Saturday, January 27, 2018

"The [top] 1% grabbed 82% of all wealth created in 2017"

"More than $8 of every $10 of wealth created last year went to the richest 1%.

That's according to a new report from Oxfam International, which estimates that the bottom 50% of the world's population saw no increase in wealth.
Oxfam says the trend shows that the global economy is skewed in favor of the rich, rewarding wealth instead of work.
"The billionaire boom is not a sign of a thriving economy but a symptom of a failing economic system," said Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International.
The head of the advocacy group argued that the people who "make our clothes, assemble our phones and grow our food" are being exploited in order to enrich corporations and the super wealthy."
Read more from source here.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

"God-bloggerer" -- My latest opinion column for Catalonia Today magazine

[Photo: DNA strand. Religion did not give us this.]
 I call myself an atheist because god has not been proven to any clear degree, but like other people I can enjoy certain things that are called “the spiritual”.
I think the biggest mystery is to do with what we call consciousness and this is one of the enticingly ’wonder-full’ areas that art and creativity can put to use so well.
One problem of atheism is that some atheists go too far by maintaining that religious-inspired work is automatically somehow wrong, regardless of its content.
I only have to listen to someone like the Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to feel the power of his voice as an expression of something right and good, even though I don’t share the love of Allah that fuels that voice.
We all need that sense of awe and humility that comes from, say, the extraordinariness of so much in the natural world: all that science cannot explain or come near to doing justice to. (There is after all, not even an adequate definition of what a thought is.)
Plenty of scientist-atheists have no problem with the unknown and the transient, in fact they embrace it and some even work at finding answers in it, though they often end up with more questions than they started with.
When religion asks questions, I applaud it. But when it simply quotes ancient texts or ‘interprets’ them I start to twitch.
I think it makes perfect sense to doubt what you know. The attitude of “I could be wrong, but...[insert opinion]” is the most sensible one to have because without it there is either blind faith or the conceit of absolute certainty.
I think this is the healthy basis of what we could call moral concerns. Organised religion often likes to claim that it has a monopoly on the ethically correct outlook but too often the people who are making the claims have not genuinely questioned their beliefs and have instead relied on their traditional leaders to set out a position first.
Equally, the celebrities that are so admired in today’s world are often ignorant about basic scientific truth but we still hold many of them up as role models and guiding lights. Even someone as cerebral as Barack Obama recently made comments linking vaccines to a supposed rise in autism.
It seems like this era’s obsession with the body, rather than the mind or the continuing inequality that exists across the globe, means that everything from karma to astrology to detox dieting is legitimate as something to believe in and use as a basis of living.
If our species can eliminate superstition we will have eliminated a major cause of our problems.

[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, January 2018.]

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Spain gang-rape case exposes problems in justice system

["I believe you." Photo:  
Vincent West/Reuters ]
 "On Nov. 14, a young woman entered the Navarre provincial court in northern Spain, a bottle of water in one hand, a piece of paper in the other. She sat on a chair placed at the center of the room before a tribunal and then, probed along by her attorney, recounted the events from two summers past that have dominated Spanish headlines since.
The young woman from Madrid, known only as la víctima, “the victim,” in local media, was 18 then when she alleges she was raped by five men in the early morning hours of July 7, 2016. She’d gone to Pamplona for the Running of the Bulls — the city’s celebrated and testosterone-fueled tradition of “bullfights, street dancing ... and much drinking of strong Spanish wine,” as immortalized by one American superfan.
According to her testimony, she’d lost sight of the friend she’d traveled with and ended up making her way toward the car, which they'd planned on spending the night in. When a group of five male friends from Seville, strangers to her until then, struck up a conversation and suggested accompanying her to the vehicle, she accepted. At some point while they twisted their way down the dark streets, they led her to a doorway, pulled her in and took turns raping her, she said. When they’d finished, they seized her phone and left. After some time, she got dressed, sought help and reported the rape. It was only later after she’d pressed charges, and a trial was underway, that she discovered the men had filmed the act on their phones and shared the videos in their WhatsApp group.
The meat and bones of the retelling over, Navarre district attorney Elena Sarasate suddenly veered into new territory. “You seem to be a pretty social and extroverted young person,” she stated before the tribunal. “Do you usually post on social media?”
“Yes,” the young woman replied. “But I’m not going to post pictures of myself crying. I’m trying to lead a normal life. I’m not going to post a picture of myself on social media crying so that everyone can ask, ‘What happened to that girl?’ No. I’m going to continue living normally, and what I normally do is post pictures of myself out partying.”
What would appear to be an unusual turn in the woman’s testimony — her social media habits — has become the crux of the case known as La Manada, or “The Wolf Pack,” after the five accused men’s WhatsApp group name. In a bid to prove the young woman was not raped but consented to having group sex, the men’s defense hinges on proving she did not suffer any trauma following the sex act, which they’ve chiefly done by presenting social media posts showing her out with friends, knocking back a few drinks, or sharing content of an ostensibly sexual nature.
To the prosecution and feminist collectives the country over, the defense’s tactic is an age-old trope with new technological trappings — an updated version of “She was asking for it because she wore a miniskirt.” For the defense, it’s a necessary method designed to reflect the plaintiff’s psychological makeup. The trial ended in late November, and a verdict is still pending. If found guilty, the accused could each face up to 25 years and nine months in prison. The decision will have far-reaching implications. How much can social media reflect a person’s psychology or establish a motive? And should that content be admitted in a court of law?"

Read more from source at PRI/Global Post here.

Friday, January 5, 2018

"Reclaiming the commons" -- an interview with veteran land rights campaigner George Monbiot

"Guy Shrubsole speaks to veteran land rights campaigner George Monbiot...

Movements for land reform in the British Isles have ebbed and flowed for centuries. Each new wave can seek to learn from the past - or be destined to repeat its mistakes. The Land senses that the past year has seen a fresh flowering of public interest in land issues - sparked by the ongoing housing crisis, the Grenfell Tower disaster, debates about farming post-Brexit, and other factors. It’s a good time to take stock, so this section brings together voices, new and established, to make sense of the current moment and lend momentum to a new, rising land movement. It features veteran land rights campaigners George Monbiot, Marion Shoard, and Andy Wightman, includes a graphic history of UK land movements, and an assessment of land value capture as a mechanism for economic fairness, before introducing a representative of the Other Side, and some of the activists and organisations of today’s land movement. 

GS: What first got you interested in land and land rights? 

GM: I was working in Brazil in the late 1980s, and I was interested in why so many people were moving into the Amazon, often with quite damaging impacts on the rainforests. It didn’t take me long to see that people were being effectively forced to go because their own land was being stolen from them in their home states. A group of very violent businesspeople supported by the Government were seizing the land owned by peasant communities. People with indigenous roots often going back millennia, but who didn’t have written, legal title to their land; rather it had been held by them in common for a very long time. There were people being killed left, right and centre; there was a bishop who was murdered. I spent long enough there to get beaten up myself by the military police. Then after six years of working in Brazil, West Papua and East Africa, I returned to Britain, and was persuaded by some of my friends to go along to Twyford Down, where there was this huge dispute over a road being driven through beautiful chalk downland and Iron Age remains. And as soon as I got there I thought, this is what I’ve been seeing in Brazil. This is a land dispute over land massively valued by local people, being taken from them by an outside force – in this case, government combined with a huge construction company, and everything that people value here being destroyed. I started reading the poems of John Clare, and saw how his early poetry documented the rich life of the community in which he was brought up, and the way their lives were granted meaning by the land, spiritually, ceremonially, economically, socially – and then his later poems, like The Fallen Elm, documenting the destruction of that entire system through enclosure. And I realised that this was exactly the same process that I’d seen happening amongst indigenous people in the three continents in which I’d worked. Alienation and anomie leading to psychic rupture. And then I realised that what I’d witnessed there is still with us here, in Britain today. 

GS: In 1995 you wrote A Land Reform Manifesto, in which you criticised a huge landowning estate for selling off its land for the Newbury bypass to be built. At the time you said a landed estate’s “power to treat its property as it wishes is scarcely restrained. It is this that lies at the heart of our environmental crisis” . Do you still believe that? 

GM: Well, I would take it further. Land as an issue has to be painfully uncovered, because it’s so successfully hidden from us. Hidden in a thousand ways – hidden by the media, obviously; hidden by economics, which discusses land as if it were any other form of capital, a great methodological mistake; hidden by the power of patrimonial capital. It’s not just the power of the great estates to do as they will; my thinking’s gone way beyond that – it’s the conversion of broad possession into narrow property in general. It’s the almost complete closure of a whole sector of the economy, the commons, and its replacement by both state and market." 

Read more from The Land Magazine [PDF] here.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

"Don't be fooled, the crisis is still there: the Euro is in danger"

[Photo: Barcelona, 9 Nov. 2017, 

Today in El País - Yanis Varoufakis, co-founder of DiEM25...

"The current situation reminds me of 2001: we came from twenty years of stringing bubbles, the dotcom broke out, and even so we managed to stay the same and provoked an even more serious crisis with an even larger bubble that burst in 2008. 

We run the risk of going back to the old ways. In Spain, total debt is rising. In Italy there is capital flight, a banking crisis in the making, an explosive political situation. 

What we have in Greece cannot be called recovery, and the debt is unpayable. 

The examples are inexhaustible. 

Throughout the periphery we exchanged full-time jobs for precarious jobs, thereby endangering future pensions and the foundations of the European economy. 

The financial and macroeconomic imbalances not only have not been reduced, but are even greater: I am afraid that we are not in a position to celebrate...The euro, as it is today, is unsustainable." 

Full interview in Castilian Spanish here: