Biles, whose status as the greatest gymnast of all time is undisputed, cited mental health issues for her decision to withdraw from the team finals at the Tokyo Olympics, right-wing male commentators targeted her with vicious personal attacks. Aaron Reitz, Deputy Attorney General of Texas, tweeted that Biles, who is a native of his state, was a “selfish, childish, national embarrassment.” This is how white men perceive Black women and their labor: Their bodies, their minds, and their work are not their own.

The men tweeting their anger at Biles for wearing the decal of a goat’s head (symbolizing the acronym GOAT for “greatest of all time”) on her leotard show that, to them, it is an affront for a Black woman to be not only ambitious, but also to know her power and do with it as she pleases. Simone Biles owes us nothing. And yet, she postponed her retirement because she was the last of Larry Nassar’s victims still on the team, and she believed her testimony would lend weight to the accusations against the since- convicted sports medicine physician who abused female gymnasts for decades. While mental health is an important and overdue discussion in athletics more broadly, we must realize that Black women’s ownership of their labor is an equally important issue.

Once a paradigm to help Black women reclaim their power, Black Girl Magic has become the newest controlling image for Black women. When hard work is described as “magic,” our education, training, preparation, and labor are demeaned. Our femininity is questioned. Or, worse, refusing to sacrifice ourselves on the altar of capitalist productivity is perceived not as our right to exercise personal choice, but as an affront.

Since the George Floyd protests in the summer of 2020, institutions and businesses from Apple to McKinsey, the global management consulting firm, have championed and turned to diversity and inclusion initiative. Yet across social media, Black women have lamented the labor of participating in such diversity clinics, explaining to their white coworkers how to be “anti-racist,” or publicly displaying and discussing the trauma of their oppression—allegedly for their own benefit. These requests are predicated on a flaw in ally logic: Teach us how not to be racist toward you, or it is your fault we are racist. Dr. Marc Lamont Hill’s recent interview with Robin DiAngelo about critiques, including Balck critiques, of her work speaks to the general feelings of Black women about the labor diversity requires. The Twitter responses depict the greater issues of the monetization of anti-racist work Black people have been doing, for free, for decades.

I often wonder how we as Black women can reclaim what the aphorism originally meant to us. Biles and Naomi Osaka have given us public permission to say “no” as a complete sentence. To say “no” to the corporate diversity committee. To say “no” to leading the White Fragility reading group. Black women: Do and refuse to do what you choose. Imagine if every Black woman took a day to herself at the same time. Atlas shrugged.

Those who say they are allies need to understand that one of the best ways to value Black women is to do the work. If people were listening to and learning from Black women, the demands on our time and labor would decrease. The onus on saving democracy in the United States, of winning an Olympic gold medal, and of grappling with racism in academic departments should not rest solely on the shoulders of Black women. We, as a country, must hold institutions—Olympic, government, educational, and media—responsible for how they portray Black women and for the demands they project onto us. To be an ally to Black women is to recognize the numerous burdens we carry and to tackle them with us—or, even better, to use your privilege to confront the structures that continue to do harm. “Listen to Black women” echoes across social media, yet it must be more than just a meaningless slogan.

Fannie Barrier Williams, the Black suffragist and educator who lived from 1855-1944, wrote in an essay for The Voice of the Negro (1905) that, “As meanly as [the Black woman] is thought of, hindered as she is in all directions, she is always doing something of merit and credit that is not expected of her.” More than a century later, Black women continue to surpass expectations. But as Biles, Williams, and Osaka have shown us, we must do an accounting of the incredible costs of these feats. Our accomplishments seem like magic because of the obstacles we must overcome to realize them. Now we are tired. We are disregarded. We are taken for granted. Yes, the tide is clearly changing. Let us hope that Black Girl Magic becomes our term not only for the accomplishments of Black women, but also the term for their decision to embrace radical self-care and claim ownership of their humanity.

The post Black women shouldn’t have to assert their right to self care appeared first on The Conversationalist.

‘The fear is real’: the CEO of Afghanistan’s biggest media outlet on the challenges of broadcasting under Taliban rule

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/09/2021 - 8:00pm in

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The CEO of Afghanistan’s largest media outlets talks about whether and how they will be able to continue operating freely.

Saad Mohseni had a lot to worry about when the Taliban rolled into Kabul on August 15. Mohseni is CEO of the Moby Group, which owns and operates Afghanistan’s biggest news and entertainment networks, TOLO News and TOLO TV. The company’s 400 employees would have to adapt one way or another to the nation’s new, ultraconservative rulers.

Mohseni was born in London—his father was an Afghan diplomat and his mother a broadcaster for the BBC. In 1982, his father was on a diplomatic posting in Tokyo when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. Rather than return to Afghanistan, the family settled in Australia.

The former investment banker and dual Afghan-Australian citizen launched an FM radio station in Afghanistan in 2003,  TOLO TV in 2004, and TOLO News as a separate channel in 2010. The operations have thrived in what Mohseni says was the freest media environment in Asia and the Middle East.

CPJ talked to Mohseni on August 27 by video from Dubai about how and whether that freedom can continue. So far, the Taliban are at least tolerating the station. Taliban fighters confiscated government-issued weapons from guards at TOLO News, but allowed them to keep privately purchased firearms, according to a tweet from the station. And a representative of the Taliban appeared on air interviewed by a female TOLO newscaster. She has since fled the country, according to news reports. CPJ contacted Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid for comment via messaging app but received no response.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How did you approach the launch of TOLO News?

What we attempted to do from the get go was to always have our viewers in mind. It was very important to us not to be didactic and condescending and to be as honest as possible with viewers. You have to be focused in terms of reporting on facts. It’s totally unvarnished and totally uncensored. And it has to be balanced and non-emotional. News takes a long time, but once you have people’s trust, people stick with you through thick and thin as they have with us now.

How was it financed initially?

We started the radio station [in 2003 with seed money from USAID] and the reaction was extraordinary. Some people reacted very badly and some people were very positive, but most people were listening to it, which was the most important thing. Then we thought of a TV station and again USAID helped with that. Essentially the business has been viable from day one except for the [two] grants and it’s been able to sustain itself for almost 20 years. It’s one of Afghanistan’s great success stories. It’s the freest media in the entire region. It’s dangerous, especially for media operators—but it’s free. Last night, we were interviewing people in the Panjshir Valley who are opposing the Taliban regime; then we interviewed the Taliban; then we had a woman who was condemning the Taliban in our studio; and then we had another woman on satellite supporting the Taliban. We are continuing to do our work like we always have. The question is whether we can continue in this new environment.

Has anything changed with the Taliban victory?

We’re scared, I’ll be honest with you, we are nervous. Everyone is having sleepless nights, but what the viewer is experiencing is not that different. We have suffered because of the 70 or 80 people we’ve lost [who fled]. They’ve left and gone on to greener pastures. Not that we have begrudged their decision, as a matter of fact, we have helped them leave the country. But they have left a huge vacuum. So we have had to hire like crazy, or move people up within the organization. [Previously] a person who joins wouldn’t be in front of a camera for a long, long time. But now we’re hiring on Wednesday and you see that person in front of a camera on Thursday.  The sad thing is to lose this much capacity, to see a generation of people who we’ve invested in, who could have done so much for the country, being forced to leave. This brain drain will take us another two decades to build that sort of capacity, sadly.

The only things we have pulled are some of the music shows and some of the more provocative soap operas. We made that decision on day one realizing that there wasn’t much upside but there was a lot to lose. I believe that our viewership for the news programs have more than doubled because people are concerned and they need to know.

The one thing we cannot take away from people is hope, and I think media plays such an important role in providing people with hope. We are thinking that the Taliban will limit women’s education in the provinces so we can turn our morning session and early afternoon segments into an education segment in particular for our women.

TOLO News has been attacked over the years, with journalists threatened and staff possibly killed by the Taliban. How is the staff dealing with that?

It’s not easy. I think they are torn emotionally because the ones who are left behind feel left behind, their colleagues have left for France, for Europe, and for the U.S. [In the previous] government we had allies. We had some faith in the judiciary, we knew that many of the judges basically respected the rule of law, our freedom as a media outlet under the constitution, and Afghan media laws, which are relatively progressive. And then the presence of the international community was a massive safety net, where they always stressed the importance of civil society and so forth. Right now, we have no safety nets. None. [On August 25] our reporters were attacked by the Taliban, literally a kilometer away from where our offices are, at the center of the city of Kabul. We complained to the media commission, they promised to pursue it, but that’s all that we could do.  We did report on it, and it was in our news. We spoke to the international media about it, we’re not fearful of that, but it just shows that we are completely and totally exposed right now.

Will you keep sending out women reporters and putting them on air?

That to us is a red line. People ask what sorts of things would force you to abandon your operations in Afghanistan. One of the things would be to walk away from that particular responsibility, the inclusion of women, minority rights, human rights, if we’re forced to censor our news and not be the truth tellers we’ve been for the last two decades. We’ve lost many of our female employees, but we’ve just hired a whole bunch. So hopefully, we’ll see more women on the screen.

One of the Taliban leaders spoke to a mutual friend and was telling him “I can’t believe how much Kabul has changed since 2001.” And our friend pointed out to him that it’s not just the city and the buildings that have changed, the country has changed. I think if the Taliban are smart they will be cognizant of these changes and adopt a more inclusive approach. They have their constituencies but you have to remember that the most positive poll number I’ve seen is that their dogma appeals to 15 percent of the population. They ought to go and engage the other 85 percent and become a political movement that appeals to all segments of our society. There’s an opportunity for them as well. They have a good place to start from but they have to adopt an appeal to other constituencies. My fear is that they will snap and go back to what they feel comfortable with, which is to be dogmatic and to become dictatorial, and have this black-and-white approach to things

What contingencies are you planning for?

Two things. Firstly, if Afghanistan is isolated the economy will suffer like we have not seen since the 1990s. It will shrink dramatically. And perhaps if the Taliban feel really threatened they could intimidate advertisers. I think we may have to look into, at least, a period of more donor-assisted operations than advertising revenues.

What we would need to do is create a parallel structure [in London] that would complement the Afghan structure. Because in Afghanistan we still have no restrictions, but if the day comes that we have to close Afghanistan we [could] just push a button and switch directly to London. What the Taliban can do is shut down our terrestrial transmissions but we will still be available on satellite and on these illegal cable operations. There are hundreds of these cable companies. Also we are available online, we have an app that allows for people to stream on different networks.

Is there a possible more optimistic scenario for your future operations in the country?

It’s too early, but it’s our job to push for that. Half my time now is talking to all the political players in Afghanistan, including some of the hardcore Taliban sympathizers who have a good deal of influence with them. We’re not just spectators. This is our country. We have an obligation to lobby, to advocate for a more open, moderate Afghanistan because it’s the only way the international community will work with the Taliban. I think for the Taliban, they have to realize this, but I think it’s going to have to be communicated in a way that is not very condescending, in which they are engaged by professional diplomats, they are courted.

We’re talking about people who fought for the last 25 to 30 years, some even more than that. That’s why these TV shows are so important — so they can see for themselves what a vibrant country Afghanistan has become since the 1990s. I hope that it resonates with them. I think we have nothing to lose by engaging with them. Because worst case scenario is that [the international community] sticks to the sanctions. [Sanctions] are mistaken because the people who are going to suffer the most are the [millions of] Afghans who continue to live in the country.

Would you like to add anything else?

The fear is real, the nerves are real, I feel a lot of fear, and my staff are saying they don’t even want to go out because there are no guarantees they are not going to get beaten up. Women who technically can come to work are concerned that even in a car on their way to work, some checkpoint guy is going to say, “Why are you going to work?” Because they’ve issued this directive about female employees of the government, but some illiterate guy from [the provinces] who is stopping cars, he doesn’t know the difference between a government employee and a private sector employee. He may get violent because he thinks she’s breaking the law. These are things that we have to worry about on a day-to-day basis.

This interview was originally published on the Committee to Protect Journalists’ website.

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‘The most conspiratorial demographic’: white evangelicals and the QAnon connection

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 03/09/2021 - 10:15am in

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Collaboration between white evangelicals and the Proud Boys is another worrying development.

In late July, a close friend of mine received a series of bizarre text messages from her parents, who urged her to stockpile food as quickly as possible. Over the next couple of weeks, they said, food would become scarce as Democrats cut off the supply and shut down the internet, as they attempted to prevent the reinstatement of Donald Trump as president. This was supposed to happen on Friday, August 13. In early August, with the Delta variant of COVID-19 surging and state governments reimposing pandemic restrictions that had only recently been lifted, my friend decided to call her parents and make one last ditch effort to convince them to get vaccinated. Her parents would have none of it. The vaccine was deadly, they insisted; she had survived only because she was protected by their prayers. They also urged her again to stock up on food and prepare for the events that would lead up to August 13.

My friends’ parents were Catholic when she was born. Soon after that they converted to evangelical Protestantism and embraced the prosperity gospel—the belief that God will give Christians health and wealth if they show sufficient faith—that is now associated with many of Trump’s most loyal Christian backers. She grew up attending church and youth group, and, although there was a time after she became an adult that her parents were not regular church attenders, they now attend weekly. Much of their disinformation seems to have come from YouTube, but, as two recent studies show, their status as white, churchgoing evangelical Protestants is not incidental to their vaccine refusal or to their embrace of the GOP’s “Big Lie” about a supposedly “stolen” election.

The first study’s conclusions are written up in a report released in late July by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and the Interfaith Youth Core, “Religious Identities and the Race Against the Virus.” While the report presents an overly rosy picture of white evangelical Protestants by stressing that the intervention of certain religious leaders had reduced their rates of vaccine hesitancy and vaccine refusal, the raw PRRI data speak clearly enough. White evangelicals remain the religious demographic with the highest rate of vaccine refusal, at 24 percent. The data also show a clear correlation between vaccine refusal and affiliation with the Republican Party, QAnon conspiracy beliefs, and far-right so-called “news” outlets that purvey disinformation.

Meanwhile, using YouGov data, analysts at The Economist provided another piece of the puzzle by testing the hypothesis “that Americans who have no religious affiliation find themselves attracted to other causes, such as the Q craze.” What they found instead is that “Americans who attend church the least are also the least likely to have a favorable view of QAnon.” Conversely, “adults who attended church at least once a month were eight percentage points more likely than we predicted to rate QAnon favourably.” The Economist singled out white evangelicals as the most conspiratorial demographic. While white evangelicals do still have a net unfavorable view of QAnon, they are more likely than members of any other religious demographic to have a positive view of the groundless conspiracy. In addition, 31 percent of white evangelicals believe “that the American government is using the COVID-19 vaccine to microchip Americans, versus 18% among everyone else.” And about two-thirds of them believe the lie that “millions of illegal votes were cast in the 2020 general election”—a rate that is 34 percent higher than the general population.

These studies provide crucial context for understanding the turbulent events that have wracked the United States this summer. To be sure, the August 13 date—promulgated by American fascists like MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who claims that God freed him from his crack cocaine addiction—came and went without another January 6. But the summer has been marred by anti-vaccine and anti-mask rallies; threats of civil war; culture warring against the teaching of critical race theory; new rounds of violence instigated by far-right groups in and around Portland, Oregon; and, especially with back-to-school season, angry conspiracists attempting to dominate and disrupt local school board meetings with their vocal opposition to mask mandates meant to protect children who are too young to be vaccinated against COVID.

There are reports that some of these extremists, some of whom have been charged with criminal conduct, do not even have children attending school in the districts in question (if they have children at all). Indeed, some of the same people have been documented at school board meetings not merely in different districts, but even in different states, making it highly likely that astroturfing is in play. Canadian observers have also noted that their anti-maskers sometimes travel the length of the country to participate in multiple protests; the notoriously homophobic and anti-mask Polish-Canadian Pastor Artur Pawlowski has also been known to stir up trouble in the United States, including in Portland, my adopted hometown.

In the meantime, Florida passed a law banning school districts from mandating masks, with Republican politicians vowing to punish districts that refused to comply. Thankfully, a court overturned Florida’s deadly anti-social law, but Governor Ron DeSantis nevertheless followed through on the threat of punishment by withholding funding from two school districts that passed mask mandates, despite the fact that Florida’s current COVID outbreak is the worst in the United States. The states of Tennessee, Iowa, Utah, Oklahoma, and South Carolina, all of which are governed by Republicans, have also banned school districts from passing mask mandates. In response, the Biden Administration has opened a civil rights investigation over the apparent discrimination against students with disabilities.

At every turn, Christian symbols and rhetoric have been used by the anti-vax, anti-mask, and anti-democratic American extremists to support their actions, which amount to a continuation of January 6—a slow-motion insurrection. In June, for example, DeSantis told audience members at the Christofascist Faith & Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority” conference that it was necessary “to put on the full armor of God” in order to defeat those to his political left. By using that language, DeSantis conflated Democrats, liberals, and progressives with literally demonic forces.

Charismatic evangelical worship leader Sean Feucht takes a similar approach with his “Let Us Worship” tour, which brings coronavirus germs and “spiritual warfare” to numerous cities across the United States—frequently without securing the necessary permits for his largely maskless, crowded outdoor concerts—as a protest against the reasonable expectation that churches should comply with legal public health measures. On August 8, Feucht brought his circus to Portland, Oregon, bragging on Twitter about his “security team” consisting of far right-wing street brawlers. This in itself—the increasingly open collaboration between the Proud Boys and their ilk, on the one hand, and explicitly Christian leaders on the other—is a highly concerning development. Similar dynamics have been on display in anti-vax and anti-mask rallies in California. At an August 14 rally that took place in Los Angeles, for example, one speaker openly called for violence in front of signs and banners that included slogans like “Freedom in Jesus” and “Jesus is King.” Other speakers proclaimed that “true conservatism” means “instilling Christian values back into our government,” and, quoting the New Testament book of Romans, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” One sign at the rally read “The blood of Christ is my vaccine.”

As with the January 6 insurrection itself, it concerns me that too few elite journalists and pundits are taking the Christian element of American fascism seriously (to say nothing of the fact that far too few of them are willing to call fascism by its name). There is no way to effectively counter a threat to democracy without understanding the nature of the threat, and to look the other way and pretend that Christianity is always and inherently benign in fact enables the Christofascists by reinforcing Christian normativity and hegemony.

True, the quasi-eschatological predictions for August 13 did not come to pass, despite all the extremist chatter about that date. Nevertheless, it’s been a summer of vocal and violent extremism in North America, much of it theocratic in nature. State-level voter suppression efforts might lead to entrenched minority authoritarian rule by white Christian extremists in the United States in any case, but the left’s counter-messaging should include the robust embrace of pluralism and secular society as the keys to a healthy democracy.

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‘This used to be a blessed craft for women’: in Kashmir, artisanal pashmina weaving is disappearing

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/09/2021 - 3:29pm in

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Feature, India, Kashmir

The regional economy is in a free fall due to political unrest, military closures, and the pandemic.

Five minutes’ walk from Srinagar’s Jamia Masjid, the largest mosque in Kashmir, is a modest two-story house. This is where Sakeena, 73, lives—and where she has been spinning pashmina wool by hand for more than a decade. She’s well known for her skill in spinning the finest and most delicate yarn from the region’s world-famous wool.

Zain-ul-Abidin, the fifteenth-century Sultan of Kashmir, introduced the art of pashmina weaving. He brought craftsmen from Persia to teach the local population various skills, which included making the wool shawls that are to this day a sought-after luxury item around the world. Kashmiri women have long been artisans of this heritage craft.

For Sakeena, weaving was a means of achieving economic stability. Her mother taught her and her two sisters to spin when she was an adolescent; when she married, she bought a spinning wheel (called a “yinder” in Kashmiri) for RS24, or about $0.32, and used her income to supplement the earnings of her husband, who was a tailor. “I used to earn RS150 ($2) for working five hours a day,” she said, explaining that “back then, that was enough for two proper meals.”

Until the 1990s pashmina wool was spun and woven at artisanal centers all over Kashmir. But with the rise of the Kashmiri armed struggle and the Indian government’s military response, curfews and lockdowns led to a shift: people are now working primarily from home. A few remaining traditional spinners live in pockets of Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir. Sakeena is one of them, but she said that now there is “either no work or the wages paid are not enough to pay for one proper meal.”

The long military lockdowns of the past few years precipitated the decline of the pashmina industry by preventing or discouraging buyers from visiting the disputed territory. As a result, the number of female spinners has declined from a high of 100,000 in 2007 to just 15,360 in 2021, according to The Directorate of Handicrafts & Handlooms in Kashmir.

“Foreign tourists used to come to Kashmir to buy the shawls,” said Sakeena. But no longer. “My daughters have three yinders that have been lying unused for the last year in our attic,” she lamented, adding that they will sell them if the current situation continues much longer. “The Indian government promises to empower people, but in Kashmir, they are doing the opposite by making us economically weaker,” she said.

The politically unstable situation, the prolonged military lockdowns, and now the pandemic, have pushed the regional economy into a free fall. According to a 2020 report issued by the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, more than 100,000 private sector jobs were cut after August 2019, when the Modi government precipitated an ongoing political crisis by revoking the Muslim-majority territory’s limited autonomy.

Adnan Bashir, who owns a pashmina showroom on the banks of Dal Lake, one of Kashmir’s most renowned natural beauty spots, said that the months-long communications shutdown had severely undermined his business. “Around eight international orders were canceled because I was not able to contact the customer [due to the suspension of internet and mobile connectivity],” he said. One customer from Germany canceled a buying trip due to the military curfews. Bashir described his business’s condition as “critical,” and said he might have to look for another way to make a living.

Fahmeeda, a 67-year-old widow who asked that her real name be withheld, reluctantly sold her yinder last year for financial reasons. It had been a gift from her mother, she said, but she needed the money to buy medicine for her son. “This used to be a blessed craft for women like me,” she said, adding that she had supported her children with the money she made from spinning. “Last year, when Kashmir was under strict lockdown, I went out to purchase raw wool but soldiers chased me away by hitting me with their sticks,” she wept. She now works as a cleaner in a private school for RS800 (just over $10) a month—compared to RS2600 ($35) before the lockdown that began in August 2019.

A recent shortage of raw pashmina has dealt yet another blow to the industry. Ordinarily the wool is imported from Ladakh, which lies on the disputed and ill-defined border between India and China; but in June long-simmering political tension erupted in a military clash that left 20 Indian soldiers dead and caused the suspension of trade between the two regions.

The introduction of power looms presents yet another threat to the 600-year-old pashmina craft. Merchants and artisans led a protest in late June to demand a ban on these looms, which pose a threat to the livelihoods of thousands of Kashmiris. The 1985 Handloom Protection Act forbids the industrialization of pashmina production, said Muhammad Lateef Salati, an activist from a family long engaged in artisanal pashmina production. The government, however, has failed to enforce the law.

Industrially produced pashmina is often sold falsely as authentic traditionally produced wool—a practice that undermines the value of the brand. By failing to enforce the law against manufacturers of mass-produced pashmina, the government shows that it is “not serious” about protecting the craft, said Salati.

Some Kashmiris are trying to safeguard traditional pashmina production by empowering local artisans.

Murcy, the daughter of a family long engaged in traditional pashmina production who divides her time between New Delhi and Srinagar, recently launched Fair Share Cashmere, a socially conscious online business initiative to sell hand-spun shawls made by local artisans. She said that she pays traditional female spinners the highest rate the market will bear. “We have been successful in bringing eight women back to this craft,” she said, adding with a smile that this “feels like a victory.”

The decline of traditional pashmina production in Kashmir has created a vacuum of employment for women who could once depend on the income they made from spinning wool to ensure that their families were fed. Now they are unemployed and, for the most part, voiceless. Murcy is one of a handful of locals who are trying to preserve the remnants of a once-thriving artisanal craft, despite the enormous political and economic challenges.

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To house the people, expropriate the landlords

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 13/08/2021 - 2:05am in

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Feature

‘Gold is not a human right. Housing is.’

Between 2012 and 2021, Berlin’s median rent rose by over 70 percent. The cost of housing did not skyrocket because the city suddenly became a better place to live, but because investors looking for a secure place to park their money discovered the German capital. Over the past 30 years, in major cities around the world, corporations have been buying up huge swaths of domestic properties as profitable investments. As a result, habitable and affordable housing has become exponentially more difficult for ordinary people to find and keep.

In “Push,” a 2019 documentary that investigates why and how cities have become prohibitively expensive, Leilani Farha, the former U.N. special rapporteur on adequate housing, says that “unbridled capitalism” has made cities unlivable for all but the rich, with affordable housing now a luxury rather than a necessity. “That’s what differentiates housing as a commodity from gold as a commodity,” Farha says: “Gold is not a human right. Housing is.”

In the film, Farha meets a number of people whose rent has increased so dramatically, essentially overnight, that they have little hope of remaining in their homes. A new management company bought a building in Harlem and raised some residents’ rent by $900 per month, making it impossible for an African-American man to stay in his home of many years unless he could suddenly find a $100,000/year job (around 58 percent of Harlem residents make $60,000 per year or less). Something similar happened to an apartment complex in Uppsala, Sweden, making it extremely difficult for older middle-class residents to stay in their homes without dramatically increasing their incomes—a nearly impossible feat for those unwilling to abandon their communities.



Housing is generally considered affordable when it costs no more than 30 percent of a household’s income. In the United States, nearly 11 million renters spent more than half their income on housing in 2018. That same year, the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that there are no U.S. counties in which a person working full time for the minimum wage could afford to rent a standard two-bedroom apartment. Some people spend so much of their income on housing that they have little left over for food.

The fact that large companies and investors now see housing as a reliable investment vehicle, rather than an essential element of social infrastructure—a phenomenon known as the “financialization of housing”—has transformed houses across the globe into shelters for money, not people. Thousands of dwellings sit vacant in major metropolises, enhancing the portfolios of the wealthy, while tens of thousands of human beings sleep on the streets.

In Berlin, housing activists are pursuing a radical solution: they want to expropriate domestic properties from Germany’s largest landlords and repurpose them as social housing. If housing is a public good, they say, then the public should control it. Among Berliners, 85 percent of whom are renters, this effort has become increasingly popular, with 56 percent saying they either support (47 percent) a proposal to expropriate the properties of large landlords or are undecided (9 percent).

A common argument against expropriation is that governments should be using their limited resources to build more affordable housing. But that solution has been on offer for decades and has yet to halt, or even significantly slow, the broader crisis. Labor and building material costs are prohibitive in many places. Building and land use regulations also pose significant barriers, especially in metro areas. It remains difficult to find both suitable places to build and communities receptive to large-scale public housing projects. Simply building more units is a flawed and partial solution, especially in the absence of significant and consistent funding.

But the Berlin campaign targets enormous, publicly traded companies that own more than 3,000 apartments, like Vonovia and Deutsche Wohnen, Germany’s two largest corporate residential landlords. The two companies recently negotiated an €18 billion merger that set a record for Europe’s largest real estate deal, with a combined market valuation of around €47 billion, or $56 billion. They now collectively own around 550,000 apartments throughout Germany.

Article 14 of the German constitution permits expropriation only for the common good and only in exchange for fair compensation. If Berlin’s housing activists succeed, the government won’t simply seize private units; it will transfer them to the public and compensate the owners, albeit at a rate that some shareholders might not consider sufficient (companies have the right to sue if they believe the compensation is inadequate).

According to a 2020 report prepared by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, Berlin is home to around two million apartments, about 15 percent of which are owned by financial investors and publicly traded housing companies. Globally, residential real estate accounts for $163 trillion of assets, a portion of which are held by investors and housing companies in Germany. Deutsche Wohnen reported a profit of €1.54 billion (about $1.83 billion) in fiscal year 2020. Organizers in Berlin say the company has profited handsomely from buying up properties and driving up rents, neglecting routine maintenance and dragging its feet on essential repairs until major renovations are needed, then fixing up the apartments in order to justify massive rent hikes.

Berliners are not the only ones trying to take back their city from corporate profiteers. In 2020, the city of Barcelona warned 14 companies that if they failed to rent the 194 vacant apartments they collectively held within one month, the municipality would take possession and convert the units into public housing. Since 2016 Catalonia, the region that includes Barcelona, has made it legal for municipalities to seize apartments left vacant for over two years and rent them to low-income tenants for four to 10 years before returning them to the owners. Catalans also approved a 2019 measure allowing cities to buy such apartments outright at half the market rate (owners would not have the option of refusing to sell). The law allows the city of Barcelona to take possession only in cases where the owners hold multiple units, while forcible purchase is allowed only when units are left vacant for at least two years.

Expropriation is unlikely to catch on any time soon in the United States, where the rights of property holders are treated as sacrosanct. During the pandemic, tenant organizers in New York, Kansas City, Los Angeles, and other U.S. cities pressured the government to cancel rent and mortgage payments for as long as the coronavirus was disrupting the economy, without forcing people to pay it back later. California, New York, and a few other states offered tenants modest relief in the form of temporary eviction moratoriums, in a compromise that fell far short of organizers’ demands.

Those measures in no way matched the actions proposed or taken in Berlin or Barcelona. Nevertheless Alan Beard, managing director of Interlink Capital Strategies, a financial advisory firm, penned an op-ed for The Hill entitled, “How to protect against future U.S. government expropriation,” in which he railed against governments in the U.S. for having “effectively expropriated most of the American economy” by forcing businesses to close for safety reasons and making it harder to evict people during the pandemic.

In many U.S. cities, organizers are fighting for greater control over buildings the public already owns. Last year, Philadelphia organizers obtained limited concessions from the city by setting up encampments, taking over vacant properties in North Philadelphia and on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and demanding that the city transfer the properties to the people living in them. The city eventually agreed to put 50 vacant homes into a community land trust and allow 50 unhoused mothers with children to stay in 15 vacant city-owned houses—a drop in the bucket, given that thousands of Philadelphians still need permanent housing.

In an ideal world, said Cea Weaver, campaign coordinator for Housing Justice for All, a New York State-based coalition of housing advocates, “public housing that is democratically run and controlled by its residents” would be the norm everywhere. But in the United States, where there is little trust in government or appetite for funding public services, that can feel like a distant dream. “In order for public housing to be great, we also need to rebuild faith in government as a thing that could compassionately care for all of us,” she said, “not the thing that is killing us and making us sick by defunding our homes.”

Tara Raghuveer, who directs KC Tenants, a tenants’ rights organization in Kansas City, Missouri, and the Homes Guarantee campaign at People’s Action, believes one of the biggest obstacles to “a world where everyone has a home and housing is not treated as a commodity” is that “we’ve been so convinced by the profiteers” that there is no other way. “It’s this attitude of impossibility that stops us from doing things that are really quite simple and that we have models for, even in [the U.S.], going back decades,” she added.

Part of expropriation’s appeal is that it allows people to stay where they already live. Thomas McGath, an American ex-pat living in Berlin and a spokesperson for the campaign to expropriate Germany’s largest landlords, said Berliners are beginning to ask themselves, “‘How do I benefit if somebody plops down a thousand apartments in a field somewhere? It doesn’t do anything for me in my neighborhood, where the rents are rising rapidly and/or exorbitantly.’” The idea, he said, is to create a city “that meets the needs of everybody who lives here, and continues to have its unique character defined by those people.”

McGath said he moved to Berlin in 2013 in part to escape the growing unaffordability of U.S. cities. “If we own our own cities and we have more democratic control over the things that we own…it really makes it easier for us to make the city more sustainable, more affordable, more livable,” he said, rather than morphing into a “big playground for investors to build vanity projects that really don’t have a social purpose.”

If housing is a human right, it’s fair to question whether faceless for-profit corporations should be able to determine who gets it, for how long, and on what terms. A home is more than shelter; it’s where people feel a sense of comfort and belonging. Expropriation is one tool advocates are using to help restore housing to its original purpose: sustaining and enriching human life.

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Climate change in the Pacific: “The time is now” to avoid catastrophe

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 12/08/2021 - 5:23pm in

Pacific island nations call on Australia to walk the talk

Originally published on Global Voices

Survive, thrive 1.5

Pacific Island Represent Fiji Action ahead of the Climate Vulnerable Forum — Suva, Fiji 2018. Photo courtesy © Kurt Petersen / Greenpeace. Used with permission.

The message of “Te Mana o te Moana: the State of the Climate in the Pacific 2021” climate report is uncompromising — “THE TIME IS NOW.” According to the report, the Pacific island countries and their peoples “are facing some of the most severe climate impacts anywhere on earth.” It was launched the same day as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) “Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis.”

In the coming years, island nations could face rising sea levels, higher king tides, increased flooding, eroding coastlines, ocean acidification and increasing water table salinity, habitat destruction, and village relocation.

The Greenpeace Australia Pacific report identifies who is responsible for creating the crisis and who must change course to avert disaster. Based on 2018 data, the top 15 greenhouse gas emitters in the world produce 72.21 percent of global emissions, while the Pacific Islands account for 0.23 percent. Australia ranks as the world’s 15th largest emitter.

Its assessment of Australia’s climate inaction contains a strong warning:

…as an influential ‘middle power’, Australia also has potential to act as a fair broker at international climate summits and leverage its diplomatic influence with its allies to achieve more ambitious emissions reduction agreement outcomes, and a fairer result for Pacific Island Countries. This is all the more pressing, as runaway global heating will force Australia to bear the cost of resulting regional instability, including a new category of climate refugees.

Moreover, in an earlier assessment, the United Nations gave Australia the wooden spoon (last place) for its efforts to meet the climate sustainable development goal (SDG 13):

The country's progress in reducing carbon emissions is highly contested. The Australian government has claimed that greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced by 19 percent since 2005 — a figure that draws much skepticism. One estimate claims there has been a 7 percent rise in emissions over the same time frame.

Midnight Oil lead singer and former Australian environment minister, Peter Garrett, joined an online chorus of demands that Prime Minister Scott Morrison take decisive action against climate change:

The 2015 Paris Agreement requires countries to submit their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) towards meeting the goal “to keep the rise in mean global temperature to well below 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) above pre-industrial levels, and preferably limit the increase to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F).”

The NDCs are supposed to be updated every 5 years. None of the 15 countries has pledged reductions consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5-degree limit, with India the only one with a 2.0-degree compatible goal.

The report highlights the plight of the people of the Fijian village of Vunidogoloa. They were forced to move two kilometers inland in 2014. Their story is not unique as 80 other Fijian communities face future relocation, according to a 2019 article in The Conversation, as do many others in the Pacific:

The Fijian Attorney-General and Minister for Climate Change, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, shared his views in a radio interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). He stressed the need for affordable finance to be able to build “resilience in our infrastructure, to be able to adapt.” He also called on Australia to “walk the talk.”

Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama was blunt:

The report also includes several case studies of community activists and advocates in Vanuatu and Kiribati. Community mobilizer from Vanuatu, Leiwia Poki Yavions, called for the strongest response from global governments:

I want to say to the leaders of the world, please use your voices, your positions of power, to assist in stopping emissions and other activities that contribute to climate change. We are facing the effects of climate change every day, in every place in the world, but especially here in the Pacific.

The Pacific Islands Climate Action Network (PICAN), one of the regional organizations supporting local efforts, tweeted:

Finally, Edward Morgan, a climate researcher at Griffith University, shared this message from Enele Sopoaga, former Prime Minister of Tuvalu:

Enele Sopoaga's preface to “Te Mana o te Moana” (The Spirit of the Sea) continued:

We in the Pacific are more than just sinking islands, broken seawalls and cyclones — we are your brothers and sisters. I want everyone to look into the child’s eyes and imagine what those eyes will see in ten or twenty years. Will they see Dantes’ hell or will they see a sustainable planet?

From Mexico to Australia, Indigenous youth reimagine the internet for their languages

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 07/08/2021 - 9:37pm in

From songs to TikToks, Indigenous youth take ownership of the internet

Originally published on Global Voices


Illustration by Isela Xospa, under copyright and used by Global Voices with permission.

There are some 7,000 languages in the world, but only 10 dominate the internet. English leads, with 25.9 percent of online content, followed by Chinese, Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese, Indonesian, French, Japanese, Russian, and German. Facing this reality, Indigenous youth from Mexico to Australia are carving out spaces for their languages on the web.

Forty percent of all languages are at “some level of endangerment,” according to UNESCO, and Indigenous languages are particularly at risk, as hegemonic languages permeate education, governments, and media worldwide.

On July 13, Indigenous language activists from Mexico and Australia shared strategies during an online talk co-organized by Global Voices and First Languages Australia, with the support of the Embassy of Australia in Mexico.

There are 68 Indigenous languages in Mexico and 250 in Australia, making these countries part of the most diverse linguistic places on the planet, along with Papua New Guinea, Nigeria, Indonesia, India, and Brazil, to name a few.

“Australia and Mexico are two countries that are the result of colonies and the imposition of a hegemonic language,” said the event's moderator, Isela Xospa, a Nahua Indigenous illustrator. For her, this situation leads to seeing and understanding the world in only one language, which is a huge loss.

“It's very important to understand that the internet is dominated by hegemonic languages. You can access the internet if you know the hegemonic language, but not in your own language,” she said. She argues that this is one of the reasons why youth do not see themselves online and might abandon their language.

Panelists concurred that youth are speaking their ancestral languages less frequently, mainly due to disconnection with their elders. Parents do not know or do not teach their languages to their children as often, leaving the task to grandparents, if they are around.

Joaquín Yescas Martínez, a Zapoteco Xhidza man from Oaxaca, Mexico, explained: “Many parents were afraid of schools; they were punished [for speaking their language] when they were younger in schools. Because of all that fear, many classmates of my generation do not speak their language.”

Making Indigenous languages more ubiquitous online may have a role to play in attracting youth to learn, practice, and lose the shame of speaking their language.

“When young people can see and hear their language being used on popular social media platforms, and shared, and made accessible on the internet, it is encouraging them to seek them out and share their language and culture,” Annalee Pope, a Wakka Wakka woman from Central Queensland, Australia, said.

Yet, it is not only about using Indigenous languages on popular online platforms, but also about imagining news to make the internet their own. For example, Rachel Dikul Baker, a Yolŋu woman from the Northern Territory in Australia, argues for new internet domains that use her Yolŋu Matha language and reflect the Yolŋu philosophy of the kinship system — a set of cultural rules in which children learn their specific relationship to every other Yolŋu and to many elements of the natural world.

“The Yolŋu kinship system is a relation to the land, a relation to what’s within the land, including humans and languages,” she said. “A lot of the disconnections happen because the internet domains are not Yolŋulized; therefore the language learning on the internet is not designed on Yolŋu kinship system.” In her organization, ARDS Aboriginal Corporation, she is helping develop a “Warami language platform that is kinship-based,” she said.


Indigenous language activists from Mexico and Australia shared strategies during an online talk co-organized by Global Voices and First Languages Australia, with the support of the Embassy of Australia in Mexico, on July 13, 2021.

Joaquín, for his part, dreams of free software and social media created by and for Indigenous people, in their own languages. Along with his advocacy for free software, Joaquín co-founded and works for several initiatives designed to spread the use of the Xhidza language. He sees his two passions merge to create new spaces on the internet.

He would like to see an expanding network of digital activists who work to improve internet connection in communities where digital access is scarce but also promote Indigenous “community-based internets” to share information.

“We can create our own social media within [Indigenous] communities and generate more speakers; we can create other internet networks with more content in our language,” he said.

Maya speaker María Lilia Hau Ucan, originally from Kinil, Yucatán, Mexico, expressed hope in seeing youth in Yucatán express themselves creatively in their Indigenous languages through songs, poetry, and other forms of narratives.

“They are making the language their own when writing, which is fantastic. There are also groups of young people who are getting involved in community radios, broadcasting, periodicals, social networks… they are even trying to transmit the language by teaching it through TikToks.”

For example, in Latin America, there are TikTok accounts to learn Nahuat from El Salvador, Maya Kaqchikel from Mexico and Guatemala, Kichwa from Ecuador, and Waorani from Amazonian Ecuador. In general, “Native TikTok“, where youth share Indigenous culture, humor, and demands for Indigenous and land rights, had a boom on the platform. There are also apps to learn Indigenous languages in Mexico and Australia.

Music is another way Indigenous youth are sharing their languages. Rapper Baker Boy raps in his native language, Yolŋu Matha, as well as English, in his song Meditjin, featuring JessB:

Singer Sara Curruchich, from Guatemala, sings in her native Maya Kaqchikel language and in Spanish. She is also a language and human rights advocate promoting Indigenous languages in music. In 2020, she created a playlist on Spotify featuring Indigenous women from all over the world, called Voces de Mujeres Indígenas IXOQI.

“It's a human right for native peoples to speak their language, to express themselves, to socialize, and to not feel ashamed to speak it,” Isela Xospa said.

You can watch the recording of the online talk “Indigenous+Digital: How young people are revitalizing their native languages on the internet” in Spanish.

‘Clean the streets of faggots’: governments in the Middle East & North Africa target LGBT people via social media

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 06/08/2021 - 2:33am in

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LGBT groups across the Middle East and North Africa rely on social media for networking, information, and empowerment. Now police are exploiting the platforms to arrest & detain them, often destroying their lives. 

Sarah Hegazy, an Egyptian queer feminist, raised a rainbow flag at a concert in Cairo. Rania Amdouni, a Tunisian queer activist, protested deteriorating economic conditions and police brutality in Tunis. Mohamad al-Bokari, a Yemeni blogger in Saudi Arabia, declared he supported equal rights for all, including LGBT people.

The common thread in these cases is that all three were identified in social media posts, which allowed their governments to monitor their online activity and target them offline. What happened afterward ruined their lives.

In Sarah Hegazy’s now infamous photo she is hoisted on a friend’s shoulders, smiling elatedly as she waves a rainbow flag at a 2017 performance in Cairo by Mashrou’ Leila, the popular Lebanese band whose lead singer is openly gay. The photo was posted on Facebook and shared countless times, garnering thousands of hateful comments and supportive counter-messages in what became a frenzied digital debate.

Days later, the Egyptian government initiated a crackdown. Police arrested Hegazy on charges of  “joining a banned group aimed at interfering with the constitution,” along with Ahmed Alaa, who also raised the flag, and then dozens of other concertgoers. In what became a massive campaign of arrests against hundreds of people perceived as gay or transgender, Egyptian authorities created fake profiles on same-sex dating applications to entrap LGBT people, reviewed online video footage of the concert, then proceeded to round up people on the street based on their appearance.

Hegazy spoke about her post-traumatic stress after she was released on bail. She had been jailed for three months of pretrial detention, during which police tortured her with electric shocks and solitary confinement. They also incited other detainees to sexually assault and verbally abuse her. Fearing re-arrest and a prison sentence, she went into exile in Toronto, where, on June 14, 2020, she took her own life. The 30-year-old woman ended her short farewell note with the words: “To the world, you’ve been greatly cruel, but I forgive.”

Rania Amdouni was on the front line during the country-wide demonstrations in Tunisia that began in January 2021, protesting economic decline and rampant police violence. People who identified themselves as police officers took her photo at a protest, posted it on Facebook, and captioned it with her contact information and derogatory comments based on her gender expression.

Soon after, her profile was flooded with death threats, insults—including from a parliament member—and messages inciting violence against her. When police harassment extended to the street—outside restaurants she frequented and near her residence—she tried to file a complaint. At the police station, officers refused to register her complaint, then arrested her for shouting.

Tunisian security forces also targeted other LGBT activists at the protests with arrests, threats to rape and kill, and physical assault. LGBT people were smeared on social media and “outed”—their identities and personal information exposed without their consent. The offline consequences were catastrophic—people lost their jobs, were expelled from their homes, and even fled the country.

Amdouni was sentenced to six months in prison and a fine. Though released upon appeal, she reported suffering acute anxiety and depression as well as continued harassment online and in the street.

Mohamed al-Bokari traveled on foot from Yemen to Saudi Arabia after armed groups threatened to kill him due to his online activism and gender non-conformity. While living in Riyadh as an undocumented migrant, he posted a video on Twitter declaring his support for LGBT rights; this prompted homophobic outrage from the Saudi authorities and the public. Subsequently, security forces arrested him.

He was charged with promoting homosexuality online and “imitating women,” sentenced to 10 months in prison, and faced deportation to Yemen upon release.  Security officers held him in solitary confinement for weeks, subjected him to a forced anal exam, and repeatedly beat him to compel him to “confess that he is gay.” Al-Bokari is now safely resettled, with outside help, but remains isolated from his community and cannot safely return home.

Across the Middle East and North Africa region, LGBT people and groups advocating for LGBT rights have relied on digital platforms for empowerment, access to information, movement building, and networking. In contexts  in which governments prohibit LGBT groups from operating, activist organizing happens mainly online, to expose anti-LGBT violence and discrimination. In some cases, digital advocacy has contributed to reversing injustices against LGBT individuals. But governments have been paying attention, and they have a crucial advantage—the law is on their side.

Most countries in the  region have laws that criminalize same-sex relations. Even in the countries that do not—Egypt, ironically, is one of them—spurious “morality laws,” debauchery and prostitution laws are weaponized to target LGBT people.

When I was documenting the systematic torture of LGBT people in Egypt’s prisons, the targeting pattern was unmistakable: Egyptian authorities relied on digital evidence to track down, arrest, and prosecute LGBT people. People who had been detained told me that police officers, unable to find “evidence” when searching their phones at the time of arrest, downloaded same-sex dating apps on their phones and uploaded pornographic photos to justify keeping them in detention. The cases I documented suggest a policy coordinated by the Egyptian government online and offline, to persecute LGBT people. One police officer told a man I interviewed that his entrapment and arrest were part of an operation to “clean the streets of faggots.”

In recent years, government digital surveillance has gained traction as a method to quell free expression and silence opponents. Concurrently, the application of anti-LGBT laws has extended to online spaces—regardless of whether same-sex acts occur—chilling even the digital discussion of LGBT issues.

The consequences of digital surveillance and online discrimination spiked for LGBT people just as the Covid-19 pandemic and related lockdown measures closed down groups that had offered safe refuge, diminished existing communal safety nets, threatened already dire employment and health access, and forced individuals to endure often abusive environments.

In Morocco, a campaign of “outing” emerged in April 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Ordinary citizens created fake accounts on same-sex dating apps and endangered users by circulating their private information, alarming vulnerable groups. LGBT people, expelled from their homes by their families during a country-wide lockdown, had nowhere to go.

Activist organizations in the region play a significant role in navigating these threats and responding to LGBT people’s needs, regularly calling upon digital platforms to remove content that incites violence and to protect users. Yet in most of the region, these organizations are also hobbled by intimidation and government interference.

In Lebanon, for example, a gender and sexuality conference, held annually since 2013, had to be moved abroad in 2019 after a religious group on Facebook called for the organizers’ arrest and the cancellation of the conference for “inciting immorality.” General Security Forces shut down the 2018 conference and indefinitely denied  non-Lebanese LGBT activists who attended the conference permission to re-enter the country. The crackdown signaled the shrinking space for LGBT activism in a country which used to be known as a port in a storm for human rights defenders from the Arabic-speaking world.

These are not isolated incidents in each country. When state-led, they often reflect government strategies to digitalize attacks against LGBT people and justify their persecution, especially under the pretext of responding to ongoing crises. It is no coincidence that oppressive governments in varied contexts across the region are threatened by online activism — because it works.

Exposing these abusive patterns highlights the urgency of decriminalizing same-sex relations and gender variance in the region. Instead of criminalizing the existence of LGBT people and targeting them online, governments should safeguard them from digital attacks and subsequent threats to their basic rights, livelihoods, and bodily autonomy.

Meanwhile, digital platforms have a responsibility to prevent online spaces from becoming a realm for state-sponsored repression. Corporations that produce these technologies need to engage meaningfully with LGBT people in the development of policies and features, including by employing them as engineers and in their policy teams, from design to implementation.

The post ‘Clean the streets of faggots’: governments in the Middle East & North Africa target LGBT people via social media appeared first on The Conversationalist.

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