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31.05.2018 – Madrid, Spain European Humanist Forum 2018

This post is also available in: Spanish, French, Catalan

Don’t be afraid, believe in your inner voice and try

Alex Ross dedicates herself to writing and creative painting. She writes about the little beauties and the great evil of everyday life. She collaborates with the electronic magazine Neue Debatte and participated in the European Humanist Forum, recently held in Madrid, as a speaker in the “Independent Journalism and Social Activism” round table.

EHF2018: What is the role of independent media?

Alex Ross: One of the functions of alternative media is to give young people the opportunity to publish their work, to allow them to explain their own version, their story. In my personal case, I didn’t have the opportunity to publish my own work, so I decided to do it on my own in 2016. The moment I connected to an alternative digital medium, opportunities opened up for my young voice to be heard. It is very difficult for young people to publish, to exhibit, to make their productions visible, to make their way. One is constantly reduced to their age, which means for young people: you have nothing to say, because you have not experienced anything yet and therefore you have nothing in you. With alternative media it becomes easier and I have noticed that points of contact are available.

Can citizens generate information and set the media agenda?

We need media in which power is shared among people, not media in which power is held by a few families. We need to allow readers to have a say in the issues we need to publish, so that power is shared among many people and not concentrated in a few.

In relation to the theme of this forum: “What unites us” How can we improve our joint work with the media and social movements?

We need opportunities like this weekend, for example to meet, to connect, to continue this work together. We must not listen to those who tell us to stay out of it! That’s all for nothing! On the contrary, we must listen to our own inner voice. That voice that says to you: “Take the opportunity! Even if it’s a risk, I want to try.” That voice that says to you: “Don’t be afraid, believe in yourself, in your inner voice and try!”

24.05.2018 – Rome, Italy Gerardo Femina

This post is also available in: Spanish, Italian

The Flat Tax: Stealing from the middle class to give to the rich?

In most parts of the world and also in Italy there is a progressive tax system. Progressive because the rate increases with increasing income: if I earn 1000 I pay 10 but if I earn 10000 I don’t pay 100 but 120. This has a very clear logic and is based on the idea of social justice and redistribution of wealth. Those who earn less will use their income primarily to meet their needs and therefore it is only fair that they contribute to the community with very low taxes, if any. A different situation is that of the “rich”, who can meet their basic needs using only a small part of their income and can therefore pay a much higher tax without giving up a decent life. If we think about this in concrete terms, we see that a person with an income of, for example, EUR 30 000 per year for the purchase of a house must use all his money and this for many years. A person with an income of EUR 200 000 per year does not have these problems.

The main argument of those in favour of the flat tax is that this reduction and simplification of the tax system would on the one hand attract investors and, on the other hand, paradoxically bring more money into the state coffers, as everyone would rather pay’reasonable’ taxes than take the risks of tax evasion.

On the first point, we note that, in fact, many industries prefer to shift production to countries where taxes are lower and where laws protect investors more than workers. Countries often referred to as “third world” countries and sadly famous for their lack of respect for human rights and the absence of all the social achievements typical of great Western civilizations. There are also countries in a kind of middle ground’, such as those in Eastern Europe, which, while maintaining a certain amount of decent legislation, have inexorably sunk their roots in savage capitalism. Therefore, for those in favour of the flat tax, the solution is not an overall improvement in living conditions in the world, but to degrade Italy to a country where human rights and social justice fail miserably in the face of the laws of the market. A documentary from the RAI talks about the Czech Republic, showing it as an example where the flat tax has produced a great development. A poor documentary that wanted to show only a part of reality. Indeed, unemployment is at 2% and social services are at a good level. It is very easy to find work, especially in big cities like Prague. But it has not been said that this country’s economy is growing due to other factors, such as its link to the German economy. Above all, it has not been said that wages are low, that there is no Xmas Bonus, that there is no severance pay, that it is very easy to dismiss, to put it mildly. In addition, there are strong pressures to return to the progressive system, as Slovakia did after the failure of the single tax.

On the second point, everyone would pay their taxes’, we note that this is only a hypothesis and also biased. It is difficult to estimate the effects of the flat tax, also because it is not clear what the rate will actually be, but we will try to give some figures, even if they are only indicative.

Whoever has an annual income of 20,000 euros could save 1,000 euros, 50,000 euros would save 8,000 euros, 200,000 euros would save 50,000 euros, 1 million euros would save 270,000 euros and so on. A Berlusconi could earn a million euros. It should also be borne in mind that, in the case of low incomes, any savings would be nullified both by the abolition of tax advantages and by the likely reduction in social expenditure.

Seen in this way, in a very concrete and wordless way, it looks like an operation performed by the character Superciuk from Alan Ford’s comic strip. Superciuk, unlike Robin Hood, had a very clear mission: to steal from the poor and give to the rich!

The supporters of the flat tax, to support their proposal, sometimes make vague references to the United States, but forget that today the United States is a country in deep economic crisis, with a public debt that no economist is able to quantify now, but especially that in this country the flat tax is not in force.

We are at an historic moment when employers and workers can recognize that they have a common enemy: big finance capital. Often in the media, when it comes to government and reform, the phrase “how will the markets react?” appears sibilantly. “Markets”, a word that few understand as “Spread” (*) but which creates panic. These markets (which are only a few global financial institutions) must be heard before making a law, before making any reforms. These markets dictate the law and are above the states, the national sovereignty, the peoples and the real needs of the people. We are talking about these great financial capitals, that is to say, money that produces nothing concrete but other money, which can affect the economy of entire states and determine their political choices. Capitals that grow just when states’ economies are in crisis or as Mitterrand said they grow when everyone sleeps.

How many entrepreneurs today are suffocated by the strangulation of the banks! How many entrepreneurs are forced to treat workers like slaves in order to be competitive on the world market or to close their shops?

So let us not mock people, serious entrepreneurs and workers with false solutions, let us strike at the only truly dangerous enemy, the enemy of all: markets, big business and financial capital! This would be one of the first objectives of a government of real change.

The application of the flat tax, even if it is to bring immediate oxygen to companies in the North that wish to do so, in addition to hitting the poor and the middle class, does not go in the direction of combating the so-called strong powers, it is not a guarantee of real development or economic growth. On the contrary, it favours precisely those financial capitals that oblige States to adopt laws that are increasingly favourable to them.

Remaining at this level of analysis, without going into the subject of the profound and essential contradictions of capitalism, there are some proposals that the Humanist Party made in 1984. One is to drastically reduce taxes for all those companies that reinvest profits in the territory by improving the quality of production and creating more and more jobs. In other words, it favours investors who bring lasting prosperity and development to the real economy and not who make profits and migrate to tax havens. Instead, it strikes at those who use resources, exploit workers, take advantage of state facilities and then transfer capital and production elsewhere, leaving the desert behind.

Another proposal is to create an interest-free bank to support and encourage small and medium-sized enterprises.

These simple reforms, in addition to immediately encouraging investment by serious and productive companies, open up a new path in the opposite direction to the current one, namely the expansion of excessive power in the financial markets and the consequent destruction of the real economy.

(*) Spread is the difference between the purchase price and the sale price of a financial asset.

24.05.2018 Countercurrents

Noam Chomsky Discusses Iraq
(Image by Andrew Rusk/flickr/cc))

By Christopher Cramer

Since the start of the Vietnam War, Noam Chomsky, an emeritus Institute Professor and Professor of Linguistics at MIT, has become increasingly popular with time.

By 1992, the Arts and Humanities Citation Index declared him the most cited living person and the eighth most cited person of all time.

Chomsky’s radical views and critiques of U.S. policy are at their height in both popularity and reach during what he calls, “one of the worst military disasters in history,” i.e., the Iraq War.

On May 1, I was granted the opportunity to interview Chomsky about the Iraq war, the Kent State shootings and his advice to students. The transcript is as follows.

What’s your assessment of the situation in Iraq?

For Iraqis, it’s a horrible disaster. Actually, there’s another report that just came out that studies child mortality in children under five. Iraq – it’s more than doubled since 1990. That’s the greatest drop known in history. It’s now at the level of Sub-Sahara Africa. And the reason they start at 1990 is because of something we don’t like to talk about. The sanctions from 1990 up to the war were maybe even more destructive than the war. They were so destructive they attacked the population. They didn’t harm Saddam Hussein, they probably helped him.

But by 1995 or 1996, they were so awful that the United Nations, which means the U.S. and Britain, basically, had to institute what they call an “Oil for Food Program” to try to alleviate the effect of the sanctions. The Oil for Food Program allowed Iraq to use some of its oil revenue for social need – needs of the population. It was considered a great humanitarian gesture. The director of the Oil for Food Program was Denis Halliday, who was a distinguished diplomat. He resigned in protest after two years, charging that they were genocidal. He was replaced by another distinguished international diplomat, Hans von Sponeck, who, a few years later, also retired on the grounds that they violated the genocide convention. They may have killed a million people and just destroyed the society. So, the increase in infant mortality actually goes back to 1990, and it’s a reflection of what happened in the whole society.

The war, of course, has just exasperated it. It’s also created sectarian tensions; there was some conflict in the past, but it didn’t really exist. In fact, up to two or three years ago, Iraqis were confident there would never be sectarian violence. There’s too much intermingling of the populations, intermarriage and so on. By now, it’s just a total disaster. I think about 70 percent of Iraqis think the presence of U.S. forces increases the level of violence. That figure is misleading because it includes the Kurds, who don’t care; there’s no fighting there. If you look at Arab Iraqis, it’s much higher. That’s why they want the United States out. It’s one of the worst disasters in military history right on top of a sanctions regime, which was called genocidal.

What do you think the reasons were for the decision to invade the country – Iraq?

The reasons are transparent. It’s just that the doctrinal controls in the U.S. are so strong you’re not allowed to mention them. Just ask yourself: If Iraq’s main exports were asparagus and tomatoes and the energy producing region in the world were the South Pacific, do you think the United Stated would invade it? It’s obvious. We’re not allowed to talk about it because we live in a deeply indoctrinated society, and you have to follow the party line. So, we’re not allowed to point out that the U.S. invaded Iraq because it has the second largest oil reserves in the world, and they’re very easily accessed – no permafrost, just stick a pipe in the ground. And it’s right at the world’s major energy producing region. The same reason the U.S. is trying very hard to withdraw.

You once said, not too long ago actually, that “we should be more concerned with the framework behind the decisions that are made.” So, I’m curious about the structural or institutional frameworks that allowed this decision to be made. That is, what are the values of the system and who’s in control of the system?

Well, first of all, control over Middle East oil – notice I stress control, not access – control over Middle East oil has been a dominant theme over U.S. foreign policy since the Second World War. Before that, it was a dominant theme of British foreign policy. After the Second World War, the U.S. more or less took over global management from Britain and for obvious reasons. The State Department explained them frankly. They said Middle East energy reserves are the “most stupendous source of strategic power” and “one of the greatest material prizes in world history.” It’s strategically the most important area in the world, Eisenhower pointed out. And the reason is it controls – it has most of the world’s energy reserves, about two thirds. If you control that, it’s a lever of world control, and policy has been rammed toward that ever since.

Then come special factors, like, I don’t think another administration would have invaded Iraq. I mean, the Clinton administration was trying to strangle Iraqis and did a horrible job of it. But whether they would invade it is another question. The group in power in Washington (D.C.), which is a small clique, happens to be at the reactionary, ultra reactionary, extreme of a spectrum of opinion. It’s a narrow spectrum but they are way out at the extreme, which is also in domestic policies. Like, they have a deeply authoritarian streak. That’s called the unitary executive. They’re trying to amass centralized power in the executive branch, diminishing other branches of government, plowing ahead no matter what anybody wants. I mean, you can see in the (Attorney General Alberto) Gonzales flack today; it’s mostly about executive power. So, there’s a highly authoritarian streak. They think the U.S. should effectively rule the world by force and have said so. So, they took an extreme position on the spectrum.

With regard to the general principle of controlling Mid East oil, there’s very little deviation. And it’s obvious why. In fact, it was pointed out. When George Kennan, when he was a top planner back in the ’40s, pointed out that if the United States controls Middle East oil, we have a veto power over what others do.

But how was the ability granted for them to do this? How could nobody stop this? I guess that’s what I’m trying to get to.

Well, here we get to another institutional problem. And that has to do with a serious problem of American democracy. In the United States, there’s a huge “democratic deficit,” the term we use about other countries. That means a tremendous gap between public opinion and policy. And it shows up on all sorts of issues – domestic and international. So, public opinion barely influences policy, only very marginally.

I mean, there’s a number of studies I’ve written about. There’s a study by two well-known political scientists, Ben Page and Marshall Bouton, called “The Foreign Policy Disconnect.” I mean, I take a stronger position on it than they do. But what their data shows is what we also find in domestic policy – that the government just doesn’t represent the population. It represents specific centers of mostly economic power within the society, and then it has state interests, which are separate. But the population is kind of irrelevant.

For example, take Iraq. I mean, the public was whipped up in fear by a huge propaganda campaign beginning in 2002, and by the time of the invasion, Americans were trembling in fear that “Saddam Hussein is going to attack us,” and “He’s responsible for 9/11,” “The next thing we’ll see will be a mushroom cloud over New York,” and so on. The U.S. population was driven totally off the spectrum of international opinion. I mean, it’s kind of striking to compare U.S. opinion with opinion in the region – they hated Saddam Hussein, like Kuwait, Iran. He invaded them. Of course they wanted to get rid of him, tear him limb from limb. But they weren’t afraid of him. I mean, they knew that Iraq was, largely as a result of the sanctions and the first war, just a shell. You know, it was held together by scotch tape, and it had no power. So, they weren’t afraid of him; they’d be delighted to see him destroyed. But only in the United States was there real fear. So, the population was driven into a frenzy of fear just by government/media propaganda – uncritical media reporting and propaganda – and that obviously had an effect.

However, by April 2003, a month after the invasion, most of the public – I think about two thirds or so – wanted Iraqi affairs to be handed over to the United Nations. You know, they should take care of economic reconstruction, political transition, other security issues. But it’s simply not reflected in policy just as – (sic) last election is a good example. The population essentially voted for withdraw, and the government responded by escalation. And it’s not just Iraq. It’s issue after issue, and it’s no longer bipartisan.

So, that’s a deep institutional problem in the United States. We have formal democratic institutions, maybe the best in the world, but they’re very dysfunctional. Furthermore, the public knows it. That’s why we don’t have any faith in our institutions. And it’s everything.

Kind of going along with this topic of structural and institutional frameworks, you once wrote that, “At every stage of history, our concern must be to dismantle those forms of authority and oppression that survive from an era when they might have been justified, in terms of the need for security or survival or economic development, but that now contribute to – rather than alleviate – material and cultural deficit.”

What exactly do you think those forms of authority and oppression are in contemporary society?

Well, there are two main categories and there are a lot of other ones. The main categories are corporate power and state power. They are closely interlinked. I mean, the state and business world are very closely interlinked and they effectively design and run the economy and the society, and I don’t think that those structures of power have much, if any, legitimacy. There’s plenty of others. I mean, there’s racism, patriarchy, all kinds of other things. But those are the core issues.

I think these are illegitimate structures. They should not have been permitted in the first place. Corporations in the modern sense are state-created institutions, state-protected institutions. They have been conferred rights that go way beyond the rights of individuals. And I think they have far too much power. I should say that the public overwhelmingly agrees. A huge amount of the public agrees that what they call “business” has far too much influence over policy and has for a long time. And that extends through a whole range of policies. Health care is an example. The insurance industry and pharmaceutical industry are powerful enough so that they overwhelm Congress and the Executive, and it doesn’t matter what the public wants.

You say, ‘many times, perhaps every time that power is challenged, those with power react to defend their power’ sometimes subtly, like the educational systems, and sometimes more crudely, like COINTELLPRO or the Haymarket affair.

That’s a very interesting aspect of the doctrinal system in the United States. Today is May 1st. May 1st in the world is commemorated as a day of support for the American workers for an eight-hour day and also in memory of the Haymarket massacre, almost everywhere in the world, except one country: the United States. Do a poll in the United States – almost nobody knows what it is. Everywhere else, they know what it is. I mean, it’s pretty amazing that this was 1886, and still today, our doctrinal system is so restricted that we can not recognize that today, May 1st, is a day devoted to the memory of the struggles of American workers and their massacre by security forces.

Do you think that the Kent State shootings are part of that lineage, or is it something else – a freak accident or an anomaly?

It’s both. I mean, by the time of the Kent State shootings, the government no longer really had the force to coerce people by violence the way it had in the past. So, for example, American labor history is very violent, much more so than other industrial countries. And it went on to the late ’30s – strikers were still being murdered by security forces. But after the New Deal and World War II, and mildly socially democratic policies of the ’50s and ’60s, the government had lost the power to coerce. Kent State was a throwback to an earlier era, and in that sense, an anomaly. But it did have roots. COINTELLPRO, for example, was probably one of the worst periods of U.S. history, much worse than oppression today. It did, in fact, include a political assassination. It’s interesting that that is suppressed too. Not many people would remember the name Fred Hampton. He was murdered by an FBI arranged police killing not long before Kent State.

What advice do you have for students, how ought they react?

I’d invert it. I mean, I look up to them. Young people have done a tremendous number of things. I mean, this is now a much more civilized country than it was say, 40 years ago. And a lot of that is the activities of young people. Starting in the ’60s, but right up into the present, it’s just changed things. It has changed our attitudes toward human rights, civil rights, women’s rights, the environment, aggression, international solidarity. You know, it’s just a radically different society. I’m sure you see it at Kent State; I certainly see it at MIT. If you’d take a walk through the halls of MIT today – what you would have seen 50 years ago, when I got here, was white males, well-dressed, obedient, deferential. Take a look today – it’s completely different. That’s a sign of the civilizing effect of mostly young people. Actually there’s a real good book that just came out about that by Mike Albert, who was a student here. It’s called Remembering Tomorrow. It’s a memoir. He was a student in the ’60s – one of a very small group of students, like 10 or 15, who just transformed this place, totally. He ended up getting elected student body president, on a very radical program. He ended up getting kicked out, naturally, but went on to do really good things.

… Well, a lot of that is activism by young people. I mean, especially college students are at a stage in their life in which they’re uniquely free. I mean, you’re sort of out of parental control more or less. You’re not yet burdened by the necessities of subordinating yourself outside institutions. Like, you have to work in a law office to make money to put food on the table, or whatever it is. Or be a truck driver. That’s a free period.

That’s one of the reasons, I think, why student activism has been so significant. I mean, take say, the civil rights movement – it’s a major movement. A lot of it started by black students at colleges in the south who sat in at lunch counters, rode freedom buses. It was pretty brutal; a lot of them got killed. It wasn’t easy, but they did it. And they lead to a major change in American society.

Same with most popular movements – that’s the way change takes place. We happen to have, by now – thanks to our predecessors – a real legacy of freedom and opportunity. So you don’t have to feel fear, repression, in the ways that you did in the past. It gives you a lot more space, and a lot of privilege, and a lot of choice. In fact, the range of choices is somehow disempowering.

I constantly get questions in letters and talks -“What can I do?” Part of the reasons for the questions is that there are too many opportunities. You go to, say, the poor peasants of southern Columbia, they don’t ask what to do – they know exactly what to do because they don’t have a lot of choices. If you’re a college student in the United States, you’ve a got a rich array of opportunities, and that does make people feel sort of helpless because there’s no obvious thing to do.

There’s another factor to overcome, and that is a reflection of privilege. Children now grow up to expect the kind of quick gratification and that comes from privilege. You know, you pretty much always got what you wanted, and you want to get it quickly. So, the sense that you really have to put in hard, dedicated work is sort of lost. To caricature it, it’s an attitude of, “I went to a demonstration, and the war is still going on, so it’s hopeless.” Well, that’s not the way it works. You have to keep at it, day after day. You make little gains, you have some setbacks, you make bigger gains, build a bigger movement, try to carry out the types of activities that will leave institutional residue.

So, I think there’s no shortage of opportunity, there’s no real answer to what should you do. It depends on the person, your particular interests, your level of commitment, so on and so forth. But then, everything’s open.

Christopher Cramer was a student reporter in the USA. He can perhaps be reached atcwcramer@sbcglobal.net.

23.05.2018 – US, United States Countercurrents

The Path to Victory on Net Neutrality in the House of Representatives
In Support of Net Neutrality, the DC Solidarity Brigade crashed the “Telecom Prom.” (Image by Backbone Campaign/Flickr/cc)

The United States Senate has voted to overturn the FCC and restore net neutrality protections, the fate of that measure currently rests in the House of Representatives. While many will think that the uphill battle there makes it a lost cause, that is simply not true. Together, we have the power to win in the House of Representatives.

Now that the Senate has officially voted 52-47 to reverse the FCC’s so-called “Restoring Internet Freedom Order”  under an expedited procedure known as the Congressional Review Act (CRA). It is now pending a vote in the House of Representatives. And while many will incorrectly assume since House Republican leadership has expressed their opposition to ever voting on net neutrality, nothing will come of it, the wishes of the leadership are frankly irrelevant.

What actually matters is whether 218 members of the House of Representatives from either party want to vote to protect net neutrality through a process called a “discharge petition.”

What is a Discharge Petition?

In 1931 the House of Representatives created a process where, if a majority of elected officials disagreed with the decision of the Speaker of the House and leadership team, they could force a vote on an issue. From 1967 to 2003 there have been 22 discharge petitions that reached the requisite 218 signatures to force a vote on an issue. This happens when there is overwhelming public pressure from citizens on their House Representative because they have to overrule their leadership’s opposition.

Net neutrality fits that formula. An overwhelming  number of Americans opposed the FCC’s decision to repeal net neutrality with even more Americans registering their opposition in more recent polls (90 percent Democrats, 82 percent Republicans, and 85 percent independents). That strong support makes it possible to put pressure on representatives all across the country to sign the discharge petition.

Plus, you have a woefully out of touch FCC Chairman who openly mocks  people who support net neutrality (which is basically everyone), and so politicians have to decide if they are on his side or with the American people. And you have a nationwide mobilization of small businesses, online video creators, civil rights groups, consumer groups, libraries, and technologists opposing the FCC.

Now its time to channel our forces to get 218 signatures from House Representatives.

We Need Everyone Now

You need to tell your House member to “sign the discharge petition on net neutrality.” Too often they will feign support for net neutrality or argue in favor of a fake net neutrality bill  that actually legalizes paid prioritization  (essentially allowing ISPs to charge websites for priority and slowing down parties that do not pay extra fees). As the polls of public opinion make clear, that position is not about what their constituents want and is more likely related to ISP lobbying and their campaign money.

Do not give them that space.

Make it clear that signing the discharge petition is the only way they can prove they support a free and open Internet. Supporting the discharge petition is a commitment to supporting net neutrality and voting for keeping the old protections. Anything falling short of signing it is both in effect and in outcome a vote against net neutrality.

That means calling their office on the phone to make the demand, going to a town-hall, or visiting their local district office, and making it clear you want them to sign the discharge petition. A politician can listen to a constituent demand a vote only so many times before it overwhelms the political money of companies like AT&T and Comcast. They answer to you first at the end of the day.

Once your elected official commits to signing the petition, they have to personally sign the document on the floor of the House of Representatives, upon which the document’s signer list is updated here.  When we get to 218 signatures, the bill will come to the floor for a vote and will pass to the President for his signature. At which point, we’ll apply the same pressure to him we did to Congress.

Congressman Mike Doyle (D-PA) initiated the discharge process on May 17, the day after the bill passed the Senate. More than 160 House of Representatives have pre-committed to supporting reversing the FCC before that discharge process even started, leaving us with a concrete goal of now pressuring the remaining Democrats and Republicans to support the petition. EFF has been tracking the public statements of support and opposition of House members here and has made it easy to call your representative by going here.

We have a lot of work ahead of us, but together we can keep the Internet free and open.


Ernesto Falcon is Legislative Counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation with a primary focus on intellectual property and open Internet issues.

Originally published by Electronic Frontier Foundation

19.05.2018 – Madrid, Spain Amanda Boucault

This post is also available in: Spanish

Differently Equal

What common elements do people from different cultures have? In essence, we are human beings with the same needs and abilities. We have principles, projects and beliefs. A heart that loves and suffers. A mind that thinks, knows and communicates. A body that looks, hugs and walks forward. That relates to others. The question invites us to reflect on the common things that make us equal, beyond all differences between different peoples and individuals. It’s about what unites us.

The transforming action based on the conviction that there will be no progress without and for everyone was proposed by Clara Gómez-Plácito and Íñigo Gómez-Plácito, activists of the organization Convergence of Cultures, during the round table Interculturality, encounter and dialogue between human beings held as part of the European Humanist Forum 2018.

In a dynamic and entertaining session, the moderators proposed playful activities to promote dialogue on the great challenges of interculturality at the present time, encouraging people from different backgrounds, including Latin Americans, Europeans and Africans, to share their thoughts, experiences and actions on the subject.

In the face of migration processes and population displacement due to conflicts, the lack of information and treatment for people leaving their countries in search of new life opportunities was addressed. Instead of being a statistic on arrival and departure papers, they are human beings with unique stories and characteristics.

During the day, different concepts such as interculturality and planetarisation were also discussed.  The first of these, interculturality, by emphasizing the idea of relationship, goes beyond the term multiculturalism or simple coexistence. For its part, planetarisation expresses the progressive interrelationship of the world, which can be distinguished from globalization, which according to the speakers, revolves around the expansion of market economics across all territories and social levels.

The meeting closed with a beautiful presentation of an African song with a message of peace, and with the final conclusion of the speakers who highlighted the need to shake hands, since only together can we go around the world and change the perspective towards the construction of a Universal Human Nation.

18.05.2018 – Madrid, Spain European Humanist Forum 2018

This post is also available in: Spanish, French, Italian, Catalan, Greek

Members of Parliament from four countries sign Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty Pledge

On Saturday the 12th of May, parliamentarians from Spain, France, Chile and Argentina signed ICAN’s Parliamentary pledge in support of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.  ICAN won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to create the treaty.

The event took place as part of the European Humanist Forum 2018 as a sign of rejection towards Donald Trump’s decision to end the USA’s support for the Iran Nuclear Deal (JCPOA).  Parliamentarians Tomás Hirsch from Chile (Humanist Party), Sabine Rubin from France (France Insoumise), Sergio Pascual from Spain (Podemos) and the Argentinean Marcos Cleri (Unidad Ciudadana), signed the pledge, adding their names to those of hundreds of others from 27 countries.

The signing took place in the presence of Carlos Umaña (ICAN Coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean) and Aurora Bilbao from IPPNW, Spain.

15.05.2018 Countercurrents

Mass Murder In Gaza
A wounded Palestinian demonstrator is evacuated during a protest against U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem and ahead of the 70th anniversary of Nakba, at the Israel-Gaza border in the southern Gaza Strip May 14, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa – RC1119F74020

By Bill Van Auken

The two events—occurring on the 70th anniversary of Israel’s declaration of independence—were juxtaposed by the media, broadcast simultaneously on split screens by television networks. What could not be concealed was the fact that the opening of the American embassy was entirely in line with and, indeed, a statement of political support for the massacre taking place at the security fence separating the impoverished occupied territory from Israel.

The number of unarmed Palestinian protesters shot dead by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) snipers on the eastern border of Gaza rose to at least 58 Monday, with over 2,700 others wounded, many suffering grievous injuries from live ammunition that will almost certainly drive up the death toll. Many of the injured who survive will lose one or more limbs as a result of Israeli sniper fire. Palestinian ambulance teams were reportedly unable to collect some of the bodies of protesters who were cut down as they reached the heavily fortified fence.

Among the dead were at least eight children under the age of 16, including a 12-year-old and one young girl. The wounded included 78 women and 203 children, the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza reported.

This deliberate mass killing of refugees demanding the right to return to the homes and villages from which their families were violently expelled 70 years ago with the founding of the state of Israel is a monstrous criminal act.

The lethal violence unleashed by the Israeli military included air strikes, tank shelling and the dropping of flammable material on tent encampments where Palestinian families had gathered.

This unbridled state violence is motivated not by any lethal threat from the tens of thousands of unarmed demonstrators. The IDF, while killing well over 100 Palestinians, has suffered not a single casualty since the “Great March of Return” protests began in Gaza on March 30.

Rather, the elementary right demanded by the youth marching into gunfire poses an existential threat to the entire Zionist project of carving out a Jewish state based upon racial and religious exclusivity through the dispossession of the Palestinian people.

All those involved in this mass killing, from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet, their enablers in Washington, down to the snipers firing the bullets, are collectively and personally responsible for war crimes. As the Nuremberg trials of the Nazi war criminals established, soldiers are able and obliged to refuse an illegal order to wantonly kill civilians. Only an army saturated with racist and fascistic ideology can be counted on to commit such crimes.

The carnage on the Gaza border was matched by the atmosphere of criminality and reaction at the US embassy ceremony, which was staged before an audience of right-wing Israeli and American politicians, army commanders and leading rabbis.

Present for the occasion was Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino mogul whose millions have gone to fund Zionist settlements in the occupied West Bank as well as Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Also present was Joseph Lieberman, the former Democratic senator and vice-presidential candidate, who drafted the 1995 US legislation—supported overwhelmingly by both parties—that called for transferring the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Further underscoring the bipartisan support for Israel’s criminal policy, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York hailed the opening of the Jerusalem embassy as “long overdue,” adding, “I applaud President Trump for doing it.”

Providing an opening invocation was Robert Jeffress, the right-wing Dallas Baptist preacher who has declared that “all Jews will go to hell” and that Islam is “a heresy from the pit of hell.” He spoke alongside an Israeli rabbi who has described blacks as “monkeys.” Also present was another prominent “Christian Zionist,” John Hagee, who has declared that Hitler was “a hunter” sent by God to fulfill biblical prophesy by chasing the Jews into Israel. Such are the friends of the Israeli state.

While Trump appeared via video, the main speech was given by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who told the audience, “We stand with Israel because we both believe in human rights, democracy worth defending, and believe that we know that it is the right thing to do.” Nothing could provide a more graphic exposure of the “human rights” and “democracy” promoted by Washington than US support for the mass killing of civilian protesters by the Israeli military.

Kushner went on to blame the Palestinians for their own deaths, declaring to applause that “those provoking violence are part of the problem and not part of the solution.” This position was concretized Monday afternoon by a White House spokesman who rebuffed repeated questions about whether Washington was calling on Israel to exercise restraint. He insisted that the “cynical actions” of Hamas, the bourgeois Islamist party that administers the territory, were entirely to blame for the massacre.

The corporate media has done its best to conceal the scale of the crime being carried out in Gaza. Television networks in the US gave the bloodbath short shrift, while making no criticism of Israel’s savage repression. One can easily imagine the reaction had such killings been carried out by the government in Russia, Iran, Venezuela or any other country targeted by the hypocritical “human rights” imperialists.

The European powers issued hand-wringing statements on the Gaza bloodbath that only point to their own complicity. The European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini called for Israel to respect the “principle of proportionality in the use of force’”—something that it clearly will not do—while demanding that Hamas insure that the protests “remain strictly nonviolent.”

For their part, the Arab bourgeois regimes that once falsely postured as defenders of the Palestinian people have turned their backs on the carnage in Gaza. The Saudi monarchy, which has aligned itself firmly with the US and Israel in preparations for a region-wide war with Iran, welcomes the repression.

The Egyptian regime of Gen. Abdel-Fateh al-Sisi issued a hypocritical statement declaring that it “rejects the use of force against peaceful marches demanding legitimate and just rights.” This came from a government that consolidated its power by massacring 1,600 followers of the elected president backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Mursi, toppled in a 2013 coup. The Egyptian regime has demanded that the Gaza protests stop, fearing that the contagion of mass resistance could spill across its own border.

In exchange for suppressing the demonstrators, Cairo has offered to open up the country’s border crossing to Gaza to allow in food, fuel, medicine and other vital supplies that have been stopped by Israel. Tel Aviv has closed down its one open border crossing in retaliation for the protests, threatening to throw the territory’s fragile infrastructure into a state of complete collapse.

There is no fundamental difference between what the Israeli government has done in Gaza and the actions carried out by the most reactionary regimes in history, from British colonialism’s mass killing of Indians in Amritsar in 1919, to the South African apartheid regime’s massacre at Sharpeville in 1960 to the crimes of the Nazi regime itself.

Attempts by Israel to justify its slaughter of Palestinians with references to the Holocaust are morally obscene, as are the efforts to intimidate those who denounce these crimes by labeling them as anti-Semites. This was grotesquely illustrated by Israeli Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who said on Monday that the scale of the death toll on the Gaza border “doesn’t indicate anything—just as the number of Nazis who died in the world war doesn’t make Nazism something you can explain or understand.”

Only a deeply diseased and demoralized society could produce such a comparison between the desperate youth of Gaza, imprisoned by the Israeli military in a territory where they confront 60 percent unemployment, mass poverty and deprivation, with Nazis. The reality is that the Israeli occupation and repression have produced conditions that resemble nothing so much as the Warsaw Ghetto, replete with snipers ready to kill anyone attempting to get out.

Israel as a society and a country is heading toward the abyss. Regardless of the support it enjoys from Washington and other imperialist powers, in the eyes of millions around the world it is viewed as a criminal state, having lost all moral and political legitimacy. No government claiming to be democratic has ever committed such atrocities. The crimes in Gaza are the end product of the methods through which the state was founded 70 years ago and all of the consequences since.

Behind the Zionist myths of Israel representing a “safe haven” for the Jewish people, the onslaught against Gaza and the drive by Tel Aviv toward a wider war in the Middle East are in large measure driven by the desperation of the country’s capitalist ruling class to divert social and class tensions outward by promoting fear, anti-Arab chauvinism and militarism. Israel is second only to the US as the most socially unequal of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, with a 22 percent poverty rate and one of the world’s highest per capita concentrations of billionaires.

The bloody events in Gaza pose with utmost urgency the necessity of uniting the working class, Arab and Jewish alike, across national, religious and sectarian divides in a common struggle against imperialism, Zionism and the Arab bourgeoisie on the basis of a socialist and internationalist program.

There is no national road out of the present bloody impasse, either in the continuation of the crisis-ridden Zionist project or in the chimera of a “two-state solution” based on the creation of a Bantustan-style Palestinian state under the rule of a corrupt native bourgeoisie.

At the same time, the massacre in Gaza constitutes an urgent warning to workers everywhere. The Israeli state’s turn to savage repression is part of a shift to the right by capitalist governments all over the world. The indifference of the media and bourgeois governments to the mowing down of unarmed Palestinian demonstrators is an indication of their readiness to carry out and justify even greater crimes in any country where they face mass resistance.

Originally published in WSWS.org

15.05.2018 – St. Mary’s, Georgia Pressenza New York

7 Anti-Nuke Activists Indicted in Southern District of Georgia Federal Court

Early on the morning of April 5, 2018, seven nuclear abolitionists were arrested inside the Kings Bay Naval Base in St. Mary’s, Georgia.

Kings Bay is the Atlantic homeport for six Trident nuclear ballistic missile submarines and also provides critical support services for the fleet of four British Trident nuclear missile submarines.

The seven Catholic activists entered the high-security base on the night of April 4, choosing to act on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who said, “The greatest purveyor of violence in the world (today) is my own government.” King has devoted his life to addressing the triple evils of militarism, racism, and materialism.

The intent of the Kings Bay Plowshares was to begin fulfilling the prophet Isaiah’s command to” beat swords into plowshares.” Carrying hammers and baby bottles of their own blood, the seven attempted to convert weapons of mass destruction. They marked areas with crime scene tape and hung banners reading: “The ultimate logic of racism is genocide, Dr. Martin Luther King”, “ The ultimate logic of tridents is omnicide” and “Nuclear weapons: Illegal – immoral.” They also brought an indictment of the U.S. government for crimes against peace, and, as part of their evidence, a copy of Daniel Ellsberg’s book The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner.

At the fence surrounding the nuclear weapons storage bunkers, military police arrested Elizabeth McAlister, 78, co-founder with her late husband Philip Berrigan of Jonah House in Baltimore, Fr. Steve Kelly, SJ, 69, from Oakland, California, and Carmen Trotta, 55, from the New York Catholic Worker. Arrested at the administration building were Clare Grady, 59, from the Ithaca Catholic Worker and Martha Hennessy, 62, from the New York Catholic Worker and granddaughter of Catholic Worker movement co-founder Dorothy Day . Mark Colville, 55, from Amistad Catholic Worker in New Haven, Connecticut and Patrick O’Neil, 61, from the Fr. Charlie Mullholland Catholic Worker in Garner, North Carolina, were arrested at the monument to the Trident D5 and other nuclear missiles.

The seven have been held without bond since their arrest. They were indicted on four counts: Conspiracy, Destruction of Property on a Naval Station, Depredation of Government Property, and Trespass on May 3, 2018. They will appear before a magistrate in Brunswick, GA on May 10. Attorney William P. Quigley, Professor of Law at Loyola University, New Orleans, LA, noted, “These peace activists acted in accordance with the 1996 declaration of the International Court of Justice that any threat or use of nuclear weapons is illegal.”

Clare Grady wrote from jail, “We say, ‘the ultimate logic of Trident is omnicide’, and yet, the explosive power of this weapon is only part of what we want to make visible. We see that nuclear weapons kill every day by their mere existence. We see the billions of dollars it takes to build and maintain the Trident system as stolen resources, which are desperately needed for human needs. In response to news of the indictment, Mark Colville, wrote from jail, “Once again the federal criminal justice system has plainly identified itself as another arm of the Pentagon by turning a blind eye to the criminal and murderous course from which it has repeatedly refused to desist for the past 70 years.”

11.05.2018 David Andersson

This post is also available in: Spanish, French, Italian

European Humanist Forum: the first day in pictures

In this case, almost fifty pictures are worth a thousand words…

10.05.2018 Pressenza London

Emmanuel Macron and echoes of May 1968
Emmanuel Macron Campaigning (Image by Austrazil Wikimedia Commons)

Elizabeth Benjamin, Coventry University for The Conversation

As France marks the 50th anniversary of the revolts of May 1968, Emmanuel Macron might get more than he bargained for. Instead of celebrating the occasion, the French president appears to be inadvertently recreating it. He has proposed a controversial higher education reform at a particularly inopportune moment, sparking major protests.

May ’68 had a significant impact on French society, politics and culture. Beginning with student protests, civil unrest soon spread and took on a philosophical dimension, touching every social milieu. Today these events have become a globally recognised myth of French culture and social change.

Macron, who has barely completed his first year in power, designated the anniversary an opportunity for France to “come out of the ‘morose’ ways in which the events that contributed to the modernisation of French society are discussed”. For years, this period in French history was talked about in a negative way, and blamed for France’s ongoing social ills, including by former presidents. Contradictions of aims and demands at the time (clear on the part of the workers, vague and mixed on the part of the students) made May ‘68 a messy affair. Opinions in its wake have been so divided that memory of it is often distorted

Macron, as the first French president born after May ’68, seemed to want to instill a more positive attitude. Nevertheless, he soon changed his mind, deciding not to commemorate it at all, but without giving a real reason. It’s against this backdrop that he brought in his reforms, perhaps explaining why he finds himself facing a rerun.

Macron’s proposed reforms include competitive selection and specialisation processes for universities in a bid to tackle oversubscription and high failure rates. The plans have been greeted with outrage among the general population and targeted action on campuses. Universities across France have suffered closures over the last month as students resist these changes, decrying elitism and social injustice.

Students have occupied campuses, set up blockades, and taken to the streets to protest. Banners and placards have taken inspiration from ’68 to give a visual voice to the crowds. This is all as exam season enters into full swing, preventing many from sitting assessments.

Philosophical roots

France’s education system has its egalitarian roots in the 19th century. A series of laws progressively made school education mandatory, secular and free. Central to the higher education system is the rule that anyone holding the baccalaureate qualification (roughly equivalent to A-Level) is free to attend university. The reform of this qualification is one of the central points of contention in the student protests.

This history adds up to a fierce sense of pedagogical morals, and woe betide anyone who threatens them. If the laws and entry requirements add up to equality and liberty of access, the only remaining strand of the French national motto is the fraternity required to stand up and defend the right to education.

Unfortunately, these shining ideals bring with them a different cost: success. While around 90% of pupils pass the baccalaureate, less than 40% of university students complete the degree which they initially began. This discrepancy was what caused Macron’s government to launch a wide reaching reform of the baccalaureate. The new law, introduced in March 2018, will give universities the power to introduce selection criteria and candidate ranking, in the hope of only taking on students equipped to stay the course.

2018: the anti-May ’68?

Centre-left French newspaper Libération began the year asking “Will 2018 be the anti-May ’68?” Singing the praises of May ’68’s revolt and revolutionary spirit, the paper presented a counter-revolutionary 2018, in which the freedom, equality and fraternity sought back then are stifled under harassment, threats to security , and social malaise. Little did the newspaper realise that May 2018 would actually bear a striking resemblance to its predecessor.

Social unrest sprang up in similar ways in both cases. Today’s students have been occupying campuses across the country, against a background of transport strikes, railway workers protesting in the streets, and Air France being grounded as staff strike over pay. The events of May ’68, like those of May ’18, stem from student resistance to measures to counter chronic oversubscription. Both have been mirrored by protest in other key groups. And both instances have exploded into a fierce defence of French principles.

The current student protests may sit in a radically different context to those of ’68 (with a shift from the socio-cultural to the socio-economic), but there is no denying the continuity of spirit. In both cases, we have a “convergence des luttes” (convergence of struggles) that shows that the threat to the French social model is at stake.

The numbers aren’t looking good for Macron if he wants to avoid a scene. Recent YouGov polls indicate that in the context of the current protests, 52% of French people support a return to the events of May ’68. With only 28% satisfied with Macron’s first year, the French president could find himself reliving rather than commemorating May ’68.

The ConversationDespite the poor timing of Macron’s reform proposals, the May ’68 / May ’18 convergence highlights an engagement with socio-political issues that could be used to his advantage. In the same poll that indicated dissatisfaction with the president’s first year, over half of French people estimated that Macron carries out his promises. The French collective voice will clearly not be silenced, and Macron would do well to provide an ear to its message. Revolutionary ideals die hard, especially in France.

Elizabeth Benjamin, Lecturer in French, Coventry University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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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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