Spain sends SWAT team to evict family

Spanish (Madrid) eviction (Andres Kudacki:AP) Jan 24 2015

Cecilia Paredes tends to her 2-month-old infant while riot cops surround her apartment in Madrid, Spain. Is the SWAT team there because Paredes smuggles drugs or robbed a bank or murdered someone–or protested against the austerity programs? What felony has she committed that merits a SWAT team? What evil lurks behind that feigned distress?

Paredes lost her job as an elderly care assistant (the wages for such work are always rock bottom) two years ago & her husband Wilson Ruilova is an unemployed electrician. They have three children: the baby plus a 7-year-old & a teenager. The family are immigrants from Ecuador.

Without jobs they have been unable to pay the rent & the SWAT team is there to evict them. (No surprise since SWAT teams are now used even to deliver traffic citations to church ladies.) Spain does have unemployment insurance but all sorts of restrictions & cutbacks in benefits are part of the austerity programs. When they moved into the building it was government owned but under the terms of the IMF-EU austerity programs requiring privatization, it was sold last year to an investor group along with 1,800 other apartments built as public housing for the working poor. The new owner (indistinguishable from a beast of prey) demanded the family’s eviction.

The resistance of Paredes & Ruilova to eviction can be understood since it’s hell to live on the street in the winter with an infant & two kids. What’s also understandable is why the Spanish government is trying to make all protest illegal.

Our fullest solidarity with those millions of Spanish who continue to protest this barbarism. Our deepest regrets we have not yet marshaled enough solidarity to stay the hand of neoliberal predation for which this young family is paying so dearly.

(Photo by Andres Kudacki/AP)

I wanted to write about magic. But I was born under capitalism & there aint much of that.

People of Paper Jan 23 2015

“I wanted to write you a story about magic. I wanted rabbits appearing from hats. I wanted balloons lifting you into the sky. It turned out to be nothing but sadness, war, heartbreak. You never saw it, but there’s a garden inside me.”

I found this magical quote on the wall of a Facebook friend who thought it might be from Rumi, the extraordinary 13th-century Persian poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, & Sufi mystic who wrote in four languages & is still the most popular poet in the US.

The quote turns out to be from “Light Boxes: A Novel” published in 2009 by Shane Jones, a writer from Albany, NY. It’s a novella & sustained metaphor about creativity where a malignant godlike figure named February punishes a town for their love of flying kites, balloons, even birds & bees by sentencing them eternally to the frigid days of February. The children begin to disappear, attempts at revolt turn disastrous, & the town is overwhelmed with despondence. (A lot like cabin fever if you’ve ever spent a winter in Minnesota.)

Now here’s where the plot sickens. According to numerous reviewers, “Light Boxes” is outright mimicry of “The People of Paper,” published in 2005 by Salvador Plascencia, an American writer who was born in Guadalajara, Mexico & moved with his family to California as migrant workers. The book, which in form is experimental fiction drawing on the magical realism of Latin American writers, is about migrant workers. According to one reviewer, “There is not one jot or tittle on the page that does not pay some unspoken, uncredited homage (or, as we in the literary & academic communities call it, “plagiarism”) to People of Paper.” The only thing that changes is the ethnicity of the townspeople.

Plascencia himself has made this accusation since Jones emailed his praise of the book before his own was published & said he was recommending it to everybody at the bookstore where he worked. Plascencia called it freeloading & piggybacking on “The People of Paper” without any formal acknowledgement. Jones is laughing all the way to the bank. He wouldn’t be the first to freeload or plagiarize from Black & Latino artists. The attorneys for Jone’s publisher have notified Plascencia that there are at least sixteen legal precedents for why “Light Boxes” does not infringe on his rights. But as Plascencia says, “this is also a serious question about originality, the problems of influence, & what it means to be a writer.”

(PS: I’ve read neither book but now intend to read both. And I still think the quote magical. I just wish Rumi had said it.)

(Photo is cover from first edition of “The People of Paper”)

Good riddance to Abdullah

Are we supposed to mourn that Saudi Arabian king who just croaked? He’s got 30 wives & 35 kids for that. What’s to say about a guy who’s heading straight to hell for the Saudi role in Iraq, the Egyptian, Bahraini, & Yemeni uprisings, Palestine; for how they treat women & immigrants; & a horrific human rights record? How about good riddance & “Rot In Peace”?

NGOs and neoliberal predation

Pranav Shetty (Mark Wilson:Getty Images) Jan 22 2015

This photo is three of Michelle Obama’s guests at the State of the Union Address. The showboater & woman are Alan & Judith Gross. He’s the USAID official jailed in Cuba & recently swapped for the Cuban Five who were imprisoned here. It’s the guy in the far left that is relevant to this post. He is Dr. Pranav Shetty, an official with the International Medical Corps who served five months in west Africa for the Ebola epidemic. Obama saluted their work in his speech. Ordinarily Shetty would drift back into NGO oblivion but he’s been making media rounds since his return in December (touted as an expert on the epidemic) & was recently interviewed on PBS news.

Our man Dr. Shetty is the epitome of the NGO bureaucrat & in interviews he speaks not so much in cliches as in formulas. He praised US agencies in west Africa to high heaven & claimed they had the Ebola epidemic under control. He sounds just like the US State Department. The US sent 3,000 troops in late September to “build treatment units, train health-care workers, operate diagnostic laboratories, & provide logistics support in the region.” They must have been real busy because now just four months later the US is reducing the number of soldiers because they claim their tasks are completed & “the pace of infections continues to slow.”

USAID has also been active in the Ebola epidemic. They had to disperse all that $5.48 billion of US Ebola aid allocated in December. They’ve been coordinating, administrating, doing operations & logistics but all they can point to is a 25-bed hospital in Monrovia, Liberia for health care workers afflicted with Ebola. What the hell did they do with all that money? Or is it another of those humanitarian aid scams where things get pledged but never delivered? Or is it like in Afghanistan where USAID uses humanitarian aid to bribe officials?

It would be great news to hear the Ebola epidemic has actually been reversed but that scenario is not substantiated by statistics. In the last year till today there have been nearly 22,000 cases of Ebola in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone with total deaths of 8,668. That’s a 40% fatality rate. In October 2014, there were 4,000 deaths. That means for the past four months there have been 1,168 deaths a month which is more than double the deaths in the first ten months of 2014. There were 42 new deaths just in the past 24 hours.

So why is our Dr. Shetty talking rubbish? The International Medical Corps, where he’s the global emergency health coordinator, is connected to the highest levels of power including the White House, US Congress, USAID, several agencies of the UN including WHO, the European Union, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Gates Foundation, & the Clinton Bush Haiti fund. They’re endowed with big bucks from the big players in world politics. They are also one of the founders of Bono’s group ONE where they collaborate with Oxfam, CARE, Save the Children, Mercy Corps.

In one interview given in December 2014, Dr. Shetty quite frankly acknowledged the complete lack of a public health system in Liberia. There were no primary care facilities to begin with. That explains why deathly ill Ebola victims were dumped on the floors of abandoned schoolhouses or people died in the streets. Now what makes our man’s admission so interesting is that in 2009 the Liberian president & Nobel Peace Prize winner Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf wrote in the Washington Post that in the previous three years the Liberian government had doubled primary school enrollment nationwide & refurbished hundreds of health facilities with foreign aid. So why do they have abandoned schoolhouses & no clinics?

In 2009, Dambisa Moyo, a Zambian economist & banker, published “Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working & How There is a Better Way For Africa.” Moyo is hardly a radical critic of capitalism. She’s been honored at Davos; feted by Oprah; serves on corporate boards including Barclays Bank, was an economist at Goldman Sachs & a consultant to the World Bank; speaks at the World Bank, IMF, Council on Foreign Relations, the American Enterprise Institute; writes for the Wall Street Journal & Financial Times; & appears as a guest on BBC, CNN, Fox, & Bloomberg. You don’t get those kind of gigs if you are a critic of neoliberalism in Africa.

Moyo is a conservative critic of foreign aid to Africa because it is not used to build schools & clinics but to distort economies & corrupt public officials (like Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf). But Moyo thinks capitalism can solve the problems it creates, that private financial markets would make governments accountable to lenders. There’s some simple-minded economics here & some serious cognitive dissonance, of the kind caused by privilege. She has a masters from Harvard & a doctorate from Oxford but it’s as if she came late to the party.

What’s significant is not her book but the reaction such a conservative critique of foreign aid got from NGOs–with Bono & his ONE group leading the charge. They produced dozens of outraged reviews & articles from people like Jeffrey Sachs & Johnson-Sirleaf damning Moyo’s theses even though her book did not challenge NGO aid, only direct government aid. If you consider the nexus between NGOs & government agencies that overreaction makes sense.

There is a necessary discussion that needs to be held on the role of NGOs & so-called humanitarian aid within the neoliberal system, the barbaric phase of capitalism. What exactly are they up to? The ruling elite are meeting in Davos this week to coordinate strategies & to try to work out their differences. Capitalism is a competitive system after all & they are presently in a currency war. Their system is spiraling out of control & resistance is erupting across the globe. Most of the ONE crowd will be in Davos & we need to come to grips with why? With what function they serve? Anyone who thinks the NGO elite give a rat’s ass about human suffering & poverty haven’t been following them very closely.

(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The majesty of Islamic art

Afghan mosque Jan 22 2015

Look at this magnificent structure; consider the mathematics, engineering, architecture, craft, artistry, sheer brilliance of it’s conception, design, construction. The building, most likely a mosque, is from Afghanistan–though after 14 years of US-NATO bombing we don’t know if it’s still standing since mosques were so often targeted.

US-NATO war propaganda is so at odds with this image. Do you think the Pentagon & its European stooges might be lying to us? That Afghanistan really never needed emancipation US-style? Because in the US, there is nothing to compare unless one considers the White House an architectural masterpiece & not an eyesore.

(“Afghanistan” photo by Roland Michaud. Collection “Rêves et réalités”, Hachette. 1970.)

Muslims linked to male pattern baldness

And while we’re engaged in this orgy of contrition, I think Muslims should collectively own up to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Previously it was thought to be from a meteorite event or possibly mischief from the House of Rothschild. Space exploration has proven the former unlikely & the latter has been exposed as anti-Semitism. Now scientists are seeing Islam written all over the event.

There is also accumulating evidence of Muslim involvement in global warming & male pattern baldness. Where will this all end!?

“By their deeds you shall know them,” sayeth the Lord

Aren’t there a lot of Bible quotes about how you “reap what you sow,” & “by their deeds you shall know them”? Or was that Mark Twain? Anyway, judging from the fallout of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons (increased attacks on Muslims) & the twitter-storm of racist comments after viewing “American Sniper” it’s looking like some obituaries need to be re-written. If your sorry-assed legacy is social hatred you might better have served the world in a cloistered monastery.

Pope Francis speaks on sex–something he knows nothing about

Pope Francis in Philippines ( REUTERS:Stefano Rellandini) Jan 21 2015

There is no reason in the world why those who believe in women’s reproductive rights should give Pope Francis a free pass for his comments about birth control on his trip to the Philippines. Quite frankly, he disgraced himself.

Out of all the massive problems faced by Filipino working people, including militarism & massive homelessness, the Pope chose to focus on birth control. The most ardent feminist can understand, even if they don’t accept, the scruples of some about abortion. But birth control is what they call a “no-brainer.” He was protesting the Filipino Responsible Parenthood & Reproductive Health Act passed in 2012 that gives women access to contraception (but appears to have links to the Gates Foundation & eugenics campaigns).

The Pope had the temerity to equate the population control of eugenicist practitioners (like the Gates Foundation) with reproductive rights advocates. Which is exactly what the US right-wing does to oppose reproductive rights.

He should have left well enough alone but on the plane back to Rome he ad-libbed his way to infamy when he said the Church advocated “responsible parenthood” & that to be good Catholics they needn’t ‘breed like rabbits.’ He cited a woman he recently met who had seven children by caesarean section & put her life at risk by becoming pregnant again. He said he chided her for “tempting God” & for being irresponsible. You don’t have to be a feminist to stand aghast at the arrogance.

He told reporters the Church allows natural family planning (nothing kills sexual spontaneity faster) & abstinence during a woman’s fertile period. Before he keeps pronouncing on sexual matters someone needs to send him a copy of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” so he can get educated on human physiology.

Let’s say it outright: the Pope’s comments are an outrage insulting to those many Catholics who took the birth control ban seriously but still wanted to have sex. His comments demean human sexuality & women in one fell swoop. Maybe he’d better stay put in the Vatican for awhile.

(Photo of Pope Francis stepping in horse manure on the plane to Rome by Stefano Rellandini/Reuters)

State of the Union address 2015: so earnest, so meaningless

OBAMA 2015

No need to do an exegesis of Obama’s speech last night–so earnest, so pompous, so absolutely meaningless. He had nothing to say on the several US wars, & less to say on Ferguson & civil rights or immigration rights. That is, he had nothing to say on the life & death issues facing millions of working people.

In an attempt to be inspirational he spoke of equality. But his words are so at odds with his deeds–& now he gets to blame it all on the Republicans. What a bait & switch operation it all is.

Let’s do a simple fact check on his claims the economy is growing. (Though, to be fair he never did say who it was growing for.) If employment levels are looking so good why are food banks around the country reporting soaring demands for food assistance? Is it because the new minimum wage jobs don’t cut it if you want to have housing & eat too? Why are schools having to deal with starving kids before they even start the day’s lessons?

A little over two years ago the government cut the food stamp program $5 billion across-the-board & are gradually implementing $6 billion more cuts through 2016. Through all sorts of new restrictions which have nothing to do with hungry kids, they expect to cut food stamp recipients by one million hungry people. Such is the character of Obama’s compassion. He could try to blame this on the Republicans too but the cuts were implemented in 2013 when Democrats were the majority. So much for that baloney.

And one last point about that speech. It was a masterpiece of xenophobia. At what point do you grow up & realize the US is not the be-all & end-all of human civilization? Or is neoliberal barbarism just not capable of making that judgement? (PS: it isn’t & it’s gotta go.)

(Photo by Mandel Ngan/AP)

“Je suis Charlie” is code for Je suis merde

Now that the furor over the Charlie Hebdo massacre has abated we can appreciate some of the comedy involved. Like people arguing with great umbrage that the satire of the cartoons is very French & not racist & xenophobic as they appear to the rest of the world. Are the French really that backward politically? Imbecility is not a flattering defense. It’s the kind of political defense you expect from Brigitte Bardot or Gerard Depardieu & that should give pause.

We can also cut the crap on that free speech stuff. The demand for free speech is something you direct at governments, not three dead gunmen. Reportedly, France is cracking down on people who make smart cracks & arrested a kid who did a satiric post about CH on FB, accusing him of defending terrorism. Is that French sarcasm too?

What’s not comical is that attacks on Muslim businesses & mosques in France have increased (60 since the CH event); that an Islamophobic march in Germany attracted 20,000 thugs; & that the Belgian police had a shootout against what they called an Islamist terrorist cell. They took them all out by claiming they were conspiring to commit acts of terror. Since when do you summarily execute people on an allegation? Why didn’t they arrest them, interrogate them, prosecute them instead of killing them all? What about that free speech thing?

This Islamophobic stuff is going to crescendo & the only way to respond to it is to build the antiwar movement & Palestinian solidarity (which both involve Islamophobia). You can’t talk people out of this rubbish. You have to answer it with power–which if it doesn’t persuade does silence the haters & intimidate the thugs.