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16.09.2018 Pressenza New York

This post is also available in: Spanish

Conversation with the Chilean Writer Jorge Marchant Lazcano

By Jhon Sánchez and translated by Yani Pérez

I met Jorge Merchant in an elevator. It was the summer of the 2009 and as soon as he said “Hello,” I recognized his Chilean accent. I introduced myself with the name of Cecilio Bolocco, an allusion to the Chilean actress and Miss Universe, Cecilia Bolocco. We laughed a little, and I told him that I was a writer. I didn’t see him again until the summer of 2010 when I ran into him by coincidence in a coffee shop. We spoke for a little while and again, he vanished. This coincidence repeated itself three years in a row until we finally decided to go together to see a Frank Sinatra exhibit at the library of Lincoln Center. In January of 2015, we would meet again when I was on vacation in Chile and this is when he autographed my books. Jorge, we were destined to meet.

JS: So far, I have read only two of your novels, Sangre Como La Mia and Cuartos Oscuros. The two novels take place in New York and make reference to the cinema. Could you comment on how your narrative has evolved since you started writing fiction?

I started writing fiction at the end of the 70s, when I was very young. My first novel Beatriz Ovalle was released in Buenos Aires (Editions Orion, 1977). During the first years of Pinochet’s dictatorship getting published in my country, Chile, was extremely difficult because we didn’t have publishing houses. When the novel was released in Chile, it turned out to be a great publishing and commercial success. After publishing a couple of books more, I disappeared from the literary circle and dedicated myself to writing TV series. That was a good way to learn a trade and make a living during the last dark years of the dictatorship and the uncertain early years of the protected and the somehow betrayed democracy of the 90s.

I wrote for the theater as well and in the 2000’s – a century after, hehehe – I went back writing novels with a historical saga during the 20s in Chile: Me parece que no somos felices (Alfaguara, 2002). This was a re-entry into the Chilean literary circle. In 2006, I made a great leap towards what I wanted to express my more intimate essence: I had been diagnosed with the HIV virus since 1995 and I was still alive, so it was necessary to rescue the difficult journey from which many from my generation never came back. It took me a couple of years to write Sangre Como La Mía (Alfaguara, 2006). I needed the maturity required to go inside an indispensable painful story yet charged with silence. Taking into consideration that Latin America and particularly, Chile – a very conservative country – talking about homosexuality was a theme semi hidden. I wanted to tell the story from the beginning, since before the AIDS epidemic. I wrote about the 50s, the decade I was born in to narrate a family history involving three generations of gay man, unusually united by blood: the father, the son and a maternal uncle.

That has been my basic evolution as a writer. The theme of homosexuality has grown from the edges, other voices, other perspectives; it has never disappeared from my writing. It’s the gravitational center of human behavior that has turned out to be more complex, more open and as time passes more questioned, given that the West has open its perception towards this “difference” that until—not so many years ago, was considered an illness and a crime.

JS: Sangre Como La Mía and Cuartos Oscuros share similar themes: the cinema, AIDS, the gay life in New York, the aging process. Speaking of cinema, would it be fair to say that while Sangre Como La Mía describes the cinematography industry with a nostalgic feeling, the antique theater auditoriums, the great premieres, Cuartos Oscuros, on the other hand, alludes to what the cinema has turned out to be today? The title not only refers to the gay dark rooms for sexual encounters, but also to the darkrooms where photographers work with their negatives and projection booths from where filmmakers show their work. It’s like the love that could never be. What do you think?

Exactly. First, I would like to explain why New York has been the stage for these novels. In 2003, my love partner, with whom I had lived with for about twenty years in Chile, had to move to New York. He was practically dying because of AIDS. He couldn’t get adequate medications in Chile and got asylum in the United States. He saved his life and opened a new door for me. Although I wasn’t able to seek asylum due to my innumerable commitments in Chile, I started to travel every year and I stayed for several months. Emotionally and solitarily, I immersed myself in this city and became acquainted with AIDS organizations in New York. In addition, I had been always been a great reader of North American literature and since my childhood, I was a devout viewer of Hollywood movies. I was familiar with New York since the eighties and this made me an active part of the tragedy that was taking place in this city. I discovered its obscurities when everything was collapsing. This was the natural stage for these stories and for the development of these characters. It was also necessary to have Chile as the departing point for my Chilean characters. My protagonists transformed into anonymous travelers discovering their own lives through these cultural leaps. They are pariahs everywhere. Cinema is the window to illusion. In the case of the fifties and sixties, a glamorous window that speaks from a relatively sparkling New York but with the looming discrimination of West Side Story, and later, the extreme violence of Midnight Cowboy and of Cab Driver. In Cuartos Oscuros (2015) the magic of the past has completely disappeared leaving only the ruins from the antique cinematographic palaces where the timeworn character of my novel arrives from a pilgrimage. There nobody cares what happens on the screens anymore.

Since many decades ago, the big stars have disappeared and the only thing that is left is their ghosts in the hallways having hard sex. Perhaps love could have occurred in some cases, but for most of those beings, it went past them.

JS: In your narrative there is a dialogue between cinema and literature. Furthermore, the stories are spun around movie theaters. Why is this important? Do you believe that new technologies such as Facebook, Tweeter, virtual experiences, video games etc. are able to create a similar dialogue?

There exists a dialogue between cinema and literature: Douglas Sirk (the author of those intense melodramas as Imitation of Life or Written on the Wind) speaks to Paul Auster or Philip Roth, without any of the two parties realizing it. Patricia Highsmith’s novels jumps from Hitchcock’s hands. James Dean is Cal in Eli Kazan’s movie, but it still summarizes the brutal tension of John Steinbeck. Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift transformed the idols from a far away generation of young boys in the scenes of A Place in the Sun , but we have to return our attention to Dreisser’s gigantic pages. Maybe there is a risk if we realize that we’re referring to the Anglo-Saxon culture, and that we didn’t realize before until we fully entered in what we usually call “gay culture”—that in our countries, I believe, it was created very late. Our realities were locked out and we turned out to be a bad copy of that alien reality. This is what happens to the character of Jaime in Sangre Como la Mía, when he sees The Misfits and believes that Clark Gable’s house in the Nevada desert looks like a poor house like those from certain towns in Chile.

I have aimed to reflect all of that in my novels, without theory because I hate theory. I have tried to make my characters have flesh and for that I have created addicts to literature and cinema. The addicts to the literature are usually more discreet. The addicts to cinema are talkative and possibly more frivolous. Each will speak from their own experiences. And who is better to speak about homosexuals than homosexual spectators; those who have filled the rooms with their unspeakable dreams for decades and decades, unable to talk about the pressures that they suffered during their childhood so they would remain silent. Regarding to the experiences in Facebook or other networks, I don’t care very much and I do not believe that they have something serious to add in relation to cinema and literature yet, except in one to one relations. Groups in the networks are confined and speak only among themselves.

JS: Let’s talk about the theme of AIDS, which is present in both books. It is not the death penalty story as told during the 80’s and 90’s, but the history of exile to the United States seeking medicine. In relation to AIDS, is there a difference between the narratives from the past and the narratives from the present?

I have dealt with of the theme of AIDS from my Latin American perspective. A lot of time has passed since David Leavitt faced this theme of the gay culture perspective—accepting that this theme completely involved homosexuals—challenging Reagan’s affront with a novel as The Lost Language of the Cranes (1986). During the years when Leavitt wrote his first works, the dead abounded in the big cities in North America. Here, in our countries, we barely were able to recognize the tragedy because the media hid it and it barely had any discussions with the medical arena. We approached the theme many years after. In France as well there were anticipatory works such as To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life from Hervé Guibert (1991), and in 1999, the Mexican writer, Mario Bellatin dared to write a wonderful and metaphorical story, Beauty Parlor where a hairdresser converts his hair salon to a shelter for the dying. We have arrived late to all of that because of the gap with the center of the world. In my case, we had to record discriminatory experiences to narrate our stories, and without doubt, the lack of medicine forced us to exile, not only as an adventure, but also as a narrative migration.

JS: Which are the stories about AIDS in Chile that we should be familiar with? Are there Latin American authors whom we should be acquainted with?

Probably, if I wouldn’t mention Pedro Lemebel many would think that this is incomplete. He is a Chilean writer often read in this regard, although he is considered to be a chronicle writer yet his exultant and colorful language has won him great prestige. But it’s better to go to the basics: Carlos Monsivais from Mexico. We cannot forget Fernando Vallejo from Colombia, and certainly, we have to go to the roots of homosexuality, before the AIDS, with the voices of the memorable Argentinian writer Manuel Puig, or the Cuban Reinaldo Arenas, or even further, Virgilio Piñera, also from Cuba.

But no one has spoken of AIDS with the realistic vigor than the Anglo-Saxons who have covered the story completely with authors like Alan Hollinghurst, David Leavitt or Harold Brodkey. There lies the history that never can be forgotten.

JS: One day on the beach you said, “Jhon, you have to read Philip Roth. ” Philip Roth, who died Recently, has been a great influence in you literary career. Would you like to share with our readers how he has influenced your narrative and what other authors are important to you?

Philip Roth is among the best writers in the United States from the last 30 years, according to an article published by the New York Times Book Review Book Review in in May 2006. At the top of my head and in my opinion, American Pastoral (1997), Roth deals with the great fears of the contemporary American man. It is necessary to face our own individual demons in a society that encloses itself and encloses in its own selfishness. This kind of societies grow and grow in all of the western world, reinforced by the merciless neo-liberalism, making us into the same desolate monsters. There are scarce possibilities to reverse this so Roth’s works are almost premonitory of the wild world that awaits us in the short term.

The big writers are visionaries; Scott Fitzgerald did it during the 20s and 30s, or Steinbeck, or William Styron, or Mary Mc Carthy, or James Purdy, to name a few of the North American writers who I keep reading with passion.

JS: Cuartos Oscuros fascinates me. The novel creates suspense with an unknown character with whom the narrator let’s himself embark on all kinds of adventures. It’s funny, mysterious, very tragic and almost magical ¿ Where can we find other examples from that kind of narrative? Is it precisely that unknown and blind character who creates the suspense or do we need something else?

It’s true that Cuartos Oscuros comes closer to that certain kind of North American narration. For example, Paul Auster’s style where, he uses a magical way to unveil the story like peeling layers off an onion. But I also believe it’s an expression of the Latin American narrative. Salón de Belleza –old fashioned name—something from Reinaldo Arenas and for certain, a lot from the Argentinian Manuel Puig, to whom I celebrate in this novel through a series of experiences imagined in New York, mixing them with main characters. Latin America was for many years the paradise of magical realism—to which I do not subscribe. On the contrary, my character is one of these mysterious characters, these blind people, who walk first in our cities as in the work of the Argentine Mario Sábato.

JS: And of course, Cuartos Oscuros , speaks about a reality of gay life: the tribute to the youth. Those who turn a certain age are left behind to have sex in the dark rooms and the video sex stores. What is the challenge for gay people who arrive at a certain age? How is it possible to face the aging process within the cultural tendency towards idolatry with youth?

Cuartos Oscuros is precisely the contrary. In these times of hedonism, of superficial triumphs from youth that only looks at itself, of the triumph of a recent homosexuality that never had won any sort of battle, I wanted to render tribute to old age. I did it without a morbid curiosity but parting from my own reality. I am 68 years old and at the time I wrote the novel, I was facing an arid period in my personal life. In some moments, I felt outside of reality, between travels, from Santiago to New York, without belonging to any part. So on more than one occasion, I thought of “burning down the ships.” ” A friend’s suicide gave me courage to go all the way to the deepest part of the well and try to pull through without any need to die. Love, is alive again, and this made me look at everything with new eyes. But what was left was the record of this blind man and the writer who follows him: they act as creatures that could be saved through sex.

JS: I cannot pass up the chance to ask you about the title, Cuartos Oscuros, is this a metaphor to the photographic dark room, and to the projection booths? From that point of view the movie has a vintage feel, a call to recover a lost past in cinema and our lives?

That title makes reference to those rooms described in that place in Queens [the movie theater from the book is set in Queens]. It has a lot of vintage appeal because those places are disconnected from reality. Elderly men only go there without an interest to watch the actual movie. For that, they have the DVD’s in their houses to repeat the old ritual of watching it twice or three times. Even so, some people, including a woman, said to me, “We all have our own dark rooms, our own secrets that can be part of our conscience, where it is difficult to leave.

JS: Sangre como la mía is a well-written book that can be re-read numerous times. It has one of the best opening sentences I have ever seen in literature. This is because it creates interest and injects a dose of the character’s emotions in the present and future, “In one of those moments I was already dead but I hadn’t even realized it. Just like William Holden in that unforgettable movie that I was about to watch.” Well, this is an AIDS story so the question is, after the diagnosis, how is it possible not to die in life or to continue living?

That “opening sentence” follows the initial image that I had conceived for this novel. I thought to give the title “Dead Man Speaking” that relates to the initial moment of William Holden in Sunset Boulevard. It was then when the idea to write a novel about AIDS popped into my head. For many years, the death penalty and this disease went hand in hand. This is why William Holding floating in a pool in Hollywood telling his own story would turn into a wonderful element to start this novel and to continue it along with iconic images of North American cinema. In a way, this character starts to live again after his death by the power of the narrative and creative invention.

JS: You guys in Chile are celebrating the Oscar of A Woman Fantastic, a movie with a Latin-American and LGBT themes. What does all of this mean for Chile? For Latin America?

The movie by Sebastian Lelio came out at an opportune moment in Chile. The right-wing Sebastian Piñera was ascending to power for a second time. The theme around a transsexual character opened an intense debate for a homophobic and conservative right. El Palacio de la Moneda, has to reluctantly celebrate the triumph and Daniela Vega, its protagonist, an icon of sexual difference. In any case, for her, it has not been that easy because the country is very much divided regarding underlying values. There is a great part of the Chileans that even now continue denying Daniela her gender identity and continue saying the Daniela is Daniel. Without a doubt, A Fantastic Woman is a great artistic and cultural achievement for Chile, cementing the international career for its director: His next project is the North American version of his previous movie, Gloria, where the protagonist interpreted by Paulina García who won the Berlin Film Festival’s Silver Bear, will now be played by Julianne Moore in the English version. Furthermore, after A Fantastic Woman, Lelio directed a great British movie Disobedience where Rachel Weitz plays a Jewish lesbian in the heart of a closed orthodox Jewish community in London.

JS: We hope to have more novels set in New York with that Chilean flavor.

Jorge Marchant Lazcano is a Chilean writer, born in Santiago, Chile, in 1950. A Journalist, he is graduated from Universidad de Chile. He is one of the most interesting Chilean writers of the moment, although he is not massively read. His narrative has gone through different stages: his first novel, Beatriz Ovalle (1977) was influenced by Manuel Puig’s first pieces (especially his novel Boquitas Pintadas); Mr. Marchant went through a period of pseudo historical novels. Novels such as Me parece que no somos felices (2002) Y La joven de blanco (2004). Now he transitions to a more mature and surprising stage with his novels, Sangre como la mía (2006), El amante sin rostro (2008), La promesa del fracaso (2012) and Cuartos oscuros (2015). Currently, he is working on incorporating a mixture of the lessons he has learned from the past on a novel that is influenced by writers such as E.M. Forster, August d’Halmar and Edward Carpenter, set in England in1907.

Jhon Sánchez: A native of Colombia, Mr. Sánchez arrived to the United States seeking political asylum. Currently, a New York attorney, he’s a JD/MFA graduate. His most recent short stories published in 2018 are Pleasurable Death available on The Meadow, and The I-V Therapy Coffee Shop of the 21st Century available on Bewildering Stories. On September 21, the British magazine Fiction On The Web will release his short story “‘My Love, Ana,’—Tommy”.

Yani Pérez is an Ecuadorian born, Brooklyn raised poet and playwright.  Her work can be found in literary journals and websites such as Brooklyn Paramount, By the Overpass, Having A Whiskey Coke With You, Napalm and Novocain, Jellyfish Whispers, Barbie in a Blender Anthology and Storm Cycle 2012: The Best of Kind of a Hurricane Press. She reads her poetry in literary events throughout the city. She assists with literary workshops and publicity at IATI Theater. She also does marketing for artists, theaters and businesses. When not writing, plays, poetry or marketing materials, she teaches English at the university level. Her current research entails the merging of American and Hispanic concepts in second and third generations to accommodate the duality of Latinos in America. She received her M.F.A in Creative Writing from Long Island University/Brooklyn

15.09.2018 Silvia Swinden

Facebook Condemned for Empowering Right-Wing Magazine to “Drive Liberal News Outlets Into the Ground
Mark Zuckerberg 1984 Berlin Graffiti (Image by Victorgrigas, Wikimedia Commons)

What do you achieve when you let the Weekly Standardoperate as a fact-checker for one of the internet’s most powerful platforms? “You achieve bullshit.”

Progressive outlets and commentators have been warning since Facebook launched its latest news feed algorithm that allowing such a powerful corporation to become the arbiter of “trustworthy” sources would threaten non-corporate and left-wing outlets that publish information.

These warnings took on a new sense of urgency after Facebook began giving a ton of airtime to Fox News and making publications like the Weekly Standard the gatekeepers of legitimate news.

Demonstrating that Facebook has no plans to apply critical scrutiny to articles published by the very outlet it has empowered as an official fact-checker, The Intercept‘s Jon Schwartz found three basic falsehoods in a single paragraph of an article published on the Weekly Standard‘s website on Friday.

As of this writing, the Weekly Standard has not yet deemed its article “false.”



14.09.2018 – London, UK Silvia Swinden

Kleptocracies love migrants
The Bosses of the Senate (Image by Joseph Ferdinand Keppler • Public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

Contrary to their stated manifestos, the most neoliberal right wing governments take advantage of the massive migrations that their own policies on wars and promotion of poverty in developing countries produce. The concentration of wealth continues unabated increasing inequality and social unrest but the way this trend is connected to racism and anti-immigration policies is seldom mentioned.

Here we have the evidence of the rich getting richer and the poor getting screwed up.

“The latest after-tax corporate profits reported in the second quarter of 2018 are at a record high. Meanwhile, nearly half of the country struggles to pay for basic necessities.

As the Wall Street Journal reported this week, corporate profits are up 16.1 percent when compared to the second quarter of 2017, which is the largest year-to-year gain since 2012. …

“However, despite how well investors have been faring over the last decade, those gains have not been shared with the vast majority of American workers. The latest data compiled by the St. Louis Federal Reserve shows that while corporate profits have been steadily rising since the Great Recession of the late 2000s, workers’ share of those profits is still below recession levels.

“The fact that corporate profits are so high may be precisely because wages for workers have been relatively stagnant for decades. The Urban Institute published a report earlier this week that found that of the 7,500 Americans it surveyed, approximately 40 percent were unable to afford basic necessities, like groceries, rent, and basic healthcare. The Los Angeles Times broke down the study’s astonishing findings, including how nearly one in four Americans struggle with food insecurity.” Gritpost

“The number of people in the UK earning more than £1m a year has jumped to over 18,700, with more than one in 10 of them living in Kensington and Chelsea, according to figures released by HM Revenue & Customs.

The total increased by 3,700 in the latest available tax year, but there are concerns that many of the “highly mobile” high-earners could quit the UK in the wake of a messy Brexit.” The Guardian . Meanwhile austerity continues to affect the poor and services.

Kleptocracies o government by thieves, steal from the poor and to a lesser extent from the middle classes to give to the rich.

Keeping migrants illegal and desperate allows for exploitation and reduction in salaries to regular workers

Right wing parties keep the population fearful of an uncontrolled influx of migrants and therefore vote por the kleptocratic parties that steal from them their livelihood  via austerity and force them into poverty, competing with migrants for services.

The media in the hands of the servants to the kleptocrats not only stoke up the fear of migrants but also concoct false smears about the parties that would protect both the workers rights and those of the migrants.

Kleptocracies use “Democracy” and “the will of the people” to justify policies in fact voted by ill informed minorities as if they were the whole of the population.

Kleptocracies create desperate migrant people by supporting wars vía the Arms Trade.

Kleptocracies dehumanise migrants, degrading their culture and customs, using their predicament as “proof” of their inferiority and unworthiness.

Kleptocracies exercise semantic violence, calling recession what in reality is concentration of wealth, austerity what in reality is planned poverty, blaming workers for “low productivity”  as the cause of economic failure, when in reality it is poor working conditions and equipment what prevents a higher productivity.

Kleptocracies empty existence of meaning by pretending the only purpose in life is to achieve wealth and power, a message repeated ad nauseam by the mass media and the education system.

Kleptocracies believe themselves to be beyond the consequences of climate change and death by health problems created by environmental pollution continuing therefore to support contaminating forms of energy.

An international alliance of “progressives” being born

The situation is becoming critical as this state of affairs has promoted the raise of the ultra right, the neonazis, fascism in its many forms, adding to the already existing irrational fundamentalisms of all colours. If we fail to understand this is the result of fear instilled through manipulation we will not be able to give any coherent response to this debacle. Compassion for the facists that show no compassion for migrants and minorities? Strange as this may seem the only way out is for everybody to improve their situation by changing the dynamics of the present system. People take refuge in extreme proposals when the future seems closed, when solidarity becomes a bad word, when they feel alone and under siege.

Only a nonviolent revolution, devoid of compulsion towards revenge can get us out of the vicious circle of alternating power mad opposing narratives. In Silo’s words, “realising that progress for the few is progress for no one” should make us meditate about the need for all inclusive new proposals.

Some positive responses are starting to emerge, new and creative proposals from people with a humanist heart, proposals for the well being of humanity as a whole. Some timidly resuscitate “socialism” but fear of the backlash has led some to rebrand themselves as “progressives”. And it may be working. Today Bernie Sanders writes for The Guardian  “A new authoritarian axis demands an international progressive front” ….”In order to effectively combat the rise of the international authoritarian axis, we need an international progressive movement that mobilizes behind a vision of shared prosperity, security and dignity for all people, and that addresses the massive global inequality that exists, not only in wealth but in political power.

“Such a movement must be willing to think creatively and boldly about the world that we would like to see. While the authoritarian axis is committed to tearing down a post-second world war global order that they see as limiting their access to power and wealth, it is not enough for us to simply defend that order as it exists now.”

The best antidote for toxic politics is an open future, a new humanism that rejects fear and manipulation, and brings together all the cultures of the world into a Universal Human Nation. Then people will stop the self defeating election of kleptocratic governments and seek to transform purely formal democracy into Real Democracy.

12.09.2018 – Budapest, Hungary Pressenza Budapest

Hungary: Illiberal Democracy fails in the European Parliament

By triggering the Article 7 procedure, the European Parliament has made it clear that illiberal democracy is against the core values of the European Union. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee welcomes that the EP has validated, with a two-third majority, the long-standing concerns over the Hungarian political system. This enables Member State governments to adequately address in the Council the serious and systemic deficiencies threatening the rule of law and democracy in Hungary. This may be the last moment for the EU institutions to send a clear signal to governments that are keen to copy the Hungarian practices of weakening constitutional democracy. The dialogue conducted in the Council serves to protect the rights of Hungarian citizens, and provides a chance for defending democracy both in Hungary and in Europe. In this process, Hungarian society, including the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and all civil society actors will have an important role to play.

Press release by Hungarian Helsinki Commitee

12.09.2018 – Budapest, Hungary Pressenza Budapest

Hungary: Illiberal Democracy fails in the European Parliament

By triggering the Article 7 procedure, the European Parliament has made it clear that illiberal democracy is against the core values of the European Union. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee welcomes that the EP has validated, with a two-third majority, the long-standing concerns over the Hungarian political system. This enables Member State governments to adequately address in the Council the serious and systemic deficiencies threatening the rule of law and democracy in Hungary. This may be the last moment for the EU institutions to send a clear signal to governments that are keen to copy the Hungarian practices of weakening constitutional democracy. The dialogue conducted in the Council serves to protect the rights of Hungarian citizens, and provides a chance for defending democracy both in Hungary and in Europe. In this process, Hungarian society, including the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and all civil society actors will have an important role to play.

Press release by Hungarian Helsinki Commitee

11.09.2018 David Swanson

Leave Syria the Hell Alone

By David Swanson

Last weekend I was on Iranian TV being asked about the meeting in Tehran at which the presidents of Iran and Russia had refused to agree with the President of Turkey to stop bombing people in Syria. I said Iran and Russia were wrong.

I also said that nobody involved, least of all the United States, was right.

Not only would the United States and the world be infinitely better off if in response to 9/11 the U.S. government had done nothing at all, as Jon Schwartz tweets each year, but Syria would be dramatically better off if just about any outside force had never gotten in or now got out.

Here’s my 5-step plan for Syria:

  1. Get the bloody hell out and stay out. Why should Kosovo and Czechia and the Slovak Republic have the right to decide their fate, but Crimea and Diego Garcia and Okinawa — and Syria — not? The whim of the U.S. military should not be decisive in such matters. Stop trying to save Syria from the Syrians by killing Syrians. Enough. Do not come back.
  2. Stop the simpletonism. Opposing U.S. crimes has nothing whatsoever to do with defending the crimes of Syria or Russia or Iran or Saudi Arabia or any other national or non-state government — and vice versa. The enemy of your exaggerated party line is probably necessary to the process of ending the mass slaughter.
  3. Stop falling for propaganda. There is nothing legal, moral, or in any way practical about launching or escalating a war because someone else used a particular type of weapon, or because you pretended someone else used a particular type of weapon. The question of whether or not the weapon was used by the designated enemy is completely and utterly irrelevant to the question of whether to engage in the supreme international crime and the greatest immorality yet developed. Unproven and even ludicrous claims are very, very tempting to critique. I am almost utterly powerless to stop you, or even to get you to understand my desire to stop you. But in so doing, you are accepting a dangerous framing of the debate in which the justifiability of mass-murder supposedly hangs on disputed facts. It does not — not ever. Nor does Congress have any power to legalize a crime.
  4. Support real solutions. The U.S. government should not “do nothing,” even though that would be a dramatic improvement. It should, after completely removing every armed representative of itself from Syria and the entire region, and ceasing to export weapons, apologize, join the International Criminal Court rather than attacking it (even while trying to claim that Syrian crimes need addressing), join all the world’s major human rights treaties, spread democracy by developing one at home in the United States, and pay unprecedented but, in comparison to military expenditures, small reparations to Syria and surrounding nations with no strings attached.
  5. Remember 2013. Remember that popular pressure prevented a massive bombing campaign of Syria. Remember that this was done with non-partisan popular sentiment while the U.S. President favored bombing people for their own good as acts of philanthropy. If that could be done then, surely now during the open-barbarism of the Trump-sewer-twitter era we can block a new attack on Syria pre-announced as being based on the very same excuse as 5 years ago. Powerlessness is in the eye of the conceder.

11.09.2018 IDN InDepthNews

Former UN Chief and Bill Gates on Board as the Netherlands Accelerates Climate Adaptation
(Image by Photo credit: UNDP)

By Reinhard Jacobsen

AMSTERDAM (IDN) – Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon will oversee the Global Commission on Adaptation to climate change, which the Government of the Netherlands and the Global Center on Adaptation have decided to set up. It will be formally launched on October 16 in The Hague. Bill Gate, Co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva will support Ban.

The Global Center on Adaptation, an international organization hosted by the Netherlands, in partnership with World Resources Institute will co-host the Commission.

The importance of the Global Commission on Adaptation derives from the fact that Climate change adaptation as a response to global warming, also known as climate change, is particularly important in developing countries.

Those countries are bearing the brunt of the effects of climate change. The economic costs of adaptation to climate change are likely to cost billions of dollars annually for the next several decades, though the amount of money needed is unknown.

Donor countries promised an annual $100 billion by 2020 through the Green Climate Fund for developing countries to adapt to climate change. However, while the fund was set up during the UN Climate Change Conference in the Mexican city of Cancún in 2010, concrete pledges by developed countries have not been forthcoming. But the adaptation challenge grows with the magnitude and the rate of climate change.

A new paper – published in the scientific journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution by an international group of scientists led by the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, University of Copenhagen – reviews current knowledge on climate change and biodiversity.

Nature is reacting to climate change, scientists say. “We see altered behaviour and movement among plants and animals; flowers change flowering period and owls get darker body colour, due to warmer winters.”

“We compiled an enormous amount of studies of events, which we know influenced biodiversity during the past million years. It turns out species have been able to survive new conditions in their habitat by changing either their behaviour or body shape. However, the current magnitude and unseen speed of change in nature may push species beyond their ability to adapt.”

Against this backdrop, the Commission could play a significant role in mobilising funds for developing countries.

The announcement of the formation of the Commission was made during an event marking the new construction of an innovative climate-adaptive floating office in Rotterdam by Dutch Minister Van Nieuwenhuizen for Infrastructure and Water Management, the initiating Commissioner. Van Nieuwenhuizen noted that the Commission will elevate the political visibility of adaptation and will focus on solutions, catalyzing a global adaptation movement and accelerating action.

“For the Netherlands, looking for solutions to water issues is part of everyday life. This is not yet the case in other areas and countries that also increasingly are faced with extreme weather,” the Minister stated.

“Climate change is making itself felt almost on a daily basis. Take, for example, the prolonged drought that currently is affecting large parts of Europe. By launching this Commission, we aim to press the need for worldwide climate adaptation,” she added.

Ban Ki-moon said, “Today’s announcements by the Government of the Netherlands is a critical step forward to set in motion more vigorous attention to and action around climate adaptation. I congratulate Minister van Nieuwenhuizen for her role as an initiator of the Global Commission on Adaptation and look forward to collaborating with her and other global leaders as we embark on our worldwide mission to accelerate adaptation.”

The floating office to be constructed in Rotterdam will be home to the Global Center on Adaptation, which has expanded its mission under new leadership. In addition to its office in Rotterdam, the Global Center will have an office in Groningen, which will be inaugurated by Ban on October 17.

Patrick Verkooijen, the newly appointed Chief Executive Office of the Global Center, said his goal is to inspire clarity behind the adaptation agenda and pursue pragmatic steps that can help address policies, investments, financing, and governance needed for more adaptation action globally.

“We act as a solutions broker,” Verkooijen said, “bringing together governments, the private sector, civil society, intergovernmental bodies, and knowledge institutions that can address the obstacles slowing down adaptation action.”

Of the Global Center, Ban noted that “the role of Global Center on Adaptation will be significant because we need all societies to learn from one another.  Under the exemplary and bold leadership of Patrick Verkooijen, the Center will help accelerate transformation at scale and at speed.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 11 September 2018]

Photo credit: UNDP

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

08.09.2018 David Swanson

Celebrate Mass Slaughter on Patriot Day!

By David Swanson

I went in search of anything the United States was number 1 in that it shouldn’t be ashamed of, and came up empty. But I did find that the United States is number 1 in believing it is number 1. So, that’s something.

In my book, Curing Exceptionalism, I wrote:

“From John Winthrop before the fact to Tocqueville and on through John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, up to and including Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and most voices on U.S. television news today, as well as that neighbor or friend who’s never left the United States but assures us it is “the greatest country on earth,” a consensus has evolved and solidified around the idea of U.S. exceptionalism. It is the point of agreement between those who would “make America great again” and those who declare it to be “already great.” It’s an idea that has grown more strident and a bit defensive at the same time. But it’s a “belief” in the sense of a religious belief, not an ordinary belief strictly connected to any disagreement with the facts . . . .

“For many people in the United States it is commonplace to describe this country as uniquely free, democratic, and capitalist; as the best place to live on earth; and as the one nation indispensable to upholding the rule of law. A careful examination, as we have seen, finds the United States to be indeed unique in a remarkable number of ways, but not always in the ways imagined. In fact, the assumptions and motivations of exceptionalism turn out to be no more factual or benign than those of racism or sexism or other forms of bigotry.

“In 2018, millions of Americans believed God had chosen Trump for the presidency.[i] They were squarely in the nonpartisan tradition of exceptionalist thinking. “[T]here can be little question that the hand of providence has been on a nation which finds a Washington, a Lincoln, or a Roosevelt when it needs him,” wrote Seymour Martin Lipset in 1995 with an apparently straight face and no hint at whose hand was responsible for, say, Zachary Taylor, William McKinley, or Richard Nixon. Lipset was a past president of both the American Political Science Association and the American Sociological Association and had been elected to the American Philosophical Society, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He had taught at Harvard and Stanford. And in his well-received book American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword, from which the above quote is taken, he informed us that America was indeed exceptional, and that the “hand of providence” made it so.[ii]


The United States is number 1 in military spending, wars, bases, and various sorts of weaponry, as well as in selling weaponry to the rest of the world. And it’s number 1 in associating militarism with general greatness. Dick Cheney’s and Liz Cheney’s 2015 book, Exceptional: Why the World Needs a Powerful America, finds the United States to be very, very exceptional, but exclusively in the area of war. Their book includes no mention of health, education, intellectual advancement, art, culture, technology, environmental protection, or quality of life — only the idea of “freedom,” which the authors, as is fairly typical, never define in any way. They only tell us that others do not have freedom, and that it is protected by wars — the same wars that restrict rights to speak, to assemble, to report, to have a fair trial, to not be searched without a warrant, and to not be tortured or killed. These are all rights that the same book advocates violating.[iii]


Needless to say, I checked all the surveys and studies on freedom, by every definition — studies done by U.S. institutions, including the U.S. government, and studies done all over the world — and nobody, right, left or center, ranks the United States as number 1 in freedom.

Why does it matter? Well, patriotic exceptionalism damages those who practice it, as well as those who have to live and die on the same planet with them:

“What we’re dealing with is not just valuing the United States, but also devaluing the rest of the world — and not just as observers, but as people who believe they have the right, if not the duty, to impose their will on the rest of the world. Exceptionalism is an attitude that tends to include arrogance, ignorance, and aggression, and these tend to do a great deal of damage.

“In recent polling on possible future wars, a majority in the United States is willing to support an air attack, even a nuclear attack, on a foreign country, such as Iran or North Korea, that kills 100,000 civilians if it is an alternative to a ground attack that could kill 20,000 Americans.[iv] In fact, the U.S. public has largely sat by for the past 17 years of wars in which the nations attacked have suffered tens and hundreds of times more deaths than the U.S. military.[v] Americans overwhelmingly tell pollsters that it is fine to kill non-Americans with U.S. drones, but illegal to kill U.S. citizens.[vi] Keith Payne, a drafter of the 2018 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review, back in 1980, parroting Dr. Strangelove, defined success to allow up to 20 million dead Americans as the price for killing a much higher number of non-Americans.[vii] The U.S. government has placed compensation for an Iraqi life at no more than $15,000, but the value of a U.S. life at no less than $5 million.[viii]

“When people ask how President Harry Truman could have used nuclear weapons that killed so many Japanese people unless he actually believed he was saving at least some significant number of U.S. lives, they are assuming that Truman placed some positive value on the life of a Japanese person. Truman was the same man who had earlier remarked, “If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible.”[ix] U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright famously remarked that the deaths of a half million Iraqi children was “worth it,” without really being pressed to explain what the “it” was.[x] During the war on Vietnam, the U.S. military bragged on a weekly basis about how many people it killed. In recent wars, it has avoided mentioning that topic. But in neither case does it weigh the non-U.S. lives taken against whatever the supposed good is that’s being attempted, as it might do if it believed those lives had any value.

“This is where exceptionalism looks like a form of bigotry. One type of person is much more valuable. The other 96 percent of humanity is just not worth very much. If people in the United States valued all human lives equally, or even remotely close to equally, discussions of foreign aid funded by the U.S. government would sound very different. The U.S. government budget devotes less than 1 percent to foreign aid (including weapons “aid”) but the U.S. public on average believes that 31 percent of the budget goes to foreign aid.[xi] Reducing this mythical generosity is extremely popular with the U.S. public.[xii] The U.S. public usually sees itself as enormously generous to the rest of the world, but often believes its imagined generosity to be unappreciated. Several years into the war on Iraq that began in 2003, a plurality in the United States believed, not only that Iraqis should be grateful, but that Iraqis were in fact grateful for a war that had scholars using the term “sociocide” to describe its impact on Iraqi society.[xiii]”

So, forgive me if I take a pass on Patriot Day this September 11th, and forgive me if I direct your pleas for “good” patriotism into a spam folder. I don’t want good racism, good sexism, or good patriotism. I want good humanism. It would make everyone in the United States and outside of it better off.

[i] Amy Sullivan, “Millions of Americans Believe God Made Trump President,” Politico, (January 27, 2018).

[ii] Seymour Martin Lipset, American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1996).

[iii] Dick Cheney and Liz Cheney, Exceptional: Why the World Needs a Powerful America (Threshold Editions, 2015).

[iv] Christopher Preble, “How Americans Feel About Going to (Nuclear) War,” War on the Rocks, (August 15, 2017).

[v] Nicolas J.S. Davies, “The Illusion of War Without Casualties,” Consortium News, (March 9, 2018).

[vi] “Public Says It’s Illegal to Target Americans Abroad As Some Question CIA Drone Attacks,”, (February 7, 2013).

[vii] Marjorie Cohn, “Pentagon to Allow Nuclear Responses to Non-Nuclear Attacks,” Truthout, (February 6, 2018).

[viii] While the U.S. has typically paid $0 to $5,000 dollars as compensation for an Iraqi life, (see the State Department and Blackwater arrived at the figure of $15,000, (see At the same time, the lowest government value for a U.S. life was $5 million assigned by the Food and Drug Administration, (see

[ix] “Harry S. Truman,” Wikipedia,

[x] “Madeleine Albright – The deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children was worth it for Iraq’s non existent WMD’s,” Youtube,

[xi] Jon Greenberg, “Most people clueless on U.S. foreign aid spending,” Politifact, (November 9, 2016).

[xii] Kevin Robillard, “Poll: Most only want foreign aid cuts,” Politico, (February 22, 2013).

[xiii] David Swanson, “Ever More Shocked, Never Yet Awed,” Let’s Try Democracy, (March 18, 2013).

06.09.2018 Countercurrents

Historic Supreme Court Verdict: Homosexuality no longer a crime in India
(Image by Countercurrents)

Supreme Court of India has ruled to decriminalise gay sex, in an historic and unanimous verdict handed down by a five-judge panel that will have a profound impact both here in India and across the world. The court ruled that consensual sex between adults of any gender was no longer deemed a crime.

Until now, gay sex had been punishable by up to 10 years in prison under Section 377 of the Indian constitution, a relic of the Victorian-era laws imposed by the British Empire. It outlawed sexual activities “against the order of nature” and was interpreted by police and courts as referring to homosexuality.

Reading out his judgement on the case, the Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said interpreting Section 377 to criminalise gay sex was “irrational, arbitrary and indefensible. Any consensual sexual relationship between two consenting adults – homosexuals, heterosexuals or lesbians – cannot be said to be unconstitutional”

In 2009, the High Court declared the ban on gay sex to be unconstitutional. But that judgment was overturned by a small panel of the Supreme Court, which said amending or repealing the law should be left to Parliament.

Section 377 is part of an 1861 law, bans “carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal” — which was interpreted to refer to homosexual sex.

05.09.2018 IDN InDepthNews

UN, Member States, Funding Institutions Unite to Ensure Security and Development in the Lake Chad Region
(Image by Photo: Nigerian refugees in Gagamari camp, Diffa region, Niger. Violence inflicted by the terrorist group Boko Haram from northern Nigeria has destabilised the entire region and caused large scale displacements of people. Photo: EU/ECHO/Anouk Delafortrie)

By Ramesh Jaura

BERLIN (IDN) – More than 17 million people across north-eastern Nigeria and parts of Cameroon, Chad and Niger, comprising the Lake Chad region, are facing a complex crisis driven by extreme poverty, climate change and violent conflict compounded by the terrorist activities of Boko Haram, a jihadist militant organization. As a result, more than 2.4 million people are displaced and over 10 million people need assistance to meet their basic protection and humanitarian needs.

Against this backdrop, 70 delegations from governments, regional and international organizations and civil society representatives participating in the High Level Conference on the Lake Chad Region have agreed on an aid package of US$ 2.17 billion to support humanitarian and peacebuilding as well as development activities to ensure security in the area.

The package consists of multiyear contributions from 17 UN Member States, the European Commission, the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (US$ 43.64), the UN Peacebuilding Fund (US$32 million), the African Development Bank (US$35.65 million) and the World Bank (US$270 million).

The largest Member States donors are the United States (US$420.13 million), Germany (US$309.30 million), the European Commission (US$269.81 million), United Kingdom (US$186.70 million), France (US$152.68 million) and Norway (US$125.40 million).

In addition to this funding, multilateral financial institutions – the African Development Bank, Islamic Development Bank and World Bank – announced US$ 467 million in concessional loans.

Senior United Nations officials have welcomed the donors’ decisions.

UN Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Achim Steiner said the grants and concessional loans pledged for the Lake Chad region “are a strong endorsement of our new way of working together” to address both the humanitarian needs and the root causes of the crisis in the longer term. “In this way, our response to a crisis is also an opportunity to invest in a future where crises are less likely and nations are more resilient,” he added.

UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock accentuated that over 10 million people in the Lake Chad region still need life-saving humanitarian aid and protection. “Violence, hunger, displacement and fear remain the harsh realities of their daily lives,” he added, “but today we have better access to many communities than we had a year ago.”

Lowcock thanked the donors for their “profoundly generous announcements of support to the humanitarian operation.” This, he added, sends a concrete message of solidarity and hope to the vulnerable people.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas of Germany, which joins the UN Security Council next January as a non-permanent member for 2019-2020, said the donor nations had stood together to renew their commitment to the Lake Chad region. “Once the economic hub between northern and sub-Saharan Africa, it must not become a haven for terrorism, crime and human trafficking.”

Problems that transcend borders need solutions that do so as well, said Maas. “This is why Germany supports regional cooperation among the four crisis-affected countries. We aim to bolster local efforts for people to live once again in security and peace, to find rewarding work in their communities, and to be able to go to school.”

Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide of Norway assured that her country remains committed to strengthening the humanitarian response and laying the foundation for a sustainable development in the Lake Chad region. “We want to give priority to the protection of women, children and young people. They often bear the brunt of this crisis. Not least, there is an urgent need to step up the fight against Gender-Based Violence,” she added.

Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama of Nigeria said: “The protracted humanitarian and development challenges in the Lake Chad region have placed enormous responsibilities on both the riparian states and the global community. Without doubt, there is a need for relevant stakeholders to scale up responses to the crisis, by bolstering and strengthening coordination towards ensuring a more synergized delivery of assistance.”

In an “outcome document“, Conference co-hosts – Germany, Nigeria, Norway and the United Nations – note that the conference was a success because stakeholders working on humanitarian assistance, crisis prevention and stabilization, and development came together to identify shared challenges and opportunities.

The conference highlighted the added value of bringing together a range of stakeholders and taking a multi-dimensional approach to the crisis, states the document. Discussions on September 3 and 4 underlined the regional dimension of the crisis that transcends national borders.

The participation of all affected countries, particularly by the governors and civil society representatives, the document adds, was key to ground the discussions in the reality of the everyday experience of people affected by the crisis. “In this regard, the conference underscored the importance of a people-centered approach, building on the capacities of individuals and communities, in shaping responses across all pillars.”

Conference participants agreed that addressing the challenges in the Lake Chad region in a sustainable way requires a coherent and multi-year approach. The three high-level panel discussions recognized that actors in the humanitarian, stabilization and crisis prevention, and sustainable development spheres have distinct but complementary roles to play to address needs, strengthen the resilience of affected populations and countries, and work towards the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution on the situation in the Lake Chad region 2349 (2017) based on their respective mandates.

The outcome document emphasizes that principled humanitarian action is necessary to respond to urgent needs with life-saving assistance and will continue to be required in the short- and medium-term despite improvements. Therefore the participants declared that it is the responsibility of all parties to the armed conflict to protect civilians and ensure safe, timely and unhindered humanitarian access to people in need in accordance with international humanitarian law.

Actors in the region have already started a process of cross-border cooperation to help resolve conflict, nurture reconciliation and address root causes of the conflict, notes the document. It therefore expresses strong support for these efforts and also takes note of the important contributions that can be made by regional organizations in working towards the stabilization of the region.

The document further notes that strengthening resilience for sustainable development is essential for reducing vulnerabilities in the long term and that efforts are already under way. The conference participants therefore highlight the leadership of governments in the region and the centrality of resilience-building measures at all levels.

The conference stressed that the crisis disproportionately affects women and girls and underlined the importance of strengthening protection in interventions, in particular the need for enhanced protection against gender-based violence and welcomed the north-east Nigeria Call to Action road map.

While the Conference acknowledges the impressive scale-up of humanitarian assistance since the Oslo Humanitarian Conference in 2017, the document notes that current humanitarian appeals for the region are underfunded which impedes the ability to meet the needs of millions of people. Therefore, humanitarian funding needs to be sustained in the short and medium-term.

The conference highlighted that stabilization in the Lake Chad region is understood as supporting political processes on the ground and supporting security efforts in order to reduce violence.

“Stabilization seeks to enable first steps towards reconciliation between parties to the conflict and to establish social and political consensus as a foundation for legitimate political structures and long-term development.” The conference therefore underlined the importance of joint efforts to prevent further outbreaks of violent conflict and an escalation of conflicts into crises.

The conference further underscored that supporting political processes to develop a common regional approach on stabilization is pivotal, and welcomed the establishment of the Governors’ Forum in Maiduguri in Nigeria in May 2018 as an important tool for cross-border cooperation.

“In this regard, we welcomed enhanced cooperation by the Governors of the riparian provinces and states and the consultation processes which increased civil society participation at the local level, especially of traditional and religious leaders, youth and women movements, and community health workers,” notes the outcome document.

The conference further welcomed the success of the collaborative efforts of countries in the region, theAfrican Union and the Lake Chad Basin Commission for having adopted a full-fledged stabilization strategy and encouraged that these efforts be implemented and supported. It was particularly underlined that ownership of these actors is crucial for a successful implementation of common strategies.

The conference highlighted the importance of stabilization efforts to support local governance as well as reconciliation and mediation, ensuring rule of law to achieve reliable, effective and accountable institutions.

Furthermore, the conference emphasized the importance of supporting security sector reform (SSR). This includes all levels of the security sector, from community to regional level.

The conference also underlined the importance of building legal foundations for a disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) process, and supporting reintegration of former fighters, Civilian Joint Task Force members and vigilantes with reconciliation efforts, education and job perspectives. Besides, it stressed the need to strengthen prevention of violent extremism.

Related IDN article: Conference Comes to the Aid of Drought-Stricken, Boko Haram Terrorised Lake Chad Region. [IDN-InDepthNews – 04 September 2018]

Photo: Nigerian refugees in Gagamari camp, Diffa region, Niger. Violence inflicted by the terrorist group Boko Haram from northern Nigeria has destabilised the entire region and caused large scale displacements of people. Photo: EU/ECHO/Anouk Delafortrie

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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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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