Human rights

An important new book about refugeehood

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 19/02/2020 - 10:34pm in

A brief plug for an important new (and affordable) book: every home should have one! David Owen has long been know for his thoughtful contribution to philosophical debates around migration, and now he has published a brilliant short book, What Do We Owe to Refugees? in the same excellent Political Theory Today series from Polity that my own book appears in. David’s book is highly readable and gives a solid introduction to the main controversy that runs through modern debates on refugeehood, namely, whether we should adopt a “humanitarian” or a “political” conception of refugees and what we owe to them.

A humanitarian conception of refugees focuses attention on them as needy persons forcibly displaced through no fault of their own. They may be fleeing persecution, or war, or natural disaster or environmental collapse, and the duties that we have to them flow from our common humanity. It is their neediness and not the specific cause of their neediness that is the most important factor. A political conception, by contrast, sees refugees as victims of a special wrong, the denial of political status, of effective citizenship through persecution by the very state whose obligation it is to include them as citizens and to guarantee and respect their rights. Refugeehood as conceived of by the political conception is an internationally-recognized political substitute for the membership that has been unjustly denied by a person’s persecutors.

As David sets out in a wonderfully-informative chapter on this history of refugeehood — did you know that the first refugiés were Huguenots escaping from Louis XIV? — both conceptions of refugeehood are present both in the history of refugees and in the political and legal documents and institutions that have structured international practice over the years. Currently, for example, the focus on persecution in the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol admits most naturally of a political reading, but the practice of UNHCR, the international body that is tasked with administering refugee issues, is much broader and includes much humanitarian assistance.

The key animating idea of the book is centred on the relationship between the institution of refugeehood and the current international system, conceived of as a normative order. On the one hand we have a world that is territorially divided among sovereign states; on the other, we have a cosmopolitan commitment to the idea of human rights and those sovereign states are the primary vehicles through which human rights are (in theory) protected and realized. This international order is one that is maintained and reproduced by the collective of states themselves through their mutual recognition of one another and through their sustaining of international norms and institutions. Obviously, things often go wrong with the result that human beings are left unable to assure their basic rights on the territory of the state that is theoretically charged with protecting them. Refugeehood therefore functions as a “legitimacy repair mechanism” for the global normative order whereby those whose vital interests require crossing an international border to protect their rights are given a functional substitute membership by states other than their own, those states act “in loco civitas“. Doing so not only meets the needs of these displaced persons, but also upholds the legitimacy from which the receiving states benefit.

Whereas much of the debate around refugeehood has oscillated between the political and humanitarian paradigms, David argues that the duties picked out by “in loco civitas” vary depending upon the reasons for refugee displacement and proposes a differentiation of responses which he terms “asylum”, “sanctuary” and “refuge” that answer to whether the individual is a victim of targeted persecution, generalized violence or episodic events (such as natural disasters) respectively. I can’t do justice to the whole of David’s discussion here, but his proposal is that victims of targeted persecution need access to a state which can provide them with a robust protection of their rights and that doing so plays an expressive role in condemning the persecuting state; that sanctuary primarily requires the provision of a substitute social home and this may, allowing for considerations of fairness, be best accomplished in states with similar cultures or existing diasporas that can provide adequate social protection and opportunities; and that refuge will often be the most temporary provision of all, persisting while the cause of the immediate displacement is fixed.

David also addresses questions of “fair shares” in the context of a protection regime that is conceived of as project where states must do their bit to uphold a legitimate international order, and what the duties of states (and refugees) are when states are failing to play their part or, as now, actively thwarting the functioning of a just protection regime. He argues that the refusal of those fleeing persecution, war and other drivers of forced migration to accept the containment regimes put in place to thwart them constitutes a kind of justified global civil disobedience and resistance to an international regime that purports to be legitimate but which fails to supply the protection for human rights and needs which it officially promises.

Scarcity and its implications

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 19/02/2020 - 2:38am in

Scarcity defines the economic way of thinking

Scarcity is a simple idea, yet it has major implications.

If, as individuals or as a society, we have multiple objectives, and if our desires for these goals exceed the time and resources that can be used to attain them, then given that these resources can be used in different ways it matters how we allocate them. It matters because our goals differ in their significance.


Lionel Robbins, who taught at the London School of Economics, defined economics as “the science which studies human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative use” in a book published in 1935.

We have to choose, we have to recognize the terms of the trade-offs between the choices available to us, and we have to do this in a way that gets us as much as we possibly can from the scarce resources available to us.

The economic way of thinking gives us guideposts for making these choices, most notably that we should pursue an objective up to the point that the additional benefit we get from taking an extra step toward it just equals the additional cost in all the things we have to give up in making that step.

Economics certainly should not inform all public policy discussions.

But when it should and doesn’t, the decisions made are usually done from an overly short-term perspective, are not mutually consistent, generally have hidden or unintended consequences, and are not sustainable in the long-term.

In the next two lectures of our course Economics for Everyone we detail the logic of scarcity, the rules it implies for maximizing our social benefit, and the pitfalls that sometimes confound policy makers. Scarcity also takes us toward a discussion of an important policy, “Free Trade,” and our discussion also helps us highlight some of the blind spots of simplistic economic reasoning.

Download the presentation for Lectures 2 and 3, but if you want to prepare in an entertaining way listen to Billy Bragg sing out his thoughts on Free Trade, a 2010 song from Britain foreshadowing many of the debates that have motivated recent American policies.

Here are the lyrics, but I’ve added a quote from another famous economist, David Ricardo, who has a very different view. Our goal is to understand these two competing perspectives on the benefits and costs of Free Trade.

Nine Years Against Assad

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 11/02/2020 - 8:04am in

As Bashar al-Assad brutally crushes the last areas not under his control, Joseph Daher, Syrian socialist activist, gave this wide-ranging interview to the UK-based journal Socialist Resistance.Read more ›

fresh audio product

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 24/01/2020 - 9:00am in

Just added to my radio archive (click on date for link):

January 23, 2020 Jessica Whyte, author of The Morals of the Market, on the relations between neoliberalism and human rights politics • Michele Masucci and Joanna Warsza, editors of Red Love, on Alexandra Kollontai and her views on love, comradeship, and the family

IASWI’s Statement on Assassination of Qasem Soleimani and its Aftermath

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 21/01/2020 - 1:44pm in

Say no categorically and proactively to U.S. warmongering and stand firmly in solidarity with the working class and the poor and oppressed people of Iran, and not the tyrannical Iranian regime, and help strengthen anti-capitalist, anti-poverty and social and economic justice movements in Iran and across the region.Read more ›

The Slow Demise of Cash Bail

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 21/01/2020 - 4:59am in

Judge Michael Nelson knew how bad things had gotten at the Cuyahoga County Jail. It was overcrowded and unsafe, with six inmate deaths in four months in 2018 alone. A big part of the problem was bail — too many inmates were being held on bonds that were too expensive. So Nelson decided to take matters into his own hands. He started giving personal, no-cash bonds to every defendant who appeared before him “unless they’re the worst of the worst, until things get figured out at the jail,” he told the Cleveland Plain Dealer

Judge Nelson had essentially enacted a one-court version of bail reform, an approach to pre-trial detainment that flies in the face of how it’s been done in America for decades. Bail reform has been spreading in recent years, but its prominence rose this month when, on January 1, the State of New York eliminated pretrial detention and cash bail for misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies. 

This is no small procedural tweak: thousands of inmates who are currently in jail while awaiting trial because they didn’t or couldn’t pay their bail will be automatically released. And going forward, nine out of ten new defendants will remain free while their cases are processed. New York’s law bans bail entirely for a wide range of crimes, and judges cannot override it.

Part of a trend

Despite a backlash from law enforcement groups, New York joins a growing list of cities and states that have decided cash-for-freedom is a concept ready to be retired.

In 1992, Washington D.C. became one of the first places in America to dramatically reduce the use of cash bail; its courts now release over 90 percent of arrestees without using money. New Jersey virtually eliminated cash bail in 2017. The same year, Illinois’s Cook County, of which Chicago is the seat, directed its judges to set bail at amounts no higher than defendants could afford. Nashville, Atlanta and New Orleans have all made bail policy changes or are in the process of doing so, as are Texas, North Carolina, Alaska and Massachusetts. Even California, once the epicenter of America’s mass incarceration drive, has an initiative on the ballot this year that will all but eliminate the private cash bail industry.

“The problem is that 95 percent of the growth in jail population is simply pre-trial detention,” says Cherise Fanno Burdeen, CEO of the Pretrial Justice Institute in Baltimore. “Our experience is that many more people are recognizing this as a problem, but they don’t necessarily agree on how to solve it. But it is a good sign that more and more communities are trying to do so.” 

Rikers Island in New York City. Soon, far fewer of its inmates will be held on cash bail, and the jail itself is scheduled to be closed by the end of the decade. Credit: formulanone / Flickr

Burdeen says that case-by-case assessments are a better way to determine who should be detained before trial. That’s how D.C. has done it for nearly three decades. Using a fact-based outcomes assessment that combines algorithmic analysis with in-person interviews, judges there calculate which defendants are a public safety or flight risk. The use of algorithms in criminal law is controversial, but Washington’s system seems to work — less than two percent of the defendants released under its system were rearrested for a violent crime.

A solution for both sides

As with other attempts to reduce mass incarceration, bail reform has found some unlikely political bedfellows. 

Fiscal conservatives are cottoning to the notion that jailing 2.3 million Americans who haven’t been convicted of any crime is a colossal waste of money. Inmates who don’t make bail are expensive — local city and county jails nationally spend about $13.6 billion each year to house people awaiting trial. That’s roughly 462,000 out of the 612,000 inmates in local jails. Of those 462,000, some 314,000 have been charged with property theft, drug-related crimes, or traffic infractions.

But calculating the cost of housing inmates misses cash bail’s broader financial fallout. For many people, even a few days in jail can lead to lost jobs, housing insecurity and mounting debt. A recent study by the Federal Reserve found that 47 percent of Americans could not cover an emergency expense costing $400, or would cover it by selling something or borrowing money. The median bail for felony defendants is $10,000, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. 

It’s also an incredibly painful process — the anecdotes are horrific. An African-American man from the Bronx who was accused of stealing a book bag was held for three years because he couldn’t make bail; he later committed suicide. A San Antonio woman detained for five months over a minor criminal trespass charge died in jail because she couldn’t make her $300 bail. A man accused of shoplifting a vacuum cleaner from Target spent three months in jail because he didn’t have the money for his $5,000 bail. 

Stories like these are why bail reform has been a priority for criminal justice advocates for decades, but even those who work within the system have long seen cash bail as a scourge.

“The professional bondsman system… is odious at best,” United States Court of Appeals District Judge Skelly Wright wrote in a judicial opinion more than 50 years ago. “The effect of such a system is that the professional bondsmen hold the keys to the jail in their pockets… The bad risks, in the bondsmen’s judgment, and the ones who are unable to pay the bondsmen’s fees, remain in jail. The court and the commissioner are relegated to the relatively unimportant chore of fixing the amount of bail.”

Since that opinion was written, the number of people in jail who can’t buy their way out has exploded. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, the number of pre-trial inmates with unmakeable bonds started to take off in the mid 1990s due to the War on Drugs, mandatory sentencing and state legislatures becoming more conservative. The difference is staggering: 20 years ago in Texas, one local inmate out of three was awaiting trial in jail; now, that number has risen to three out of four. Today, the number of unconvicted inmates in county and city jails is about double the number of those convicted.

A thousand-year-old system

The United States and the Philippines are the only countries in the world that use free-market commercial bail bonds. (Other countries use bail, but the courts handle the transactions and the family’s ability to pay is always taken into account.) This odd system of hiring a bondsman to assure one’s release can be traced back to Medieval England, when accused fraudsters had to designate someone who would be responsible for their settlement if they fled before paying. 

Bondsmen remained a cog in the justice systems of the U.K. and its colonies for hundreds of years, but they really became major players when the Industrial Revolution sparked a mass migration to the cities. With so many people on the move, finding relatives who could put up cash guarantees for family members accused of a crime became more difficult. Bondmen stepped in to provide the service.

By the end of the 19th century, prison reformers were criticizing the system as wildly unfair. In response, the U.K. passed the Bail Act in 1898, which allowed judges to grant leniency when the accused could not post bail. But the U.S. instead moved to further commercialize the bond industry, starting in San Francisco at the turn of the century and subsequently spreading to municipalities across the country.

Credit: UN / Flickr

Though the system that emerged is seen as patently unjust by a majority of Americans, it has persisted in part because of the money it generates for local players. The bail bond industry rakes in an estimated $2 billion per year, money collected by bondsmen who share it with the campaigns of elected local sheriffs and judges.

But now that reforms have begun to creep into the system, it’s clearer than ever how badly they’re needed. In Chicago, since 2017, the state’s bail reform legislation has lowered the jail population by 26 percent. In the 15 months prior to the implantation of the bail reform, only 267 were released in Cook County with no bail. In the 15 months after, that number shot up to 2,192. Did defendants use these no-bail releases as an opportunity to skip town? Hardly. Rates of court appearances were 82 percent prior to the act, and 83.2 percent after. Only 0.6 percent of those released without bail were arrested for a violent crime.

Likewise in Philadelphia, which reduced its county jail population from 10,000 in 2014 to about 5,800 in 2019. Philadelphia’s bail reform could save the local jails about $75 million annually. A study of the city’s efforts found that, “In spite of this large decrease in the fraction of defendants having monetary incentives to show up to court, we detect no change in failure-to-appear in court or in recidivism, suggesting that reductions in the use of monetary bail can be made without significant adverse consequences.”

The fact that cash bail can be reduced or eliminated with virtually no negative effects should cheer those who see it as a cost-saving measure. Onondaga County jail in Syracuse, New York has seen its jail population drop by 20 percent, or about 100 fewer inmates per night, since changing tactics in anticipation of the state’s bail reform law. Those 100 non-inmates save the county a bundle — having 400 inmates instead of 500 each night during the course of a year can mean an annual savings of about $4.5 million. 

Since New Jersey’s 2017 statewide bail bond reform, approximately 6,000 fewer people are in local jails today than in 2012, savings the state’s taxpayers about $285 million a year.

Results like these are why even conservative think tanks, like Ohio’s Buckeye Institute, have come out in force for bail reform: “Ohio’s cash-based pretrial release-and-detain system is broken,” the organization wrote in a recent policy brief. “This system yields absurd results as drunken jaywalkers sit in jail even as child rapists walk free. Such results demand reform.”

Finally, that demand is being met.

The post The Slow Demise of Cash Bail appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Is It Okay to Copy China?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 19/01/2020 - 1:27am in

How should one think of a nation, institution or company that has pioneered innovation and found solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems, but also has aspects we find objectionable, even despicable? How do we balance good and bad? Can we separate the two, or are they inexorably linked? 

More specifically: How do we think about a country that has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, has backed and advanced renewable energy technology, and mostly avoided military imperialism, even as it violates the human rights of millions, persecutes minorities, wreaks havoc on the environment and embraces authoritarianism, surveillance, censorship and corruption? If we cheer the good stuff, are we tacitly endorsing the bad? Does it have to be all or nothing? 

With Reasons to be Cheerful we try to present the good stuff. But sometimes the good stuff is mixed in with not-so-good stuff, sometimes even with fairly horrible stuff. I’m going to take China as an example of this dilemma. Watching the Beijing-supported crackdown on democracy activists in Hong Kong, and reading about the brutal Uyghur detention camps in Xinjiang province, one wonders whether it is bad form to highlight even the most indisputably good solutions from China. Like German coal-powered electric car infrastructure, is China good or is it bad? It’s complicated. 

Poverty reduction

China has raised millions out of poverty. The number of Chinese people living in extreme poverty was 88 percent in 1981 and 0.7 percent in 2015. How many people does that amount to? The numbers vary depending on the source, but 500 million would be a very conservative bet. (The World Bank says 800 million and President Xi Jinping says 700 million.)

Credit: Our World in Data / World Bank

Whatever the exact number, it is historic — no other country in the world has been able to do this. Needless to say, achieving it took a LOT of central planning, which can be an advantage when you’re an authoritarian regime. You don’t have to ask permission. You aren’t beholden to voters. 

Some credit for this massive change dates back to the early 1980s when rural poverty was targeted. Land was distributed in more equitable ways and new technologies made farming more efficient. Farmers were no longer serfs toiling on massive collective farms and the efficiency gains meant that fewer folks were needed to run the farms, so many rural folks migrated to the cities where they hoped to find other work. As a result, there emerged a massive source of cheap labor around the urban centers of China. The world took notice.

Various factors beyond just cheap labor seduced the world into making use of all these workers: China’s investments in its transportation and infrastructure, plenty of available energy, a system for efficiently resolving business matters… Even time spent in customs makes a difference — getting stuff in and out of Bangalore takes almost twice as long as it does in Shanghai or Guangzhou. For foreign companies any of these things can be a deciding factor in whether to work with China. 

As time went by Chinese workers became more skilled, and the government began to prioritize high-value industries like green tech, robotics and telecommunications. With these changes, incomes went up. This drove some global companies to seek cheaper workers in places like Vietnam and Indonesia, but it helped many Chinese workers escape the poverty trap. 

The flood of workers into urban centers was a strain, but a government subsidy paid to city residents helped, as did progressive taxation. The effect was that three-quarters of the reduction in world poverty was due to China alone

Migrant workers in Shanghai. Over the last couple of decades millions of Chinese have moved from the countryside to the cities. Credit: Leniners / Flickr

Nations around the world seeking to reduce poverty are looking to China for lessons in how they might do it. But should they? Practically speaking, some of China’s methods would be difficult to replicate elsewhere. For instance, many of those farmers who moved to the city didn’t do so by choice — they were forced there by the government, which effectively decides where folks will live by restricting their social benefits by geography. And China’s rise as an economic superpower has included plenty of pain, including a disregard for the environment, public health and workers’ rights.

Then again, some countries might be willing to accept these faults in exchange for a China-sized economic boom. Who cares about freedom of speech when you don’t have enough to eat? As the cynical saying goes, “Development first, democracy later.”

International power and loans

China invests in a lot of developing countries, building (or supporting via loans) infrastructure like roads, dams, schools and railways. In addition to being key to its plans for economic expansion, these international partnerships are China’s chosen form of “soft power.” But it’s not always clear how much the nations it’s partnering with benefit from the projects. 

The new terminal in Nairobi for the Chinese-built railway that runs between the capital city and Mombasa, which began service in 2017. Credit: Wikipedia

China, for its part, almost always seeks to benefit from these projects in some way. They’re not gifts — China uses them to extract resources, exploit cheap labor, or provide infrastructure for overseas Chinese businesses. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad for the recipient country — not all of this investment is the 21st century version of colonialism. Some of it is much needed by the client nations, who are clamoring for infrastructure that only China appears willing and able to build for them.  

Then again, some of it they don’t need. In recent years, Chinese companies have invested twice as much in Africa as American companies, and more than twice as much as the World Bank and the IMF combined. These projects are often funded by loans from Chinese state banks, which sometimes leave the recipients mired in unaffordable debt. There are shades of the World Bank and IMF here, which often saddled nations in South America and elsewhere with massive debts before forcing them to accept austerity programs. When the loans can‘t be repaid, China has, at times, declared ownership of the port, railroad or airport it just built. 

From the New Yorker:

In Malaysia, which once welcomed a surge of Chinese investment, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has grown concerned about “a new version of colonialism.” Mahathir cancelled Chinese projects worth almost 23 billion dollars, seeking to avoid the fate of Sri Lanka, which defaulted on heavy Chinese loans and eventually agreed to give Beijing control of a major seaport for 99 years.

Chinese President Xi Jinping visits South Africa in 2015. China has largely replaced the U.S. as Africa’s development leader. Credit: Government of South Africa

In general, economic partnerships like these are China’s way of reaching out to the world. As a burgeoning superpower, China knows it needs to make long term friends if it is to operate in those countries …and a more prosperous country eventually becomes a future trading partner. China wants some of their resources, to be sure, and it wants to sell Chinese goods. They see a potentially huge market. But there’s usually a power imbalance involved in these partnerships that gives China the upper hand. The trouble arises when China uses that advantage to exploit the recipient country.

The U.S. once famously invested in European countries this way, too. After World War II, the Marshall Plan was a way to woo Europeans who might have tilted towards Russia and communism. It also made trading partners of nations whose economies had been decimated. It worked. Today, the U.S. meddles in a lot of countries, overtly and covertly, often militarily, and often ends up both leaving a mess and making enemies as the recent release of communications within the U.S. military in Afghanistan show.

Climate and carbon

The environment and climate change is another area in which China is a study in contrasts, having wrought devastating destruction while pointing the way toward a greener future.

Even as it produces one-quarter of the world’s harmful emissions, China has taken huge steps to reduce its carbon footprint. Its state-owned enterprises have invested heavily in solar, surpassing their 2020 goal in 2017. The country appears to be on the verge of finally implementing the world’s largest national carbon market, covering 1,700 energy-related companies, which it launched in 2017 with the help of the Environmental Defense Fund. It’s on track to meet the emissions limits stipulated by the Paris Agreement. 

A panda-shaped solar farm in Datong, China. Credit: EPA

China is quite serious about this. As mentioned earlier, many nations and people around the world look to what China is doing as an example to follow, even if its faults are well publicized. These countries also want to raise their people out of poverty and become a force in the world. But will they be drawn to emulate the totalitarian and rapacious side of the Chinese state?

China, as the Western press loves to point out, has a horrendous human rights record. The Uyghur muslim population in western China is gradually being decimated. More than a million are in what are essentially concentration camps working as forced labor. (China denies this, but the atrocities are well documented.) 

Demonstrators protest China’s imprisonment of its Uighur Muslim population. Credit: Malcolm Brown / Flickr

But the Western capitalists are complicit in this, as well. From an op-ed by artist Ai Weiwei in the New York Times:

Westerners may think of Xinjiang as a distant and mysterious place, but in some ways it is not very exotic. Multinational corporations including Volkswagen, Siemens, Unilever and Nestlé have factories there. Supply chains for Muji and Uniqlo depend on Xinjiang, and companies such as H & M, Esprit and Adidas use Xinjiang cotton.

Might a “culturally different” nonwhite labor force play a role? People in no need of control because a harsh Communist government is already doing that work? In Xinjiang, as elsewhere in China, bosses from East and West have exchanged benefits, formed common interests and have even come to share some values. The chief executive of Volkswagen, which leads China in car sales, was recently asked for the company’s comment on the concentration camps in Xinjiang. He answered that VW knew nothing of such things, but the recent Xinjiang papers show otherwise. VW not only knew of the camps but signaled its readiness to go along.

The conundrum

So, how do we morally deal with situations like this? (And there are lots of them — China is just a giant example.) The world isn’t black and while — it’s vast and complicated. There is, one hopes, room for nuance, or there should be.

Pharmaceutical companies, for example, create medicines that save lives, but they also engage in ruthless predatory practices and have tacitly encouraged addiction. One in particular, the Sackler family, has profited from America’s opioid crisis. That same family also famously supports museums and the arts. Many of those arts institutions are now refusing Sackler money — in essence, they are saying that the family’s bad deeds are so egregious that they render their good ones irredeemable.  

Many arts institutions supported by the Sackler family have given back their funds. Credit: Serpentine Gallery

Social media and other forms of digital technology are amazing and often helpful, but they also, by systemic design, foster extremism, depression, alienation and addiction. Democracy is at risk. Craziness is on the rise. Data, AI and algorithms can be used to correct injustices, but also to exacerbate them. They can promote efficient and enlightened social and health initiatives, or reinforce existing biases and increase inequality. Bill Gates, one of the visionaries who brought us these wonders, is mostly viewed now for the good work his foundation does, and not as the rapacious monopolist he once was. Sometimes the bad simply gets forgotten. We forget the sordid past, or see what we want to see. 

For proof, look no further than the rise of the industrialized Western world, which occurred in very similar fashion to the way China’s rise is occurring now. A century ago, America and Europe ignored human rights, environmental concerns and basic safety protocols in their relentless pursuit of development. Economies were built on slavery and exploitation. Today, China is doing something similar, as are many other developed countries. There are lots of double-edged swords. How do we know which ones to pick up and which to leave alone? Can we separate the positive from the negative, or are they bundled too tightly together?

How shall we be?

As individuals and as a society, we like things to be simple, black and white, bad and good. We often evaluate situations as if they could be put on utilitarian scales, the good on one side and the bad on the other, to see whether more people are being helped than hurt. Does good cancel out bad? Can we use this utilitarian calculus, or is it flawed?

Credit: Flickr

It seems to me that attempting to itemize the positive and negative on a virtual scale is not really the way to go. Good does not really cancel out bad. That logic is close to the practices of the late Medieval Catholic Church, which sold “indulgences” (heavenly “get out of jail free” cards) to wealthy individuals.

Imagine there’s no heaven. Imagine no karma, no judgment by outside forces. It’s just us, humanity, who collectively assign value. We are social animals, and cooperation and other kinds of beneficial and prosocial behaviors are, sometimes surprisingly, part of our nature. Those parts should be encouraged. By looking at longer range effects and including externalities in the cost of doing business, by making repercussion part of the true costs of policies and business, we become stewards of our common humanity. 

It’s tricky, though. To much of the world, especially the developing world, China’s economic success serves as a practical example to emulate. And certain parts of what they have done  — lifting millions out of poverty, investing in renewable energy, eschewing military conflict (for now) — can and perhaps should be emulated. One doesn’t need to have a repressive authoritarian structure to learn from those practices. Can we learn from the best aspects of China’s economic, environmental and soft power initiatives and separate them from the authoritarianism? Should we? 

Can that distinction and separation be made? Can we extricate the good from the bad? Is that more than our brains can handle? Can we be less absolutist and take a deep breath and accept more nuance?

Atypically, this piece poses a question rather than pointing the way toward a solution. I’m asking myself if maybe I need to reorient my thinking, embrace more nuance, and accept that some solutions come with caveats.

The post Is It Okay to Copy China? appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

My review of Robert Clark’s book on Canada’s prisons

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 18/01/2020 - 3:34am in

Robert Clark has written a very good book about Canada’s prison system. Mr. Clark worked from 1980 until 2009 in seven different federal prisons, all located in Ontario. The book is a compilation of personal accounts based on the author’s various assignments.

Since prisons can be a pipeline into homelessness, I’ve reviewed the book with great interest.

My review is available here.

My review of Robert Clark’s book on Canada’s prisons

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 18/01/2020 - 3:34am in

Robert Clark has written a very good book about Canada’s prison system. Mr. Clark worked from 1980 until 2009 in seven different federal prisons, all located in Ontario. The book is a compilation of personal accounts based on the author’s various assignments.

Since prisons can be a pipeline into homelessness, I’ve reviewed the book with great interest.

My review is available here.

Bolivia’s New Right-Wing Government Intensifies Crackdown on Journalists, Doctors

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 11/01/2020 - 2:50am in

The U.S.-backed right-wing coup government of Jeanine Añez continues its moves against media and other dissenting voices. The latest victim of the crackdown was Marcelo Hurtado, president of the ATB media network. Hurtado was paraded before cameras; handcuffed and forced to wear a vest labeled “arrested.” He was flanked by two black clad, masked and armed members of the country’s infamous police, who led a successful coup against socialist president Evo Morales in November.

The Añez administration justified Hurtado’s public arrest on the grounds that he was linked to Morales and ex-Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera, in what new Communications Minister Roxana Lizarraga has called the “dismantling of the propaganda apparatus of the dictatorial regime of Evo Morales.” Since November, the new government has begun systematically destroying all voices opposed to it. TeleSUR, Bolivia TV and RT en Español have already been taken off the air, journalists have been shot, detained and tortured. Meanwhile, Al-Jazeera correspondent Teresa Bo was tear-gassed in the face live on air at point-blank range by riot police as she stood alone, talking to the camera.

The repression of journalists has brought back memories of previous eras when most of Latin America was ruled by fascist dictatorships. But unlike in Argentina or Chile, where the governments “disappeared” dissenting voices, refusing to confirm or deny their involvement, the Bolivian government is doing so openly; in fact, making pains to publicize their treatment of their opponents.

Another group the Añez administration is targeting is doctors. On Monday the same armed, masked police conducted a press conference displaying Mirtha Sanjinez, a hospital administrator who had disobeyed orders not to treat injured opponents of the government. “I am innocent. Gentlemen of the Civic Committee: stop persecuting innocent people, I am an honorable person, I have worked honorably,” said the elderly lady to the cameras of pro-Añez media attending, as she was taken away to an uncertain fate.

Cuban doctors provided the backbone of Bolivia’s universal healthcare service. However, upon gaining power, Añez immediately expelled the entire cadre, over 700 in total, closing down health facilities aimed at the country’s poor. In more than a decade of partnership with the previous socialist government, Cuban doctors had carried out over 72 million consultations across Bolivia. This week MintPress News’ Ollie Vargas visited a hospital in the city of Cochabamba where 143 Cuban staff provided free healthcare to those who needed it, finding it closed and abandoned. He also reported that Bolivian doctors who had previously collaborated with Cuban colleagues had been arrested.

In November, after military generals and police appeared on television demanding his resignation, President Morales fled to Mexico. In his place, the military picked Añez, a lesser-known senator. Añez’s right-wing Democrat Social Movement Party won just four percent of the vote in the October elections that sparked the unrest and, eventually, the coup. In contrast, Morales’ Movement to Socialism (MAS) party received 47 percent. Añez immediately exonerated the military of all previous and future crimes, giving them a carte blanche to kill anyone opposing the new military-approved government. Medea Benjamin was on the scene of the Senkata massacre for MintPress News, where she noted the morgues were overwhelmed so local church pews were filled with blood-soaked corpses.

Despite labeling itself an “interim government,” in classic “shock doctrine” style the new administration has also planned a mass privatization program and reoriented Bolivia’s foreign policy, pulling out of several regional organizations. New elections are scheduled for May. However, with Morales and others in the MAS banned and labeled “terrorists” by the current administration, it is difficult to see how they will be free and fair. Añez has already declared that Bolivia must prevent the “savages” (i.e. the indigenous majority) returning to power.

An eight-person team from the United States government agency USAID arrived in Bolivia Thursday purporting to be experts in electoral systems aiming to strengthen and support the May elections. The U.S. government immediately welcomed the November coup and has supported a number of previous attempts at dislodging Morales from power. The MAS has set a date of next weekend to choose their candidate. While the left is united around MAS and against the coup, the right has fractured into four roughly equal factions, opening up the possibility of a serious vote-splitting problem for the current administration. But regardless, without a free and independent press, the May elections will surely lack legitimacy.

Feature photo | A press conference announcing the arrest of Hospital Administrator, Mirtha Sanjinez, center, in La Paz, Bolivia. Screenshot | YouTube

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

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