What Molly Ivors Says

Except for the supporting Obama in the end, I agree with her analysis, so just go read .

"It’s been especially perturbing to see the same lines of attack coming from the right and the left. One friend even said "Gee, I wonder if she really did kill Vince Foster?" in a bizarre recursion that proves that, if you dislike someone, no attack is off limits. I see sneering at those making less than $30K a year, at those without educations, even though they’re registered Dems voting in huge numbers in the primaries, because they happen to support the "wrong" candidate, for what must be the wrong reasons. I see regular abuse of women, particularly older women, from people who know better: sly comments about the "Menopause Caucus" and idle banter about "The Pantsuit Riots." And I’m not getting into the accusations of racism, which started long before there was any actual evidence to support them. But then maybe I’ve been to too many rock shows to hear all those imaginary dog whistles."

Full Frontal Feminism in Action

In a short video, Jessica Valenti shows us how it’s done.

All the more reasons to go read Feministing and also Jessica’s books: Full Frontal Feminism and He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut, and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know .

Judge Annulls Marriage Because Wife is Not A Virgin

Yup, you read that right and it happened in France, via Le Monde . So here is the story: this Muslim guy marries a young woman who told her she was a virgin. On the wedding night, he discovers – shock and horror – that she is not. The guy brings the daughter back to her now dishonored family. Then, he hires a attorney to get the marriage annulled (no divorce because, as the attorney puts it, divorce implies fault relating to marital obligations). A judge agrees, stating that the proper reason for the annulment is (my translation) "error on the essential qualities of the person" (the woman that is, the essential quality being virginity).

But this has nothing to do with religion, the man, his attorney and the judge clamor when they get called on it. It’s about the lie. She said she was a virgin and she was not. It was important for the man, therefore, he’s entitled to his annulment. Except, of course, that everyone agrees that the "essential quality" that the young woman lacked was virginity, and that is not neutral. Would he have annulled his marriage if his bride had been a couple of pounds heavier than she had told him?

And it is this kind of reasoning that lead to something I blogged about a while ago: the increase in hymen restoration surgeries for Muslim women in Europe (it’s actually a pretty good post, so just go read it, ok?).

Personally, I think the young woman is better off rid of that idiot. On the other hand, the very fact that she is now seen as having dishonored her family is disturbing because we know that crimes of honor are committed in Europe.

Moreover, as legendary French feminist Elisabeth Badinter points out , in France, consensual sexuality is a private matter over which the court has no jurisdiction. The fact that virginity was "important" to the man does not mean the court should have adjudicated on this.

Pinochet-Era Soldiers and Secret Police Members Arrested in Chile

Via the Guardian ,

"A Chilean judge has ordered the detention of almost 100 former soldiers and secret police officers from General Augusto Pinochet’s regime as part of investigations into human rights abuses, according to reports.

Among the 98 held are former employees of Pinochet’s notorious Dina intelligence service, which ran a series of secret prisons where leftwingers and other opponents were tortured and killed, Reuters said, citing unnamed judicial sources."

Oh please, let there be some testimonies involving the Nixon Administration involvement in this and especially some more dirt on Henry Kissinger (it still amazes me that Kissinger can still show his face in public and on television and be taken seriously and treated with respect).

For the younger folks among the readership, Operation Condor is the operative title here (see also this ). Let me deplore one more time the fact that that !@#$ Pinochet never paid for his crimes.

And for the record, I popped a bottle of champagne when the old bastard died (it’s a family tradition!)

Exxon Finally Acknowledges the Inconvenient Truth

Via the Guardian ,

"The oil giant ExxonMobil has admitted that its support for lobby groups that question the science of climate change may have hindered action to tackle global warming. In its corporate citizenship report, released last week, ExxonMobil says it intends to cut funds to several groups that "divert attention" from the need to find new sources of clean energy.

The move comes ahead of the firm’s annual meeting today in Dallas, at which prominent shareholders including the Rockefeller family will urge ExxonMobil to take the problem of climate change more seriously. Green campaigners accuse the company of funding a "climate denial industry" over the last decade, with $23m (£11.5m) handed over to groups that play down the risks of burning fossil fuels.

The ExxonMobil report says: "In 2008 we will discontinue contributions to several public policy research groups whose position on climate change could divert attention from the important discussion on how the world will secure the energy required for economic growth in an environmentally responsible manner.""

Personally, that last quote made me laugh out loud. I’ll believe that when I see concrete action on the part of Exxon. So, first, how about handing over that money to clean energy research groups or institutes. I’m sure a lot of them would appreciate the money and could put it to good use. In this case, skepticism is the right attitude.

And of course, that in itself, won’t be enough without enormous political changes in rich and big emerging countries (India, China, and Brazil). It would be nice to have a strong political push for companies like Exxon to have to be compelled shift to environmentally sustainable sources of energy and to invest in that kind of research.

The Bush Administration Defeated in its Attempt to Undermine Anti-Cluster Bombs Treaty

CMC Via Human Rights Watch , or, as I call it, "is there no issue on which this administration is not willing to take the most vile position, contradicting every standard of good global governance and just plain ol’ human decency"? I know… simple answer to simple question. Anyhoo,

"US efforts to undermine a new treaty banning cluster munitions met with significant defeat today at the final negotiations in Dublin, Human Rights Watch said. Preliminary agreement on a draft treaty text on the afternoon of May 28 indicated that virtually all of the 110 countries gathered in Dublin favor a more comprehensive ban of cluster munitions than the US itself can tolerate. News on the morning of May 28 that the British government was willing to give up cluster munitions that it had used in recent years in Iraq left Washington further isolated in the endgame in Dublin."

Oh, and in case you wondered, the Bush administration did not even bothered to send representatives to the negotiations, because, you know, if we negotiate ANYTHING, the terrorists win. However, the administration lobbied hard behind the scene in the hopes of undermining the treaty-in-the-making.

"“In the end, the Americans had very little support in Dublin,” said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s a big defeat for the Bush administration. This conference is going to produce a strong treaty banning cluster munitions, and there’s nothing the White House can do to stop it.”

Expert analysts of the treaty say it will require the United States to remove its stockpiles of cluster munitions at several military bases around the world, a measure that Washington had firmly opposed."

But of course, the Bush administration was able to got a loophole in that states that signatories can cooperate with non-signatory states on specific operation (hence the "interoperability" loophole). So, that would mean that the US could cooperate on a specific operation (always humanitarian, they insist) with a state using cluster munitions.

The human rights community is opposed to the loophole but there was no way around it. In the end, HRW thinks it will be a strong treaty. The final vote is scheduled for Friday. The impact of the treaty will be not only practical (destruction of stocks) but also symbolic:

"The treaty text released today represents a significant victory on key provisions such as the definition of cluster munitions, assistance for victims, and the treaty’s quick entry into force.

“The treaty is going to stigmatize cluster munitions in the same way that the landmines treaty did,” said Goose. “This is a weapon headed for obsolescence, fast.”"

And indeed, considering the case of landmines, stigmatizing a type a weapon is a significant victory.

European Sociology in the News: Why Girls Do Better in Schools

Via Le Monde , this is a common topic for sociologists and for right-wing hacks. For the latter, poor boys, they whine, are doing worse in schools because their masculine nature (biologically encoded) are repressed by the feminized liberal teachers. Schools (especially public schools, of course) have been perverted by liberal and feminist values that deny, they say, the biological realities of the differences between boys and girls (at which point they usually trot out Carol Gilligan’s studies and twist them beyond recognition).

For sociologists, these differentials in accomplishments (which hold across 30 OECD countries) are just the starting points. Other scientists have weighed in as well, for instance, see these three recent books that address exactly that topic (unfortunately, only published in France):

Overall, studies show that girls do better in secondary and higher education. They do especially better in reading / writing comprehension but they are less likely to choose scientific or engineering careers, according to the comprehensive OECD PISA study (PISA means Program for International Student Assessment).

We could turn the biological argument on its head: maybe girls ARE smarter and get stronger intellectual genetic or biological predispositions (you’ll never hear that one from Phyllis Schlafly). The book by Catherine Vidal, a neurobiologist at the Pasteur Institute , debunks all the studies supposedly explaining the achievement gap based on brain differences. For instance, a 1995 experiment had speculated that women’s more developed linguistic aptitudes had to do with the fact that they mobilize both hemispheres whereas men use only one. This turned out not to be true. What the science shows, as Vidal puts it, is that

"Cerebral biological capabilities are identical for both sexes, boys and girls have the same aptitudes. In order to explain the differences, one has to refer to socio-cultural stereotypes and the behaviors that follow from them."

During childhood socialization, as mental capabilities develop, they are accompanied by a stronger identification with one gender, and all the different attributes that society provides. Gender socialization accompanies and shapes mental development. Not the other way around, says Vidal.

Studying these socio-cultural stereotypes is what Christian Baudelot and Roger Establet, both sociologists of education, have done throughout their careers (see second book mentioned above). As early as 1992, they had stated that traditional gender socialization for girls prepared them better to fit in the school environment. Girls socializiation, according to them, is still largely based on the etymological sense of "docility", not as obedience but meaning, literally, the capacity to be receptive and internalize a normative order, which is one of the first things that is required of children when they start school.

Moreover, on the parenting side, parents have a tendency to exercise more surveillance and show more concern towards girls. And because boys construct their identity more outside of such surveillance, they internalize a different normative order, more open to the surrounding culture: focus on heroism, violence and demonstrations of strength; such values provide them with what Baudelot and Establet describe as an "anti-school arsenal ." And with most of the schoolteachers being women, it is easier for girls to identify.

Fifteen years later, these conclusions still hold but Baudelot and Establet have added a more dyanamic vision to their conclusions. Girls and young women are not completely shaped by their studies but they also experience school as a place where they can be equal if not superior to boys. They are more likely to enjoy classical cultural activities, encouraged by their mothers. For instance, according to the OECD data, 51% of 15 year old girls read at least one book a month, compared to 37% for boys. They are also more likely to be encouraged to be independent.

And as the third book examines, the data shows that girls have a very good understanding of the importance of education for their emancipation and social success. Even parental attitudes regarding level of study (how far children are pushed) are now equivalent for both sexes. The differences still lie in the choices of majors and careers, hence, the under-representation of young women in scientific tracks. Catherine Marry, a sociologist and one of the authors of the third book mentioned above, studied women who are successful in scientific careers and observed that most of them had scientist mothers (of course, Marie Curie and Irene Joliot-Curie come to mind), often, professors of mathematics. These mothers and father as well raised their children in an egalitarian framework. That’s what seems to make a significant differences.

Larry Summers: wrong then, wrong now.

If you read French, read the books.

Another Bookmark Bites the Dust

At this rate, I might actually be able to make a dent in my "to-read" ever increasing pile of books, which would be a nice side effect of this sorry state of affairs. This time, it’s David Brin (sorry, no link for that stuff), one of my favorite science-fiction writers. David Brin also has a blog and his latest post is what got me to eliminate him from my bookmark and newsreader. The item, of course, relates to the Democratic primary (what else):

"Regarding the looming question of the vice presidency, who will Senator Obama select? There’s talk about opting for Senator Clinton. And millions of us praying “no, please!” Give her and Bill 1,000 patroage slots! A Supreme Court appointment, anything. We need her campaigning in liberal strongholds in October, firing up her supporters… not saying provocative things on Fox and firing up the other side. The difference is day vs night."

By now, this is the kind of stuff that makes me simply want to respond "go fuck yourself"… seriously. This is not the first time I have read this: Clinton supporters are mindless drones who can be appeased and will do our bidding for very little once we find the right reward, like mice in a maze. Well, David, we may be stupid but not THAT stupid and we can spot BS as well as anyone else. And you know what? YOU can go campaign in liberal strongholds in October. As for saying provocative things on Fox, you might want to re-watch Obama’s interview there, you know, the one where he threw any liberal constituency he could think of under the bus, because, after all, the Unity shtick is only for conservatives, not for liberals (and then go read my pal Vastleft’s masterful takedown , it is one of the best blog piece I have ever read).

And then, of course, no Hillary critique would be complete without rank sexism targeting her and her women supporters, now wouldn’t it?

"A gesture to her wing of the democratic melange would be Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius , who backed BHO early and who managed to win re election by a landslide in a normally Republican prairie state. She is articulate, persuasive, ad – tho she’s not an HRC supporter herself – would also serve as an excellent offering to those Hillary supporters who have proved themselves to be, well, rather ferociously single-issue."

That’s the solution, put another chick on the ticket as VP, we won’t notice the difference. After all, women are interchangeable and our limited brains will be fooled, "ferociously single-issued" that we are. Well, here another fuck you. The fact that Hillary Clinton is a woman is only ONE aspect of why we support her, among MANY other aspects. That seems to have escaped you. So, putting another woman on the ticket just to mollify us won’t do the trick. Again, I know we’re stupid but not THAT stupid.

Oh, and he’s not done yet. Here is another dose of patronizing and condescension:

"(An aside. Can you believe that feminists would actually utter the self demeaning and brittle phrase: “This may be my one chance to see a woman elected president!” Have any of them seen the new generation of karate-chopping young women out there? A generation that they helped to create? What a horrifically dour and sexist thing to say!)"

That’s right, we’re so stupid we can’t see how we’re not being feminist. Well, here’s another tidbit of information for you: the Obama campaign has pushed back the feminist agenda for decades by unleashing (strictly for the purpose of this nomination) the vile core of sexism and misogyny present at the heart of the liberal blogosphere, the media and the Democratic establishment. THIS is what will hurt any women who wants a political future. And no, this is not just because evil Hillary is oh-so divisive. It is because the liberal blogosphere, the media and the Democratic establishment ARE sexist, they just managed to hide it for all this time. So now, we know where they stand. And having very well mainstreamed sexist insults and discourse and allowed this whole pile of turd to be aired far and wide, the rest of us, women, will have to deal with it. It is YOU who fouled the water, we’ll have to clean it up.

So, thank you very much. You all got to enjoy your symbolic violence against us. I hope it was worth it. Don’t come blaming us for your loss in November. Reaping what one sowed and all that stuff.

Once a Minute, Somewhere in the World, a Woman Dies in Pregnancy or Childbirth

The most tragic part of this is that most of these deaths could be avoided, without too much trouble, as Kira Cochrane argues in the – ugh – …Life and Style section of the Guardian :

"The story of Yeruknesh Mesfin’s death starts on the day of her birth, in an Ethiopian village so remote that its name, Goradit, literally means "cut off". At 10 days old, Mesfin was circumcised by a local woman, and by the age of seven, with no education, she was put to work looking after her family’s cattle. At 13, she was abducted and raped by a 32-year-old farmer, who married her; soon afterwards, she became pregnant. Without any medical advice during the whole nine months, she went into labour, "clutching her pillow, calling repeatedly for her mother while tears flowed down her cheeks". Her husband called for help, but the complications proved too difficult for the village’s traditional birth attendant. In desperation, the men of the village carried Mesfin to the nearest hospital, where both she and her baby died. She was 15."

This is the appalling reality faced by many women and girls, especially in developing countries where prenatal and maternal care are absent. But this is first and foremost the product of social structures that promote the abhorrent practices of female genital mutilation (FGM ) and child marriage (I call it socially sanctioned child rape). This story is the norm, not an aberration.

This story is only one from a book – Stories of Mothers Lost – published by the White Ribbon Alliance (WRA ), a coalition of organizations dedicated to the provision prenatal, maternal health care in developing countries, for the sake of safe motherhood. There is also a documentary that you can watch here , and a very moving virtual exhibit here (if you’re not moved by it, it means you’re a robot).

Becoming a mother should not be a life-threatening condition, no more than it should be imposed on women and girls (which is why the organization promotes family planning and reproductive choice).

So, how about that statistics. It is an average of course. But we know that between 500,000 and 800,000 women die in childbirth every year. The maternal death rates are very low in Western countries (see my previous post on the best and worst places in the world to be a mother). In the UK, approximately 8,000 one in 8,200 women (thanks to commenter Linca for the correction) die every year in child birth, in some developing countries, such as Afghanistan, Niger or Sierra Leone, it’s one in eight. And as Cochrane explains, 80% of these deaths could be avoided without spending billions of dollars. There is no need for expensive research or new treatments or cures. The problem is what Cochrane calls the three delays:

  1. The first is the delay in seeking care, which may be because a woman has to wait for permission from the decision-maker of her family, because she knows the family could be bankrupted by hospital costs, or doesn’t recognise early enough that her pregnancy is running into trouble.

  2. The second delay regards transportation, which may be unaffordable, unavailable, or simply take too long.

    "Brigid McConville, director of the White Ribbon Alliance in the UK, illustrates this with the story of a female doctor she met in northern Tanzania who had encountered a woman at her clinic whose uterus had ruptured. Her baby had died, "but there was still time to save the woman’s life," says McConville, "so the doctor kicked the generator into action, gave her an emergency hysterectomy and brought the baby out."
    One of the baby’s arms was missing. "The other attendants were saying, ‘Sister, you did this so fast, you must have cut the arm off, where is it?’ But they couldn’t find it. So the doctor went to talk to the woman’s husband, who was very quiet. It emerged that he had brought his wife to the clinic on the back of his bike – 50km, over rough track – and she had had a prolapse, and the baby’s arm had fallen out. As they cycled, this arm kept getting caught in the spokes of the bicycle, and so the man had had to decide what to do. To save his wife’s life, he had to cut the baby’s arm off."

  3. The third delay is in receiving care – a woman might arrive at a facility, having spent her labour on the back of a truck, only to find that there are no staff, that there is no blood for a transfusion, or that services are at a price she could never afford. Or they will arrive to find a queue around the block.

And on top of these appalling statistics, there are all the women who do not die but end up injured or disabled as a result of their traumatic pregnancies and births. One of the major consequences of this, of course, is the fistula (do yourself a favor and go watch the PBS Nova program A Walk to Beautiful ). For every woman who dies in childbirth, 30 will be injured or become disabled or ill.

What is needed is affordable health care services for women that take into account the three delays and provide care based on the specifics of each countries (for instance, what is better, a large urban hospital or multiple rural clinics that provide basic services?). Family planning services are absolutely essential to reduce these appalling statistics (I hope the next President’s move will be to rescind the murderous gag order on family planning services in developing countries, because, like it or not, access to safe and legal abortions – among the range of services -is necessary).

"This issue is naturally one that affects whole communities. Babies and young children who have lost their mothers in childbirth are up to 10 times more likely to die prematurely than their peers. McConville tells me of a woman she met in a town in Somalia, known "as the Town of Death. I was there with a journalist who wanted to photograph a family eating lunch, and we went from this ravaged street, with lots of young men lying around with Kalashnikovs – I was terrified – into this courtyard, which was a haven of peace. There were five children sitting around, eating out of a bowl in the middle, and their mother was a local nurse, called Nurta. As we talked, she said, ‘See that little boy’, and she pointed to one of the children, ‘I’ve never told him this, but he’s not my son. I was working in the town, a few years ago, during one of the waves of famine, and I found a woman who had died on the street, who had this newborn baby still suckling her breast. I couldn’t do anything for her. All I could do was to pick up her baby, and bring him home’."

This is a shameful state of affairs that has no place in the 21st century.

RIP Sidney Pollack

Via the BBC ,

"US film director and producer Sydney Pollack has died of cancer, aged 73.

He won producing and directing Oscars for the epic romance Out of Africa, starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep, in 1985.

He also directed Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie, and The Way We Were, in which Redford partnered Barbra Streisand.

He died on Monday, surrounded by family members, at his home in Pacific Palisades in Los Angeles. He had been diagnosed with cancer 10 months ago.

While best remembered as a director, Sydney Pollack started out as an actor, and continued performing throughout his career, appearing in his last film, Michael Clayton, in 2007."

Who does not remember Out of Africa.

Global Food Crisis – More Updates

I have posted extensively on the global food prices crisis (the latest post is here ) but the crisis is not over and there are still many stories to be told regarding the causes and consequences of this global disaster. first, let’s start with this Guardian handy summary of the 5 causes of the rise in the price of food:

  • The oil dependency factor : Soaring oil and energy prices have pushed up the cost of food production dramatically in the last year: fertiliser is up more than 70%, fuel for tractors and farm machinery is up 30%, pesticides, which depend on oil, are up too, as are labour costs

  • The growing population factor (why can’t we all go vegan!): Demand is rising as the global population grows and as people in emerging economies such as China and India use increasing affluence to buy more meat, eggs and dairy products. Over 30% of the world’s grain now goes to feeding animals rather than people directly. Farming one acre of decent land can produce 138lbs of protein from grain, but one acre given over to beef farming will produce only 20lbs of protein;

  • The Climate Change factor : Droughts in grain-producing areas of the world have hit harvests in the last few years. Grain stocks are at a historic low;

  • The Big corn bastards factor : Biofuels are competing with food for arable land, with both the US and the EU mandating their use. About 30% of the US corn crop is expected to be diverted to biofuels this year;

  • The greedy bastards factor : Speculative trading in agricultural commodities has grown dramatically. Several big investment banks have launched agricultural commodity index funds, as they look for new areas to make profits in following the credit crunch. The result has been enormous fluctuations in market prices that do not appear to relate to changes in fundamentals such as supply and demand. Four years ago $10-15bn was invested in agricultural commodities funds – now that figure is more than $150bn. Wall Street investment funds own 40% of US wheat futures and more than one fifth of US corn futures.

Please note that all of these factors have to do with behavior originating in rich countries, that have spread to the fast-growing countries. I mean, come on, sure, we Europeans and Americans do not contribute much to the growing population, but we’re the fat bastards who drive gaz-guzzlers and tolerate the frankenfood that Big Corn is pushing down our throats, and who have diligently invested our 401Ks into aggressive growth funds. It goes back to large-scale issue: agricultural subsidies, the changes in pension fundings, the power of Big Corn, Detroit, the whole agribusiness sector and the financial sector.

But those who really pay the price of this are safely out of sight for us. We do not get to see the suffering induced either directly by our behavior, or indirectly, by our political apathy and learned helplessness in the face of corporatism.

So, for the real life consequence of this, we turn to IRIN as the place to find these stories. Three items, especially relate to the dreadful, and very personal, consequences of finding oneself unable to afford food.

First stop, Benin :

"In a scene on a popular Benin TV series, a farmer named Codjo puts his wife out on the streets because she kept asking him for more and more money to buy groceries. But then, when he goes shopping by himself, Codjo discovers that prices have indeed doubled.

He laments having driven away his wife.

This fictional sketch is being played out in reality with the rapid rise in prices of basic foods in the capital Cotonou and other towns in Benin over the last six months."

In countries like Benin where patriarchal and sexist norms are prevalent, it is not uncommon to see husbands accompany their wives to the market because they do not believe them when they say that they need more money for food. In Benin, prices have increased up to 50% compared to November 2007. A rise in domestic violence, that is husbands beating up their wives over the grocery bills have been observed as well by social workers.

And there are other large scale social consequences as well:

"The highest rates of nutritional deficiencies in Benin are in the rural north in the districts of Malamville and Karimama. But in total some 33 of the country’s 77 districts are “at risk of food insecurity” according to the World Food Programme (WFP ).

WFP says that 23 percent of Beninois children under five show signs of moderate stunting and 11 percent of children suffer from severe malnutrition."

So, the government there is trying different solutions to try to alleviate the rise on the price of food, but, as is the case for many developing countries, options are limited. The government has suspended its VAT on food but there is no evidence that the lower costs have been passed on to the consumers.

The government is also pushing for self-sufficiency but that is not a short-term, emergency solution. Self-sufficiency takes planning and years to accomplish. A more short-term solution has been to tap into the food reserves, but applied only in that country, that is not enough to lower the price of food as a whole on the global market.

"And so far prices have kept rising, one housewife told IRIN spoke while she was shopping in the market.

“My family are finding it harder to live on what we can afford,” she said. “They make me feel that I am at fault. That I am doing something wrong.”"

Because it’s always the women’s fault! (I could make a reference to the treatment of Hillary Clinton by the media and the Obama campaign as well as the Democratic leadership but just this once, I’ll resist the temptation!)

Second item: Afghanistan where the impact of the food crisis is also combined with a patriarchal social structure which makes women and girls the primary victims.

"Sayed Ali (not his real name) said he sold his 11-year-old daughter, Rabia, for US$2,000 to a man in Sheberghan city, Jawzjan Province in northern Afghanistan to feed his wife and three younger children. (…)

With food prices in Afghanistan having soared over the past few months and the 40-year-old father unable to find work, he said he had no other choice but to sell his daughter to save his family from starvation.

“Even animals don’t sell their children, because they love them and want to die for them, not to mention human beings. For too many days I stood next to roads and asked people for work, but always ended up disappointed. I couldn’t go home empty-handed and disappoint my starving children, so I used to scavenge in garbage and collect leftover food.

“I would lie to my family and say I bought them food from the market. But now it’s even hard to find anything edible in the garbage because of [increasing] food prices. People now eat all their food because it’s very expensive and also the numbers of those who scavenge in garbage has increased.

“Because I am illiterate, no one will give me a job. I am illiterate because of war and poverty. I didn’t go to school because my parents wanted me to work. My children also don’t go to school and they’ll also be brought up illiterate like me.

“How can someone sell his own child? It’s like selling your eyes or selling your heart!

“As no one would give me work I had no other option but to sell my lovely daughter. I sold her only to save the rest of my family. I sold her only to buy food for my younger children who otherwise would have died from hunger.

“I know people will say I am a cruel and merciless father who sold his own child, but those who say so don’t know my hardship and have never felt the hunger that my family suffers."

Of course, it is heartbreaking but the very fact that, ultimately, he treated his daughter as an asset of the last resort and that there is a market where someone can actually sell his daughter indicates again a patriarchal social structure that considers the power of the father as unquestionable. Certainly, that privileged status confers constraints, both structural (he has to provide, no one else can do it, that’s his role) and normative (how will society look at him as a father if he is unable to provide). But as he describes it, the decision to sell his own daughter was his and his alone supported by cultural norms that see girls as less valuable.

In line with this, the country next door, Pakistan , faces the same issue:

"Within the last month at least two cases have been reported in the press of parents killing, or attempting to kill, children they felt unable to feed.

On 21 March in a village near the industrial city of Faisalabad, some 117km west of Lahore, a jobless father, Abdul Shakoor, reportedly killed his two daughters, three-month-old Aliza Noor, and Kainat, aged four.

His wife and mother prevented him from attacking a third child before Shakoor committed suicide by throwing himself in the path of a train. His distraught family said he often talked of "giving away" his daughters due to the family’s crippling poverty and their inability to feed the five children.

In a similar incident in the southern Punjab city of Khanewal just three days later, a woman forced her six children, aged between six months and 10 years, to throw themselves into a waterway, and then jumped in herself. Khurshid Bibi, the wife of a labourer, was rescued along with four of her children. She later told police she saw death as a preferable option to ceaseless poverty. "

Social workers mentioned in the article also indicates that the reason for the murders / suicides (beyond the loss of honor tied to being unable to provide) relates to the growth of the nuclear family structure that leaves families on their own in the case of hardship, without an extended family support system to rely on to get them through a rough patch. Of course, these suicides cannot help but evoke Durkheim’s famous study . Actually, it would seem that these suicides fall in the least mentioned (and according to Durkheim, least frequent) category: fatalistic suicide, that is the type of suicides that comes out of extreme regulation (as opposed to the anomic suicide which emerges out of the lack of social norms).

At the same time that extended family systems break down, though, the absence of family planning and the persistence of patriarchal behavior that foster high fertility creates nuclear families with a lot of children, that is intense economic burdens with limited means of satisfying them. Add to the mix a society-wide crisis such as the rise in the price of food and you have all the ingredients for these murders / suicides.

Golden Parachutes Denounced as “Social Plague”

Via Le Monde , the Ministers of Finances of the Euro Zone have issued strong statements regarding corporate executives compensations, calling them "scandalous" and they are looking at ways to curb such excesses.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of The Eurogroup (an emanation of the Euro zone for coordination of different countries in economic and financial matters) attacked in particular the golden handshakes and golden parachutes, and suggested their extra taxation. Currently, such bonuses are non-taxable. Mr Juncker called them a "social plague". With this move, the countries of the Euro zone are following the example of the Netherlands, which was the first to implement such measures. According to Mr Juncker, it is a matter of fairness: the European Union, and the European Commission are constantly calling for fiscal responsibility and for limits to wage growth in the name of preventing inflation. To tolerate extravagant financial packages, especially when companies are not doing well, is incomprehensible and threatens the legitimacy of the whole system. This is especially the case as purchasing power has been stagnant across the European Union.

According to Le Nouvel Observateur , the Ministers would wish to make the European Union the model and the international norm in terms of financial regulation of excessive executive compensation. Belgium is even considering a cap on executive compensation (cue the prophets of doom whining that investment will leave Europe unless we allow executives to enrich themselves tremendously even if they perform poorly). So it Germany. In several Euro countries, some executive compensations jumped over 40% since 2007.

Welcome to the world of the Transnational Capitalist Class : Let me recycle what I have stated before about the TCC.

Who dominates the global system? Is there a dominant class at the global level? British sociologist Leslie Sklair (2001) coined the expression Transnational Capitalist Class (TCC) to describe such a dominant category in the global system. Sklair uses the term transnational to indicate that this class does not derive its power from any particular state or country but precisely from its cross-border capacity to mobilize different forms of capital (economic capital, such as financial assets; political and social capital such as power, influence and connections; technical and organizational capital such program design skills, drafting of trade treaties; cultural capital such as the production of content to promote the consumerist ideology, advertising)

The TCC is composed of four different groups. The corporate fraction is the dominant category in the TCC. It is composed of corporate executives of the major transnational corporations as well as major owners. This fraction’s power derives from its enormous economic and financial power. It is profit-driven and seeks to extend its dominance globally. The other fractions (state , technical and consumerist ) are akin to a supporting cast and provide other forms of capital necessary for the global reach of the global capitalist system on top of which the corporate fraction sits.

Leslie Sklair’s Four Fractions of the Transnational Capitalist Class and their Types of Capital:

  • The corporate fraction: Executives from transnational corporations and their local affiliates – Economic / Financial Capital
  • The state fraction: Globalizing bureaucrats and politicians – Political / Social Capital
  • The technical fraction: Globalizing professionals – Technical / Organizational Capital
  • The consumerist fraction: Merchants and media – Cultural Capital

The combination of economic, political, technical and ideological powers translates into the creation of a global system with global capitalism as dominant force. Based on this, Sklair outlines four basic propositions that define the actions of the TCC:

“A transnationalist capitalist class based on the transnational corporations (TNCs) is emerging that is more or less in control of the processes of globalization.”
“The TCC is beginning to act as a transnational dominant class in some spheres.”
“The globalization of the capitalist system reproduces itself through the profit-driven culture-ideology of consumerism.”
“The transnational capitalist class is working consciously to resolves two central crises: (i) the simultaneous creation of poverty and increasing wealth within and between communities and societies (the class polarization crisis) and (ii) the unsustainability of the system (the ecological crisis).”

The existence and power of the TCC is made particularly visible every year when the World Economic Forum (WEF ) meets at the exclusive ski resort in Davos, Switzerland. The WEF is an organization based in Geneva (Switzerland) that comprises business leaders (such as Bill Gates and the CEOs of the largest transnational corporations), past and present political leaders (such as presidents, prime ministers and other government officials), select intellectuals (Chancellors and professors from the most prestigious universities), journalists, and, sometimes, members of non-governmental organizations, in other words, it is a gathering of the TCC.

At the annual meeting in Davos, under very tight security, this elite discusses the economic and political issues of the world but it is also an opportunity to network and cultivate social capital as well as conduct business and shape policy on a global scale. The membership of the WEF clearly shows its exclusive nature: the vast majority of the membership is from the North America and Europe, with some representatives from developing Asia. One thousand companies, earning over one billion dollars are also invited, as long as they pay a $250,000 fee. Until 2001, there were no women represented to the board. Panels may be public but meetings are held behind closed doors.

The Davos meeting clearly illustrates that the TCC is indeed a class: a category of people who may come different parts of the world but think alike and share a common view of what the world should look like and what economic policies should be implemented. They all share a neo-liberal or globalist ideology.

Apart from the World Economic Forum, the TCC also exercises power through its membership in think tanks (such as the American Enterprise Institute) or corporate associations (such as the World Petroleum Council for the oil industry), and its control of the mass media (very large media conglomerate own most television channels, radio stations, internet service providers as well as book publishing companies), and countless charities and foundations as well as University boards.

As such, the TCC truly functions as a class, promoting its own interests through the various means at its disposal. It is quite new to see some pushback from the political sphere. Along with the oh-so mild questioning of the Washington Consensus I posted about yesterday, maybe there is something going on. In the context of the credit crunch and the food price crisis, we may be witnessing the strongest signs so far of a crisis of legitimation from above.

WWTSBQ 2.0 – A Neverending Series

My blog bookmark listing is getting thinner every day. That goes along with the shrinking respect I had for some bloggers in the past. Boy has this primary been a reality check. Here is someone who used to be one of my favorite bloggers, Hilzoy, subbing for Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly :

"This might or might not be true in the abstract. In the actual world, however, everything depends on how Hillary Clinton conducts herself. She can continue to make her case in a constructive and positive way, trying to show that she is the best candidate while doing her best to defuse the idea that the nomination was somehow stolen from her, and to reconcile her followers to the idea that she lost fair and square"

Well, from where I stand, actually listening to Hillary’s speeches, she has consistently done that: making her case to the voters, discussing the issues, adopting a populist stance that is in synch with the core Democratic base. She is making a positive case for herself and for votes to be counted. At the same time, she has repeatedly stated that once the primary is over, the party will be united behind the nominee ("whoever she might be"… it was a funny line, but there is no sense of humor among the self-righteous, so-called progressive bloggers and the creative class… humor, along with irony and self-awareness, was thrown under the bus long ago. The only humor left is the neverending sexist jokes that can told about pantsuits and whatnot).

She is always the gracious one at the debates or in speech. And yes, she is campaigning, that means promoting her candidacy. It ‘s not her job to campaign for Obama or refrain from nudging him when the opportunity presents itself. And trust me, nudging him is all she’s ever done. The man has been treated with kid gloves.

And by the way, losing fair and square means once ALL the votes have been counted and ALL the arguments (including those about electability and popular votes, etc) have been made and discussed out in the open. "Fair and square", by definition, involves fairness.

But apparently, we live in a different universe:

"Or she can try to undermine Obama’s claim to be the legitimate nominee, if he wins. "Staying in the race" describes both options. But only one of them "will help unite the Democratic Party", and make "everyone (…) more likely to rally around the nominee." Hillary Clinton has not chosen that option."

Because, as you see, Obama has no agency here. The only way he can be undermined or promoted is NOT through his own actions but through Hillary’s behavior. Who has been systematically alienating the core of the Democratic party demographics? Who has allowed rabid misogyny to be unleashed and is now out of control across the blogosphere? Who has made the wildest accusation of sinister motives about the Clintons (the latest absurd iteration of which is the RFK fauxtrage)? Who has been trashing the democratic brand and running away from the liberal label? Who’s more than willing to discard the core Democratic base in an attempt to attract conservatives and evangelicals even if this means throwing women’s rights and LGBT causes under the bus while doing so? Good grief.

And let’s continue in that line of "It’s all the Bitch’s fault" argument

"I just heard someone on one of the talk shows say that it must be hard for Hillary Clinton to give up her dreams. I appreciate this fact, and I do not envy her. However, as I wrote a few days ago, Hillary Clinton is a responsible moral agent. She has the power to decide which of these two approaches she will pursue. Moreover, she has now had several months to get used to the idea that she lost. If she were an adult , she would deal with it. The fact that she seems instead to require our indulgence while she sorts through her emotional issues just gives me one more reason to be glad she lost: Presidents are often confronted with crises, at 3am and other times, and they do not always have the luxury of working through all the stages of grief before coming up with a response."

Emphasis mine. Oh my God, there is so much bullshit to go through here, it’s unbelievable. Where does this come from? Some talk show? Because, God knows how much talk shows have been reliable sources of information and analysis in this primary.

And here comes the sexist part: Hillary is not a grown woman, she’s a little girl who has to give up on her dream, but dammit, us adults have work to do and we can’t attend to her emotional needs… I think we can soundly blame Bill for that! And what is this paragraph based on? Nothing. There is absolutely NO evidence to support any of this. Oh, and by the way, if the primary was over months ago, how come the Annointed One has not reach the proper number of pledged delegates yet? Why haven’t the Democratic leaders stepped in and declared the primary over?

And when has Hillary EVER required our indulgence? What she has asked for? Our votes. Something Barack Obama has yet to do. And it’s a bit rich to infantilize Hillary when the whole Obama campaign has been like a fratboy wet dream. Loaded with sexism and contempt for older voters and people who have to struggle to make a living. And where coolness and quasi-religious revivalism has been what passes for substance and policy. But who needs that when you have a "movement".

"In the actual world, the only way Clinton can win the nomination, absent some genuine catastrophe, is for the superdelegates to decide to give her the nomination. If that happened, would she be more electable? She might have an edge over Obama in Appalachia, but she would surely be at a serious disadvantage among African-American voters. This might not have been true had she won the primary on pledged delegates: in that case, Obama’s supporters would probably be disappointed, but would manage to get over it."

I’ll let Paul Lukasiak deal with that one if he wishes. He has done great statistical analysis showing that this is pure BS.

But for all the talk of the "real world", what is missing from this post is, well, the real world.

The real world where the media is in the tank for Obama and has not hesitated to carry the most prurient narratives, along with the so-called progressive blogosphere.

The real world where absurd accusations of racism were thrown around so idiotically that now, Republican and conservative groups will be able to put out actually racist materials, and when the Obama campaign whines about it, it will be seen as crying wolf yet again ("they were whining about it with Hillary too, already").

The real world where racist discourse is unacceptable (thank goodness) but vile sexism is used and reused in polite conversations (and not so polite, white bitch!), in the media, across the so-called progressive blogs without any concerns for the real consequences of such discourse.

The real world where the Democratic leadership either sees Obama as a gigantic ATM (victory in November be damned) or just got caught up in the hipness of the "movement", with a complete disconnect to what happened to the kind of candidates Obama represents (McGovern comes to mind, of course).

The real world where the DNC has its collective thumb solidly on the scale in favor of the Senator from Illinois.

The real world where Obama has no coattails because the Democrats for a Day he has brought along are interested in voting for HIM, but now in downticket races.

The real world where the half of these great turnouts has voted for Hillary.

The real world where Obama can no longer be seen as a legitimate candidate , all by his own doing because there has been no such thing as "fair and square."

But I guess, it’s all Hillary’s fault. Only she has agency. Obama sits on the mountain, basking on the lovefest, deigning to make a few noble pronouncement when it does not matter anymore (RFK again) and the wankfest has already taken place.

We need more than a blogosphere 2.0. We need Liberalism 2.0.

Taking Back What is Theirs – Ending the Predatory State

I have already written about the predatory state in the case of Gabon. But here is an interesting story of what happens when a government fights back and demands retribution for predatory governance by a previous administration. This is what is happening in Zambia (via the BBC ):

"The Zambian government says it has recovered money and assets worth nearly $60m stolen during the rule of former President Frederick Chiluba.

The assets include bank deposits and an upmarket apartment in Belgium.

Information Minister Mike Mulongoti said the assets would be sold and the money used to upgrade hospitals.

Mr Mulongoti said the funds were recovered from former government officials who had served in Mr Chiluba’s administration.

Mr Chiluba is on trial at the Magistrates Court in Lusaka, charged with corruption.

In May last year, the High Court in Britain ruled that Mr Chiluba and four of his aides had conspired to rob Zambia of about $40 million.

The civil action was brought in Britain because the allegedly stolen money passed through bank accounts in London.

UK Judge Peter Smith said Zambians should know that when the former president appeared wearing his trademark designer clothes, they were paid for with public funds."

And for a country like Zambia, $40 million is a lot of money. But what is certain is that former President Chiluba got away with it because of the relative impunity that rewards heads of state who are good students of the World Bank and IMF policies. During his tenure, President Chiluba contributed to the liberalization of the Zambian economy. Such measures have been disastrous for Zambia. This country was a middle-income country at the time of its independence. It now sits at the bottom of the list of every development indicator. What Zambia has going for it, though, is a relatively stable political situation, if it weren’t for its corruption problem (the fish rots at the top, obviously, and World Bank and IMF lending policies have enriched more than a few corrupt officials in developing countries).

Current president Mwanawasa has made the fight against corruption in general, and especially against the former Chiluba administration a central part of his governance. He has offered Chiluba a presidential pardon if Chiluba acknowledges the looting of the state coffers and returns 75% of the money. So far, without success.

Hmm… let’s see, a president prosecuting a former president and his administration for wrongdoings during his tenure. Sometimes, we should take lessons from other countries.