17.06.2018 Pressenza London

Tips from Tomas Hirsch, Chilean parliamentarian: how other parties can recover their meaning

In spite of their different roots Christian Democratic and Social Democratic parties have been occupying similar slots in the political spectrum, and are suffering today a similar crisis, brought about by their efforts to adapt to neoliberal dominance, not only in economic terms but also existential.

In this context the advice given by the Humanist Party parliamentarian in the Chilean chamber of deputies for the Broad Front, Tomas Hirsch, to the Christian Democratic (CD) Party could be an invaluable material for discussion for parties willing to recover their sense of meaningful political action at the service of society.

Here is a translation of Pressenza Chile’s report:

Invited to the forum organized by the Chilean Christian Democrats, regarding their own crisis and rescuing visions aa well as opinions of representatives of other collectives to define what they need to get out of their situation of decomposition, the Humanist deputy of the Frente Amplio, Tomás Hirsch, expressed his opinion with the following words:

“Many thanks to the organisers for the invitation to reflect on the current needs of CD. I have been asked to give my views (from outside) on the crisis of the Christian Democratic Party and what should be done to get out of it. Of course, my vision is given from a particular point of view: as a humanist, and as a member of the Broad Front. For this reason, I am grateful for the willingness to listen to external voices, convinced that this is the right thing to do, since on many occasions it is “other eyes” that allow us to identify our most important virtues. These virtues are the ones we rely on to advance, including at the individual level.

Throughout this reflection, my vision will seek to rescue key milestones and leaderships from the history of the Christian Democrats in Chile, which may serve as an inspiration for the current crisis. It seems to me that the recovery of these pillars can be useful to orient the CD once again in a communitarian, mystical and coherent direction. Three key elements for the solution to its current crisis, marked by individualism, pragmatism and contradiction with its own principles.

First of all. Christian democracy has a strong communitarian component, which has led it to promote policies to rebuild the social fabric at various points in its history. It has a focus on building social and political community. Thus, during the government of Frei Montalva, progress was made in the creation of cooperatives and new social organisations, with the idea of creating grassroots organisations capable of responding to their own problems. The same direction can also be seen in the strengthening of trade unionism during the same mandate. Perhaps the strongest reference point in this direction is the impetus given to agrarian reform during those same years. This communitarian component can be a key doctrinal pillar for the solution of the current crisis in CD. As a bastion of social organisation in the face of the draconian individualism of the neoliberal model that has prevailed in our country for several decades. The historical political doctrine of the CD is not in line with the neoliberalism embraced by some of its most conservative activistss, such as Mariana Aylwin. That is not the DC’s historical line. I believe that as a party it has a role to play at this time in Chile’s politics, offering alternatives to this petty individualism governed by the markets.

Second. Another of the historical elements that must be rescued is the mystical achievement present in the Christian Democrats in many of their struggles. The “March of our Young Land” or the struggle against Pinochet’s dictatorship are examples of this. Such transformative actions need to be rescued and serve as guidance and inspiration at these times. Recently I read an interview with Senator Huenchumilla in which he stated that the Christian Democrats do not have a strategy today, that “we simply coordinate the day to day”. That is the synthesis of my argument and one of the keys to the crisis. This is a clear reflection of the current situation and the lack of a strategic project that I mentioned earlier. The CD went from wanting to transform the country to administering the neoliberal model. In the face of pragmatism and the short-term situation, in the face of the immediacy of particular interests and the simple search for power; the mystique -now absent- can be a springboard towards a policy that builds meaning and transcends the particular. You have to look for it, because it’s there. That mystique that is present in grassroots activists and that is present throughout DC’s history. It is not in the “Personages”, but in the common people.

Third. There is often talk of the “two souls” of CD: one progressive and one conservative. There are those who say they can live together and those who say there is no room for the two souls in the party. The (conflicting) coexistence of the two souls has a limit, and this limit is the contradiction with the principles themselves. The principles that give rise to the Christian Democracy are unique, beyond the multiple interpretations. This declaration of principles of 1957 mentions that the mission of CD is “to achieve true democracy”, that it is a task of “human liberation” and that it “promotes the rise of popular forces aimed at transforming the structures of society in our time”.(1)

I don’t see two souls, I see only one. I see a very clear soul and principles. If there are “personages” in the party who want to go in another direction, it will be with the burden of contradicting those principles, beyond any justification for the number of souls that the CD may have. However, be clear that when a party contradicts its own principles, it is destined for political irrelevance. The crisis arises when one loses connection with the deeper meaning that guides political action, and loses and dilutes it in short-term analysis and the simple search for power (for power itself). The Christian Democrats have lost coherence with their own principles and must regain it. An incoherent party has no destiny other than disappearance.

I think it is valuable to recognise that the CD Party is in crisis. It is in a huge crisis. And there’s no sign of change at the moment. Its reality is marked by power struggles, loss of direction and strategy and inconsistency with its own principles. It has no project. However, with adequate reflection, it has in itself the elements to be able to emerge from the crisis. They don’t abound, but they are there. Its communitarian position in opposition to neoliberal individualism, its mysticism and principles  against short-term dominance and pragmatism are some of the pillars it can (and should) embrace if it is interested in emerging from the crisis.

And how does that translate (from our point of view as Broad Front) into a concrete legislative agenda? In an agenda of strengthening democracy, with an emphasis on the decentralisation of power and strengthening the social base. In an agenda that prioritises the strengthening of trade union organisations, taking negotiation by branch as a central axis. In the recovery of natural resources, common to all Chileans: water, copper and lithium. In strengthening the common, the collective. That’s what I think DC’s progressive history talks about.

I hope that my reflections will serve as a contribution to identifying diagnostic elements in the CD crisis, but also some “virtues” that can serve as a pillar to get out of it. Every crisis can be painful, but it also brings with it the possibility of changing things and opening up new horizons. I close my presentation by expressing my sincere hope that these elements of the future that I mentioned will prevail over those that have led to the deepening of the crisis.

Thank you again to the organisers of this event for inviting me.”

1 Declaration of Principles of the Christian Democratic Party (1957). Retrieved from: http://www.archivochile.com/Partidos_burguesia/pdc/de/PBdepdc0001.pdf


16.06.2018 – St. Mary’s, Georgia Pressenza New York

The Kings Bay Plowshares 7

Reprinted with permission from The Catholic Worker, Mary House, NYC for the July 2018 issue.

By Amanda Daloisio

On April 4th, 2018, seven activists entered the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in St. Mary’s, Georgia. Their destination included the Strategic Weapons Facility Atlantic Administration building, the nuclear weapons storage bunkers and the Trident D5 monument. At each site they used everyday hammers and poured their own blood, dramatically highlighting the destruction inherent in the planning, creation, and use of nuclear weapons and our desperate need to dismantle them. As Martha Hennessy has written since, “We walked onto a military base that harbors the ultimate destruction and we prayed for the power of a message, of a witness that could reach many ears; conversion of free will towards life-giving work and away from death-dealing.” Calling themselves the Kings Bay Plowshares, they became the latest in over one hundred similar actions that have spanned the last thirty-eight years.

Opened in 1979, the Kings Bay Naval Base is the largest nuclear submarine base in the world, housing six ballistic missile and two guided missile submarines. Activist Mark Colville wrote from jail, “The destructive capacity of the D-5 missiles fitted for the six Trident submarines home-ported at Kings Bay is enough to kill an estimate of more than six billion people. “(See nukewatchinfo.org) So it was on this site that they gathered to take action, to draw the attention of a distracted society to the very real consequences of this one part of the US nuclear arsenal. As Liz McAlister explained “We acted to expose this criminality and withdraw our consent to participate in the crime of the production and maintenance of nuclear weapons.”

The first Plowshares action occurred on September 9th, 1980, when eight activists went to the General Electric ReEntry Division in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. Then, and today, Plowshares activists enact the Biblical call of Isaiah, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” Hammers are used to dismantle our weapons of war but also to remind us of all we are capable of building for the common good. Blood is poured to bring home the blood shed worldwide by our constant thirst for war making. The seven spelled it out by writing Love One Another on the ground, a reminder that God’s call to us is that of justice and peacemaking. Writes Liz McAlister, “But, above all, we come with our voices and our lives. We raise our voices in a cry to dismantle the weapons—all of them and we risk life and limb and our future hopes to make this plea: Dismantle the Weapons.”

Reflecting on the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., their statements reads, “Dr. King said, ‘The greatest purveyor of violence in the world (today) is my own government.’ This remains true in the midst of our endless war on terror. The United States has embraced a permanent war economy. ‘Peace through strength’ is a dangerous lie in a world that includes weapons of mass destruction on hair-trigger alert. The weapons from one Trident have the capacity to end life as we know it on planet Earth. Nuclear weapons kill every day through our mining, production, testing, storage, and dumping, primarily on Indigenous Native land. This weapons systems is a cocked gun being held to the head of the planet.”

The seven activists are Mark Colville of New Haven, Connecticut; Clare Grady of Ithaca, New York; Martha Hennessy of Springfield, Vermont; Fr. Steve Kelly, SJ of Oakland, California; Liz McAlister of Baltimore, Maryland; Patrick O’Neill of Garner, North Carolina and Carmen Trotta of the New York, New York. Writes Clare Grady, “We invite others who have been privileged by these systems [referring to Dr. King’s triplets of racism, materialism and militarism] to join us in withdrawing consent from their deadly function and purpose. We live with hope for a nuclear-free, decolonized world.”

For up to date information and to support: www.kingsbayplowshares7.org

15.06.2018 World beyond War

What Else Canadians Should Be Sorry For — Besides Burning the White House

By David Swanson,

Six-years after the British landing at Jamestown, with the settlers struggling to survive and hardly managing to get their own local genocide underway, these new Virginians hired mercenaries to attack Acadia and (fail to) drive the French out of what they considered their continent.

The colonies that would become the United States decided to take over Canada in 1690 (and failed, again).

They got the British to help them in 1711 (and failed, yet again).

General Braddock and Colonel Washington tried again in 1755 (and still failed, except in the ethnic cleansing perpetrated and the driving out of the Acadians and the Native Americans).

The British and U.S. attacked in 1758 and took away a Canadian fort, renamed it Pittsburgh, and eventually built a giant stadium across the river dedicated to the glorification of ketchup.

George Washington sent troops led by Benedict Arnold to attack Canada yet again in 1775.

An early draft of the U.S. Constitution provided for the inclusion of Canada, despite Canada’s lack of interest in being included.

Benjamin Franklin asked the British to hand Canada over during negotiations for the Treaty of Paris in 1783. Just imagine what that might have done for Canadian healthcare and gun laws! Or don’t imagine it. Britain did hand over Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, and Indiana. (At least they know they’re free!)

In 1812 the U.S. proposed to march into Canada and be welcomed as liberators. They weren’t. But the Canadians didn’t burn the White House. That was done by British troops that included men recently escaped from U.S. slavery. Killing some of those escapees is celebrated in the U.S. National Anthem, as is the fact that during a battle in which people died, a flag survived.

The U.S. supported an Irish attack on Canada in 1866.

Who remembers this song?

Secession first he would put down
Wholly and forever,
And afterwards from Britain’s crown
He Canada would sever.
Yankee Doodle, keep it up,
Yankee Doodle dandy.
Mind the music and the step
and with the girls be handy!

Canada has a heck of a lot to answer for, including having served as sanctuary for people fleeing slavery or conscription into evil wars, not to mention providing handy evidence cited in millions of futile debates against U.S. proponents of the impossibility of providing healthcare or banning guns or achieving freedom without a bloody war or ending slavery without a bloody war or being truly happy without a lot of bloody wars. Then there’s that whole banning land mines thing; what was that about?

In defense of Canada, however, it should be noted that Canadian companies deal weapons around the world, Canada buys U.S. weapons, Canada spends $20 billion a year preparing for wars, Canada is a member of NATO in good standing, Canada has not joined the new treaty banning nuclear weapons, Canada’s cruelty to its indigenous nations knows no end, Canada’s rapacious extraction of fossil fuels knows few rivals, and Canada is a disastrous promoter of the myths of humanitarian war and the so-called responsibility to protect (by bombing). So, there’s hope yet for such northerners, and if Canada fails to find its way as part of the global epidemic of organized violence, I imagine the United States would be happy to invade.

Let’s Continue Progress Toward Peace in Korea

Less than a year ago, President Donald Trump was threatening North Korea with “fire and fury.”

Today such threats are completely absent from his remarks and tweets.

Today Trump said, “We will be stopping the war games . . . I think it’s very provocative.” This move has been a central proposal in the People’s Peace Treaty and other petitions and actions that Korean and American and global peace activists have advanced — and precisely for the reason that practice bombing flights are extremely provocative. It was their suspension during the Olympic truce that advanced peace, and their resumption more recently that — together with threatening comments from the likes of John Bolton — impeded progress and temporarily canceled the just-held summit.

But we should not forget the earlier necessary focus on halting the verbal threats coming from Trump himself. That we have moved away from those is the big news.

Yes it’s embarrassing and annoying to watch Trump brag and praise himself falsely and present a false history of the world and of his own recent actions, all of which he did in Singapore following the screening of a ridiculous propaganda video that his team had produced and shown to the North Koreans as well as to the press. But these things are not more embarrassing or annoying than watching humanity actually end in “fire and fury.”

The important thing to notice about Tuesday’s Singapore press conference is that every question from the U.S. media pushed for greater hawkishness, while Trump alone suggested anything in the direction of peace. Last week seven Democratic senators insisted in a letter to Trump that sanctions relief for North Korea await total North Korean disarmament and inspections. Tuesday Trump spoke of sanctions relief as part of the process ahead.

If the U.S. government is going to get out of the way of the peace process that Koreans from the North and South are pursuing, the U.S. public is going to have to actively demand it. The corporate media will not help. The Democratic and Republican “leaders” will not help. Trump will trip over his own ego and willful ignorance if not guided in a useful direction. That such a thing is possible, that the Korean War may finally end, that the U.S. military presence in Korea may actually end — Nobody can doubt these things any longer. And that makes it our responsibility to work for them.

12.06.2018 – Singapore International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

ICAN Singapore Summit Response Press Release
Trump gives Kim a thumbs up in the summit room during the DPRK–USA Singapore Summit (Image by Dan Skavino Jr on twitter @Scavino45)

As Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump signed an “agreement” in Singapore today, ICAN welcomes the diplomatic efforts but warns that only a process based in international law and existing treaty frameworks will achieve nuclear disarmament and fully denuclearise the Korean Peninsula.

ICAN’s Executive Director Beatrice Fihn said, “Trump just pulled off the photo-op of a lifetime. Rather than signing an unsubstantial agreement, Trump and Kim should be signing a real document based on international law, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The Treaty doesn’t tweet, it doesn’t change its mind on the plane home, and can’t have it’s ego bruised. It’s the only comprehensive, verifiable and irreversible way to achieve meaningful nuclear disarmament.”

At a press conference in Singapore yesterday, ICAN presented a concrete plan for removing nuclear weapons and threats of their use in the region. The Korean Peninsula Denuclearisation Framework outlines five steps to denuclearise North and South Korea.

The plan calls on the countries to recognize the unacceptable humanitarian risk of nuclear weapons; reject nuclear weapons by joining the TPNW; remove existing weapons with verifiable and time-bound plans; ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT); and rejoin the world community through the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Speaking at the Capella Hotel, the site of the Summit, Akira Kawasaki of the ICAN International Steering Group responded to the agreement saying, “The commitment by the US and DPRK to establish new relations and build lasting and stable peace on the Korean Peninsula is positive and a testament to the skillful diplomacy of President Moon of South Korea.”

He added, “Any peace with nuclear weapons will not be sustainable. Real peace is only achieved by eliminating nuclear weapons, prohibited weapons of mass destruction. We already have international treaties to achieve it. We’ll continue to urge all parties to join the TPNW. ICAN’s five-step proposal should serve as a guide in the process to come.”

11.06.2018 Waging Nonviolence

When you have an AR-15 but want a garden hoe
Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares, a sculpture by Evgeniy Vuchetich in the United Nations Art Collection (Image by Neptuul • CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

By June 6, 2018 for Yes! Magazine, vía Waging Nonviolence

Blacksmiths in Colorado use their anvils to turn guns into gardening tools, reshaping America’s gun culture one strike of the hammer at a time.

This is the work of the “Swords to Plows” initiative of the nonprofit RAWTools. Gun owners from around the country send RAWTools their disassembled weapons for transformation. Most guns can be made into several tools, such as hoes and pickaxes. Shotguns often become hand spades, and a weapon like the AR-15 that was used in recent mass shootings has a thicker barrel that suits an afterlife as a mattock.

RAWTools’ first donated gun was an AK-47 from a retired public defender. Since then, it has reshaped more than 200 weapons so far, with more in progress. The tools they create are typically returned to the donor, given to community gardens, or sold to raise money for programming.

RAWTools founder and executive director Mike Martin was inspired to learn blacksmithing and start the nonprofit after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. By late May 2018, 23 school shootings in the United States have involved injury or death this year.

This summer, RAWTools and the Newtown Foundation, an organization formed after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting to focus on post-gun violence healing, will carry out an extensive version of weapons transformation. In cooperation with the New Haven Police Department in Connecticut, weapons from a gun buyback program will be taken apart by a local metal sculptor. Volunteer inmates from the New Haven Correctional Center will do the blacksmithing to create the tools, which will be used by students at local high schools to plant gardens. The harvests will be donated to soup kitchen and shelters.

“The entire process will essentially transform weapons of death into implements of life,” Newtown Foundation communications director Steve Yanovsky said.

Martin is a former Mennonite pastor. “Swords to Plows” is a reference to the biblical quote, “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks … nor will they train for war anymore.”

He works with his dad and three other blacksmiths locally in Colorado Springs, as well as in traveling programs. RAWTools also promotes community dialogue around gun violence and leads peacemaking workshops. It partners with churches, community groups and organizations like the Newtown Foundation and the Children’s Defense Fund.

During the group’s community demos and workshops, participants can try their hand at forging the metal. Cherie Ryans is one of numerous mothers who lost a child to gun violence and has taken a turn at the RAWTools forge. Martin said that between each swing of the hammer to the iron she said: “This bang is bang for bang my bang son.”

“I was holding the hot metal as she did it. Everyone was in tears, and it was all I could do to hold the metal safely,” Martin said.

More than 300 million guns are loose in America — the equivalent of about one gun per person. About 96 people are killed by guns in America every day.

The type of gun surrender program that RAWTools is reimagining has been going on in the United States since the 90s in the form of police-run buybacks. Weapons can be turned in anonymously to police, no questions asked. To encourage participation, police often give out gift cards in return.

A 1994 study evaluating a Seattle buyback, which the National Rifle Association references, concluded that while buybacks are broadly supported by communities, their effect on decreasing violent crime and reducing firearm mortality is unknown. The nonprofit GUNXGUN, which mobilizes community-funded buybacks, states the infrequent and isolated nature of U.S. buyback programs makes it hard to analyze their effectiveness. But, it points out that after a 1996 mass shooting in Australia, an extensive buyback program coupled with stricter gun regulations led to a significant reduction in firearm deaths.

Getting firearms out of circulation is only one of many potential ways to reduce gun violence. Along with changing guns into peaceful instruments, RAWTools runs workshops on intentional conflict resolution. Martin says these range from “serious to silly” and integrate dramatic arts, role-playing and direct instruction.

RAWTools artist-in-residence Mary Sprunger-Froese leads many of these multi-age programs, which might include rapping, personal storytelling, skits, and other ways to train in de-escalation and peacemaking. So far she has taught an adult bystander intervention class and led a theater and nonviolent tools workshop for middle schoolers.

Martin envisions a nationwide RAWTools network, and said it’s happening already.

Volunteers across the country have helped gun donors disable guns for the forge, and churches have opened their parking lots for tents and anvils. Blacksmiths throughout the United States have signed on, and Martin says he needs “more people to help make tools, especially if they come from guns in their region.”

RAWTools is piloting a regional chapter in Toledo, Ohio. This summer, it will host youth workshops involving making tools from guns, creative expression and conflict mediation.

“There’s something beautiful and good about participants forging something that destroyed our community in some way into something that will bring beauty and life to our community,” said pastor Joel Shenk, who is leading the project.

New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence in Santa Fe, which previously collaborated with RAWTools, has now started their own creative gun transformation program. They invite community members to use the metal and the plastic from relinquished guns to make tools, sculptures and jewelry.

Elsewhere in the United States, a group called Lead to Life changes guns into shovels for tree plantings at sites affected by violence in Atlanta and Oakland, also citing the “swords to plowshares” tradition as an inspiration. So does Mexican artist Pedro Reyes, who also turned guns into shovels.

For Martin, transforming weapons at the forge and teaching nonviolence are important because guns in America are “elevated to such a level that they are viewed as an ultimate problem-solver.” He said, “Guns drain so much of our imagination to explore other ways to engage with conflict or confrontation. They are a tool to use power over others for the sake of the individual and not the community. This is what motivates me to do the work of RAWTools.”

A military veteran named James gave his guns to RAWTools after studying Christian scripture supporting pacifism. He wrote that he could no longer justify owning the guns because there was “no way to guarantee they would never be used to take a life.”

Another participant, who chose to remain anonymous, wrote: “I’m a teacher. After Parkland, I can’t own a gun anymore. How do I get it to you?”


08.06.2018 Pressenza London

[UK Media] Osborne’s Evening Standard ‘cash for column inches’ denials ‘do not stack up’ – says Caroline Lucas
London Evening Standard dispensers at Sainsbury’s supermarket, 2017. [As a free newspaper it is widely read by commuters] (Image by Philafrenzy • CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

By JAMES CUSICK 2 June 2018 for openDemocracy

Green Party leader calls on London paper to ‘come clean’ about its hidden commercial agendas – citing another lucrative sponsorship deal with GM giant Syngenta.

In the wake of our damaging revelations about a lucrative “money can’t buy’ deal with Uber and Google, George Osborne’s London Evening Standard has denied it has ever put a price on independent news and comment. But Green Party leader Caroline Lucas says the Standard’s claim never to have “crossed the line” dividing editorial from advertising does “not stack up” after she examined coverage from a paid-for news deal with Swiss agri-chem giant, Syngenta.

Osborne, the former chancellor of the exchequer who took over as editor of the London free-sheet last year, is facing calls to resign, and for the paper to be banned from valued distribution points outside London’s huge underground tube network.

The widespread criticism of Osborne and his editorship follows an openDemocracy investigation which revealed details of a £3 million deal between ESI Media – the commercial division of the Standard and Independent online – and six major companies each paying £500,000 to secure, among other advertorial promises, “money-can’t-buy” positive news and “favourable” comment pieces.

The international taxi-app firm, Uber, and the global tech giant, Google, are two of the companies who signed up to a project called London 2020. Due to be launched on June 5, 2020 has a highly political social agenda involving clean air, a reduction in plastic pollution, a schools and work-tech programme and improvements in housing.

Syngenta deal

Although the Standard and ESI Media this week claimed “independence” was at the heart of “everything we do”, in 2017 the in-house ‘ESI Live’ events team concluded a “partnership” worth upwards of £100,000 with Syngenta.

openDemocracy investigated the Syngenta deal earlier this year. A series of effectively one-sided public “debates” on the “Future of Food” was chaired by the then editor. Staff news reporters covered the debates for the paper, which heavily pushed Syngenta’s food technology credentials as a producer of genetically modified (GM) crop seeds.

And crucially, positive news coverage of Syngenta and its pro-GM agenda was published in the news pages of the Evening Standard, with no indication to readers that this was part of a paid-for deal.

More PR than debate

Although the one-sided debate coverage was branded with the Syngenta logo, other articles published in the news section carried no branding. In one piece, headlined “Hungry for solutions: scientists trying to satisfy London’s soaring demand for food” the Standard’s news and technology correspondent praised Syngenta, its laboratories, its net income, and the benefits of GM. It stated that those who fear GM have a “suspicion of technology.” It reads like a PR hand-out – with readers never explicitly told this was paid-for news.

Another article in September 2017, published after Osborne had become editor, was headlined “Global food challenge has obvious solution, says boss of leading Italy manufacturer.” Although appearing to be a story about a farmer with links to Italy’s pasta industry, it is, according to one communications analyst contacted by openDemocracy, “little more than dressed up PR.”

Throughout the entire period of the deal with Syngenta, the Standard carried no details of a multi-billion law suit the company was facing in the United States, and no reference to the large scale lobbying being conducted by the firm over the potential changes in food laws likely to follow the UK’s exit from the EU.

Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion, said “If the Standard wants to be trusted as a source of news it needs to be crystal clear about always letting readers know whether there’s any financial incentives lurking behind content that they print.”

Call to ‘come clean’

Examining the Evening Standard’s Syngenta coverage, Lucas observed: “I am not convinced that their claim to have never crossed the line that divides editorial from advertising, stacks up on scrutiny.” She added: “They have to come clean about news stories advocating the perspective of a sponsor or the promotion of a commercial agenda.”

Earlier this year at a festival of international journalism in Perugia, Italy, a senior executive from Syngenta, Luigi Radaelli, the company’s head of strategy and business sustainability, took part in a debate on “fake news”. Syngenta said it had chosen to take part in the debate to “promote proper scientific information at all levels.” No mention was made of its commercial deal with the Standard for positive news and comment during the public debates and in the pages of the London paper.

The Evening Standard and Independent online are owned by Moscow-based oligarch, Alexander Lebedev, and run in London by his son Evgeny.

The “partnerships” for London 2020 are expected, according to a company source, to follow a similar pattern.

‘Money-can’t-buy’ offer

openDemocracy obtained the full presentation given to potential corporate partners for the London 2020 project, which stated there would be a “bespoke commercial” package alongside the “money-can’t buy” offer of news, comment and “high profile backers.”

The coffee giant, Starbucks, confirmed to openDemocracy that it had “met with ESI but had opted not to move forward with the project.” A senior executive called the idea of “buying” a reputation “PR death”.

No response from either Uber or Google has been received by openDemocracy at the time of publishing.

Reaction: Anger, shock and calls for resignation

The response to openDemocracy’s investigation of London 2020 has ranged from anger to astonishment. Many focused on Osborne crossing an established ethical line.

Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, tweeted: “This is cash for column inches and amounts to a corporate fake news factory on a grand scale. If even vaguely true, George Osborne’s position as a credible editor is under serious question today.”

Lord Prescott, the former deputy prime minister under Tony Blair, also called the details behind the 2020 project “cash for column inches.”

George Monbiot, the Guardian’s environment columnist, simply said “There is a word for this – corruption.”

The Times columnist, Jenni Russell, said that Osborne “should resign”. She called the commercial details of the 2020 deal “unbelievable”.

Paul Mason, the former Newsnight political journalist and activist, said in his 25-plus years in media he had worked with “some real editorial sharks, but none were prepared to blur the ad/ed [advertising and independent editorial] line. “

Natalie Bennett, a former journalist and former leader of the Green Party, said “If Osborne is allowed to stay as in his job, it is the end of mainstream journalism.”

The former newspaper executive and media consultant, Grant Feller, writing in the Guardian, said Osborne’s multiple business interests had left him “compromised” as an editor and someone no longer worthy of being trusted.

Geoff Mulgan, Tony Blair’s director of policy in 10 Downing Street, now chief executive of Nesta (National Endowment for the Science, Technology and the Arts) said: “A very serious ethical line has been crossed here – a test for public norms whether George Osborne feels impelled to back down.”

Tom Copley, Labour’s housing spokesman on the London Assembly, said he would be asking London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, whether it was appropriate for the Evening Standard to continue to be distributed at tube stations.

08.06.2018 Pressenza New York

Will an anti-terror law prevent school shootings?
Vermont Gov. Phil Scott signs gun control legislation outside the statehouse

In the aftermath of a school shooting scare in Vermont, fears about gun violence became the justification, even among liberal political leaders, for sweeping “anti-terrorism” legislation. Robin Chadwell and Danny Katch look at what conclusions the left can draw.

In the aftermath of a school shooting scare in Vermont, fears about gun violence became the justification, even among liberal political leaders, for sweeping “anti-terrorism” legislation. Robin Chadwell and Danny Katch look at what conclusions the left can draw.

ON FEBRUARY 15, one day after Nikolas Cruz committed a massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, police in Fair Haven, Vermont, received a tip from a friend of Jack Sawyer claiming that the 18-year old was planning a similar mass shooting at his former school.

Sawyer was detained after an investigation revealed texts he’d sent speaking admiringly about the Parkland shooting, a journal indicating that he’d been thinking for months in disturbing detail about attacking former classmates at Fair Haven Union High as part of a “bigger & better” way of committing suicide, and the fact that he had recently purchased a gun.

Sawyer was held without bail on charges of aggravated assault, two counts of attempted aggravated murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder. The Vermont Supreme Court, however, ruled that the thoughts expressed in Sawyer’s journal and texts didn’t constitute attempted murder and assault.

With only misdemeanor charges remaining, Sawyer was released on $10,000 bail on April 27 with an extreme risk protection order against him (which prohibits him from possessing a firearm) and a 24/7 curfew under his father’s watch in Poultney, Vermont. Other conditions of his release included a prohibition from entering Fair Haven or any school property, and a ban on using any device with internet capability.

Despite these strict conditions, however, news of Sawyer’s release was greeted with outrage and panic.

“The mere possibility that someone with a clear intent to murder innocent children could be back on the street shows there is an unacceptable loophole in our current criminal law,” said Republican Gov. Phil Scott.

School Superintendent Brooke Olsen Farrell wrote in a letter to Scott: “The continued stress and anxiety surrounding the potential release of Mr. Sawyer has struck fear throughout our community. We are told it is not illegal to carry out preparations to cause mass casualties in a school. We are told it is not illegal to purchase guns and ammunition with the intent to carry out a planned threat at a school. Do we really have to wait until the damage is done?”

Later, Olsen Farrell told a reporter from Vice News: “I think folks felt like it was a kick in the stomach, and the overwhelming feeling is that the system has failed us.”

Unlike many actual mass shootings, Jack Sawyer’s possibly near-shooting quickly led to a rash of legislation to pass the Vermont statehouse.

In the face of protests from some of his Republican supporters, Scott signed bills to ban bump stocks and high-capacity magazines, raise the minimum age to buy a gun to 21, expand background checks, empower police to take guns from those cited for domestic violence, and allow judges to take them from those deemed an imminent threat to themselves or others.

Some of these are measures that most progressives would support unequivocally, while others could and should spark debate. For example, the widely popular proposal for background checks is inevitably discriminatory against people of color because of the undeniably racist nature of the criminal justice system.

Even more troubling, however, was the passage of a “domestic terrorism” law with tri-partisan support from Democrats, Republicans and the state’s Progressive Party — despite warnings from the Vermont ACLU about the harmful repercussions of such a reactionary law.

The lack of debate among legislators about this dangerous law should be a major warning sign about the ways that justified fears and anger over mass shootings can be used for right-wing ends.

The legislation, referred to as H.25, gives “domestic terrorism” the astoundingly broad definition of “taking a substantial step” toward committing a crime with the intent to cause death or injury to more than one person or “place any civilian population in reasonable apprehension” of death or injury.

A “substantial step” is itself defined as “conduct that is strongly corroborative of the actor’s intent to complete the commission of the offense.”

The law, which carries a punishment of up to 20 years in prison, was clearly written with Fair Haven in mind — Scott went so far as to say that he wanted it passed before students came back to school from vacation — even though it can’t be retroactively applied to Jack Sawyer.

It’s all too easy, however, to envision this law being used in the future as a tool of repression against protesters and persecuted minorities.

VERMONT OFFICIALS have taken an admittedly complicated and scary situation, and made it far worse.

First, they charged Sawyer with crimes he simply didn’t commit. Then they reacted with panic to his release from prison under strict supervision. And finally, they merged the nightmare of school shootings in the U.S. with the nightmare of the “war on terror.”

At best, their actions could be described as disregarding legality in the name of public safety. A less charitable view is that the understandable fears of a town have been exploited to cross another milestone in the erosion of civil liberties.

In a country that designates mass murders as either “terrorists” or “lone gunmen” depending on whether or not they are Muslim, some of those who oppose Islamophobia have made the case that white shooters should be given the same terrorism label.

But H.25 shows the dangers of this line of thinking — especially for Muslims.

Although the bill is ostensibly meant to divorce terrorism from religious or political motivation, its expansive powers will inevitably be used disproportionately against those who are already vulnerable.

“I know from my law enforcement experience, police tend to be pretty suspicious of a lot of different people,” former FBI agent Michael German explained to Vice, “and if they can put people in that sort of ‘pre-crime’ enforcers, we can get into a very dangerous space very quickly. The last thing you’d want to do is take one horrible case and pass a broad law that creates more horrible problems in the future.”

On a cultural level, applying the “evildoers in our midst” mentality of the “war on terror” to the crisis of school shootings is a disastrous idea that could spark witch hunts among and against young people struggling with depression, suicide and, yes, violence.

It also takes the burden of any responsibility away from those in charge of school environments — environments that some youth find so hostile and alienating that they admire and identify with those who commit massacres.

School, Jack Sawyer wrote in his journal, was the “the place that I suffered greatly and the environment that I struggled in, and so I still feel the need to kill every stupid [word blacked out] there.”

Yet at the same time that he was pushing H.25, Gov. Scott was also trying to slash school spending on guidance counselors and teacherswith a budget that would raise taxes on districts whose ratio of students to staff is too low.

There was, however, one education spending increase that Scott favored: free college tuition for anyone willing to take up arms by joining the Vermont National Guard.

AMONG THE items in Jack Sawyer’s journal is a possible draft of a suicide letter to his family, which he intended to be found after he killed himself and possibly many others: “I’m so utterly sorry. I’m sorry for all the pain and misery that follows my death. I know it’ll be unbearable and hard. I’m sorry. Just know that there wasn’t any other way for me. I’ve been suffering, badly, and I just can’t deal with it any longer. I’m tired.”

There are no easy solutions to the situation that Sawyer’s arrest presented to the Fair Haven community. Students, school workers and parents have been understandably terrified.

But if Jack Sawyer and the untold numbers of other young people going through similar pain and potentially dangerous struggles are merely labeled as “terrorists,” the cycle of violence could start to get even worse than it is now.

The answer must lie with addressing the root causes of alienation, violence and hate — something which Scott is making that much harder by cutting the education budget. The answer definitely is not passing laws that not only erode individual rights and civil liberties for everyone, but won’t make anyone safer.

05.06.2018 – Tangier Island David Swanson

Tangier Island Is The Earth

By David Swanson

It’s nice to look down on the poor foolish residents of Tangier Island, a little speck of land sinking into the Chesapeake Bay. Some 87% of the residents who voted in 2016, voted for Trump. The Mayor of Tangier says that being mayor is only his second job; his first is killing some of what remain of the crabs in the Bay. Residents imagine that the U.S. government will save their island from going under by building a wall. They imagine that Trump will make that happen. Yet Trump famously told the mayor on the phone that there was nothing to worry about, that the island is not actually in any danger. Residents of Tangier say that they know what’s coming, but that they leave it up to “the Lord.”

What’s likely coming is a sea level that renders Tangier uninhabitable in 20 or 25 years. And those poor ignorant fools say not one word about halting the use of fossil fuels, going vegan, controlling population growth, or ending all the planet-destructive wars. Boy, we sure can despise such backwardness. After all, the rest of Virginia may not be doomed for another 20 or 25 years after Tangier.

The rest of us in Virginia and the earth are morally in the exact same situation as the people of Tangier Island. Imagining that voting for a different corrupt ruler, or dropping beliefs in ancient mythologies, or wearing shirts that say “resist” has a damn thing to do with it is our particular form of ignorance. We use stories like Tangier to distract us, sports to distract us, partisan politics to distract us. But if we are not doing everything we can to organize people to engage in massive nonviolent action to completely reverse destructive systemic behavior on the largest scale, we are in no position to criticize anyone.

Five-year averages of temperature in Virginia began a significant and steady increase in the early 1970s, rising from 54.6 degrees Fahrenheit then to 56.2 degrees F in 2012. The Piedmont area, where I live, has seen the temperature rise at a rate of 0.53 degrees F per decade. At this rate, Virginia will be as hot as South Carolina by 2050 and as northern Florida by 2100, and continuing at a steady or increasing pace from there. Sixty percent of Virginia is forest, and forests cannot evolve or switch over to warmer-weather species at anything like that fast a pace. The most likely future is not pines or palm trees but wasteland.

From 1979 to 2003, excessive heat exposure contributed to over 8,000 premature deaths in the United States, more than all deaths from hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined, and dramatically more than all deaths from terrorism. Between 1948 and 2006 “extreme precipitation events” increased 25% in Virginia. Precipitation in Virginia is likely to increase or decrease dramatically overall, and is extremely likely to continue the trend of arriving in ever more intense bursts of storms interrupting droughts. This will be devastating to agriculture.

Acidity in the ocean has already increased by 30 percent and if current trends continue will hit a 100 to 150 percent increase by 2100 and continue to spiral upward from there. Oysters’ shells in the Chesapeake Bay have grown thinner as a result. The oyster population is 98 percent gone. Shell fish are becoming and will entirely become extinct, if current trends remain unaltered. By 2100 we can expect 60 to 100 percent of the world’s coral reefs to be gone. Fish off the Virginia coast are moving north and east to survive, some species having already vanished from Virginia waters either by migrating or dying out. In Virginia 46 percent of fish species, 25 percent of birds, 46 percent of reptiles, 43 percent of amphibians, and 28 percent of mammals are listed as threatened or endangered.

Seventy-eight percent of Virginians live within 20 miles of the Chesapeake, the Atlantic, or tidal rivers. On the Eastern Shore and in the Hampton Roads-Norfolk area, flooding has already become routine. The sea level will rise, if current trends continue, between 3 and 18 feet by 2100. Already it has risen an inch every 7 or 8 years — 12 inches in the last century. Some 628,000 Virginians live within 6.5 feet of sea level. Paul Fraim, Mayor of Norfolk since 1994, says the city may need to soon establish “retreat zones” and abandon sections of the city as too costly to protect. Real estate agents are discussing the need to require disclosure of sea level as well as lead paint and other defects when selling property. The famous ponies of Chincoteague live among trees killed and grasses weakened by risen saltwater, and will not live there much longer.

The U.S. military, headquartered largely in Virginia, the world’s largest Navy base in Norfolk, and the swamp-built Capital of the United States in Washington, D.C., face potential devastation directly contributed to by the endless wars for oil, and the consumption of that oil first and foremost in the conduct of the wars and preparations for more wars, despite the widespread belief that the results of the wars are distant. Just as ice melting in Greenland lifts water onto the streets of Norfolk, investment of trillions of dollars in pointless death and destruction not only diverts resources from addressing climate damage but heavily contributes to that damage. The U.S. military would rank 38th in oil consumption if it were a nation.

If any image can wallop someone with the need to adjust our priorities it is one of Wallops Island just south of Chincoteague but protected for the moment by a $34 million rock wall. Wallops Island hosts tests for the $4 billion crash-prone Osprey helicopter, and all sorts of war training, plus a space port from which multi-billionaires can blow themselves up or launch themselves into space to starve in tin cans literally as well as subjectively above the rest of us.

There is no Planet B. Nobody has found anywhere for humans to live apart from earth, at least not remotely in the time frame of the current crisis. Virginia has taken in thousands of refugees from Hurricane Katrina and can expect to take in many more and to create many refugees itself. The only thinking that says every future Hurricane Sandy will miss Virginia is wishful thinking. The claim that Tangier will produce the first U.S. refugees from climate chaos is willfully blind.

The warming will bring the mosquito varieties (already arriving) and diseases. Serious risks include malaria, Chagas disease, chikungunya virus, and dengue virus. Look them up. The television won’t explain them until they’re here.

Virginians, like others in the United States, consume vastly more energy and produce vastly more warming per capita than do people in other countries, including countries in Europe that they don’t look down on. Proposals to actually halt the climate catastrophe generally call for Americans to start living like Europeans (the horror!).

Virginia’s Constitution requires the state to “protect its atmosphere, lands, and waters from pollution, impairment, or destruction, for the benefit, enjoyment and general welfare of the people.” In a decent court system, any member of the public could have that enforced through a massive emergency Marshall-Plan effort to preserve our climate. Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality does not concern itself with climate change. Virginia lags significantly behind Maryland and North Carolina in addressing climate change. Numerous reasonable steps can be quite easily taken if the political will is found, but they get harder with each passing year.

04.06.2018 – Madrid, Spain European Humanist Forum 2018

This post is also available in: Spanish, Catalan

We must resist and not allow a single step backwards to be taken in the right to health

Carmen Esbrí is a human rights activist. Member of the Madrid Public Health Defence Committee MEDSAP – Marea Blanca and of the National White Tide Coordinator.

The Madrid Public Health Defence Committee MEDSAP – Marea Blanca (White Tide), is a platform created in 2012 with the main objective of defending public health and fighting against the privatisation process that has been taking place in the Community of Madrid for years. It is made up of neighbourhood associations, user groups, coordinators, social movements, trade unions, platforms, health professionals and popular assemblies of the 15M.

How was MEDSAP – White Tide born?
We were born in response to the terrible attack on Spanish public health, carried out by the approval of “Royal Decree 16/2012 on urgent measures to guarantee the sustainability of the National Health System”. This decree proposed two very serious changes

  • To eliminate the universality of the right to health care. As a result, nearly 800,000 health cards were withdrawn from unregulated immigrants, young people over the age of 26 without work and Spaniards living abroad.
    Modify the public health financing model, linking the right to care to social security contributions, even though public health is financed by taxes (largely indirect and paid by all persons, including immigrants and unemployed young people).
  • In protest of these measures, we began to call for large mobilisations and organised the platform MEDSAP – Marea Blanca, which has been working for more than 6 years on a continuous basis. In order to maintain the 6 years of mobilisations that we have completed, we have focused on defending health, and more than health, because if we want the health system to be affordable, we must maintain health and primary health care, and we must also have housing, employment, education, etc. We therefore believe that it is better to talk about the defence of health and life.

How was the monthly White Tide tactic forged?
We began to denounce the neoliberal plan that commodifies all basic needs and also health, designing a tide (mobilization) every third Sunday of the month, with the aim of avoiding the multiplication of actions and the loss of strength and with the interest of doing something together. We have not missed a single month and we are about to make the 69th tide. The strategy has been to resist and make visible what was happening. Our aim is to seek the empowerment of citizens by defending a public service.

What other actions have you done?
In recent years we have held major public events, such as the “Cultural Marathon for Public Health”, the “event at the Madrid Athenaeum”, the “event at the Faculty of Mathematics at the Complutense University”, the “event within the framework of the exhibition, a really useful piece of knowledge, of the Reina Sofia Museum, the “Round table discussion: public attention to mental health in Madrid” and the “Conference: building the public health of the future, deconstructing privatisation”.

How was the National White Tide Coordinator formed?
In 2016 it was proposed to promote the National Coordinator by contacting platforms from all over the Country and on May 6th the seventh assembly of the Coordinator was held in Segovia.

What achievements have you had so far?
Thanks to the appeal we filed, we obtained the suspension of the privatisation of the management of six hospitals in Madrid by the Madrid High Court of Justice and the resignation of Fernández-Lasquetty, Health Minister of the Community of Madrid.

Are you participating in the “European Network against Privatisation in Healthcare”?
In 2015 we contacted the “European Network against Privatisation and the Commercialisation of Health and Social Protection”. The European Network started its activity with an action on 7 April, which they declared as “day against health privatisation”, to highlight the world’s problem with health due to privatisation. The date coincides with the “World Health Day” proposed by the World Health Organization (WHO). This year the WHO proposed as its motto for 7 April: health for all’ and we decided to adopt the motto: health is everything’ as we work for the human right to health in view of the European elections in May 2019.

We decided to talk to the different political parties that are going to stand in the European elections and from the state coordinator, we presented a roadmap for restoring public health. This involves a series of actions such as: modifying and repealing laws at different levels, from European, to national, from the community of Madrid and the Madrid City Council.

What do you think is the role of independent media in social transformation?
The media must act as a kind of catalyst, an active principle that allows social transformation to take place, not suddenly, since we are in a neoliberal context that has invaded the planet and we have a very strong enemy in front of us, which is also supported by the big media, which help to hide the information. But this transformation must take place in the future.

The function of the independent media is to provide counter information to the mainstream media, to explain the reality without filters, interests or capital to direct journalists. The problem is how to organise to foster a breeding ground, which is already being generated, with all the actions of the movements.

The main objective of all media must be to get out from under the rugs all that is being hidden from us by the great powers, the great markets, that have Taken over the people and the governments. I believe that the media must facilitate these changes, because the social movements we work with, trying to break a huge spider’s web that has been woven by the great powers, need spokespersons. We need amplifiers, who will spread our story and our actions in all areas and be able to inform and raise awareness of the consequences of what is happening.

The problem is the number, that is, how many media can work in this transforming direction and what capacity they can have to work. That is to say, what diffusion capacity and scope they can have to change the world.

My concern is how you can organise independent media that want to report what really happens. It is very important to create a network between the media and the movements. The movements need an increasingly widespread voice. The media must act in a coordinated manner and must be the echo of what is happening, if possible at the very moment it happens. We as a collective broadcast, in addition to the usual media that adulterate and censor our discourse, through social networks and we have a lot of network activity and monitoring.

Could the independent media contribute to generating the story of a new, more humane and less violent culture and break with the cultural hegemony of the mainstream Big Media?
Yes, that is possible, but a clear objective must be maintained. On our platform, the goal is to make health and life undeniable human rights. We must resist so as not to allow any step backwards in that right.

I would like to make a clarification regarding the comments of my colleague from Pressenza and the lack of credibility towards the independent media. We send our press releases to all media: large, small, independent, etc. Those sent to all. I wish we had a record of all the media out there, but there are many independent media that we don’t even know about. We try to go out on community radio, we would like to make a radio programme for its ease of replication and playback, so we try to explore in this direction.

I would also like to make a reply to DIEM25’s colleagues, who prejudged that the social movements do not have a political action plan. This is not the case, the movements have political action plans, in our case, we have a “Pact for Public Health” and we have proposed it to the European Union and to the Spanish political parties, of which some have joined. We believe that citizens’ rights are best defended through the independence of a social movement rather than through the commitments of a political party.

The tides have been born to keep alert and to keep the political parties under control, they don’t have to disappear. Social movements must be independent and must exercise control over political parties.


Translated from Spanish by Pressenza London

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer

We must act and dare the appropiateness and not whatever comes to our mind not floating in the likelihood but grasp the reality as brave as we can be freedom lies in action not in the absence of mind obedience knows the essence of good and satisfies it, freedom dares to act and returns God the ultimate judgment of what is right and what is wrong, Obedience performs blindly but Freedom is wide awake Freedom wants to know why, Obedience has its hands tied, Freedom is inventive obedient man respects God’s commands and by virtu of his Freedom, he creats new commands. Both Obedience and Freedom come true in responsability (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

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