2010 – The Year of Kettling

We’ve all been kettled.

The term, of course, refers to a form of containment used by law enforcement against protestors who are then surrounded by a thick cordon of police, with either one narrow exit or no exit at all as police advances and reduces the space available to those kettled. Once duly kettled, sometimes for hours, protestors can be made to conform much more easily.

Kettling was used at the G8 demonstrations in Genoa, with tragic results. And more recently, it was used against students protesting conservative policies:

“Hundreds of people chanted “let us out” as a line of police officers reduced the size of the Whitehall pen.

Many argued the police were punishing everyone, rather than the handful of troublemakers.

Ben Mann, 24, a London University student, said: “It’s not good. It makes people more angry. I don’t understand how they have the right to hold people in one place.

“It really angered people when they did this at the G20 protests. A policeman just told me this was the end of protests as we know it, which was pretty scary.”

Tom, a 23-year-old Sussex University student who didn’t want to give his surname, said: “They’re trying to deter people from protesting.

“They’re not accusing us of any crimes, so why have they done it? This is preventing us getting our message across.”

Sophie Battams, 17, from Dagenham, Essex, said: “The kettling is causing the violence.

“If you put a lot of angry people in one area, it will escalate to this.”

Rachel Tijani, 18, also from Dagenham, said: “It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. If they coop people up like caged animals, they’ll act like caged animals.

“It was peaceful at first, then it got violent as people wanted to make their point. I just want to go home now.””

As Phile Shiner – a lawyer defending the rights of kettled students, including his daughter – notes, there are several problems with kettling:

  1. It makes things worse as people get angrier as their space gets reduced. Kettling increases the potential for violence.
  2. Police now go straight to kettling without trying less repressive measures (that is similar to the recourse to teasering by cops at the first sign of not-quick-enough compliance) but these would involve some cooperation with demonstration organizers.
  3. Kettling – as most repressive measure – is now first resort.
  4. The media play a propaganda role by presenting the kettled crowd as composed on violent anarchists.
  5. Kettling highlights the fact that governments seem to take less seriously the right to not be unlawfully imprisoned, freedom of speech and assembly.

As Shiner notes:

“So next up it will be trade unionists, the unemployed, nurses, teachers and local government workers. Prepare to be kettled, insulted, abused, batoned, arrested on a pretext to justify coercion, intimidated and then subjected to a propaganda attack in the media.”

Well, we are already there.

But as Suzanne Moore notes, there is more than physical kettling, there is mental kettling, being beaten into submission to certain ideas (mostly neoliberalism). She writes, regarding the increasing fees and elimination of financial aid to low-income students in British universities:

“To accept the inevitability of this is one thing, but are we to embrace the complete marketisation of all we hold dear? Are we happy to live with the decimation of arts and social sciences? Do we not see this as straightforward ideological attack? Do we think it is acceptable to make one generation pay for the sins of another?”

I would consider propaganda pieces like Waiting for Superman to be forms of mental kettling.

To me, kettling also involves another trend that is just as disturbing and ties into a lot of things that have been happening recently: the state and its corporate masters and allies have now declared open war on the civil society. Whether you think of the massive amounts of money shoveled at the wealthy after they destroyed the financial system (and the recent US tax cuts bill is only one example), or the rabid reaction to the exposure of state and (to come) corporate behavior exposed by Wikileaks, and the repression against the students demonstration, it is hard to reach a different conclusion. It is now plain for everyone to see.

Oh sure, every once in a while, we will be thrown a few crumbs (like the repeal of Dont Ask, Don’t Tell), but such crumbs will have more a symbolic impact and are non-threatening to the project at hand (the complete takeover by the corporate class and the complete precarization for the rest of us).

And so, having abdicated its social responsibilities, the state now acts as the openly repressive arm of the power elite, as socially devastating austerity (translate: inequality-generating and impoverishing) measures are implemented in most Western countries. The role of the state is now largely two-fold: protect corporate and wealthy interests on the one hand, and crush resistance at home (police) and abroad (military). And the media happily provides the soft power side of this through propaganda (mental kettling).

This is not exactly a new phenomenon, but 2010 is the year the curtain got pulled and we got to see the whole thing, in its full ugliness.

Book Review – Murder City

Last book review of the year!

I have been looking for some solid analysis regarding the mass killings of Ciudad Juarez, so, naturally, I downloaded Charles Bowden‘s Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and The Global Economy’s New Killing Fields.

This book is not Juarez 101. It is not a journalistic or analytical account of what happens there. It is more a personal journey, with lots of stream of consciousness writing. The narrative, if there is one, is not linear but disjointed (although there is a “death calendar” appendix, that lists the dead over a one-year period). There is a lot about the writer himself, what he felt, his own reactions, etc. That is the part of the book that I did not like. It made me want to shout “dude, this is not about YOU!”

As much as I understand that extreme violence at that depicted in the book has to take a toll on one’s sanity, he was still in the privileged position of being able to cross the border back in the US and rejoin his comfortable life at any time, as opposed to the people stuck in that non-stop violent world. So, no, I did not care one bit about his feelings.

That being said, the book is far from a complete waste of time. Once you skip through the first-person stuff, you get to the real story and the people I was really interested in: the people of Juarez, those who live and survive in the midst in continuous and increasing violence from all parts.

One thing that the book does well is to show how the mainstream reporting on Juarez violence explains nothing and covers up much. What goes on there is not government versus drug cartels, or drug cartels versus drug cartels. There are many layers of corruption and violence converging on Juarez: the drug cartels, of course,, bu the federal and state military accounts for enormous violence as well, along with the local police.

Often, police and military officers also work for the cartels, and military hotshots benefit from the drug trafficking. And much the conflict is funded by the US, either in the form of training Mexican soldiers (who then also work for the cartels), or direct money to the federal government in the name of the War on Drugs (is there any way in which that idea is not completely bankrupt?). The cartels bribe DEA and Border Patrol so they can ship the drug to the US without problems.

“In 1953, a flying school in Culiacan was closed to placate the United States, and yet by the late 1960s at least six hundred secret airfields flourished in northern Mexico (the beat goes on—in 2007, the Mexican army claimed to close two secret narco-airports a day). More recently, a series of agencies have tackled drugs. Dirección Federal de Seguridad (DFS), trained by the CIA, was supposed to eliminate drug merchants and radicals in the early 1970s. By the 1980s, its staff either worked for or led cartels, including the one in Juárez. In the mid-1990s, a new force under a Mexican drug czar flourished, until it was discovered that the czar worked for the Juárez cartel and so did many of his agents. It was dissolved. Under President Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000), a new incorruptible force, Fiscalía Especializada en Atención de Delitos contra la Salud (FEADS), was created. One part deserted, became the Zetas, and functionally took over the Gulf cartel.” (Loc. 1918)

In 1997, an organized crime unit was formed to tackle the cartels, and at the same moment in Mexico City, the agents of yet an earlier squad assigned to fight drugs were found dead in a car trunk. FEADS was finally dissolved in 2003 when it was found to be hopelessly corrupt. Under President Felipe Calderón, yet a new federal mutation emerged—AFI (Agencia Federal de Investigación). Its head was murdered in the spring of 2008. His dying words to his killer were, “Who sent you?” The government later determined the hit was done by the Sinaloa cartel, with the killers led by a former officer in the agency.” (Loc. 1926)

And the US government pretends that the Mexican government is the democratic wonder that fights the bad criminal organizations. That pretense and its maintenance has devastating consequences as the US media never reports the wrongdoings of the Mexican military and its responsibility in much of the killings as well as its involvement in the trafficking.

That attitude ruins lives. Take the case of a Mexican journalist – Emilio – who made the “mistake” of reporting on the wrongdoings of the military:

“The woman and Emilio collect his son. They stop by his house to get some clothes and then flee to a small ranch about six miles west of Ascensión, where he can hide. He is terrified. Later that night, a friend takes him back to his house once again. He wears a big straw hat, slips low in the seat. He sneaks into his house and gets vital documents. A friend delivers a small black car out at the ranch. All day Sunday, he tries to think of a way to save his life. He comes up with only one answer: flight. No matter where he goes in Mexico, he will have to find a job and use his identity cards and the army will track him down. He now knows they will never forget his story from 2005, that he cannot be redeemed.

He tells his boy, “We are not going back to our house. The soldiers may kill me, and I don’t want to leave you alone.” Monday morning, he drives north very fast. He takes all his legal papers so that he can prove who he is. He expects asylum from the government of the United States when he crosses at Antelope Wells, New Mexico. What he gets is this: He is immediately jailed, as is his son. They are separated. It is a common practice to break up families to crush the will—often jailing men and tossing the women and children back over the fence. He is denied bond, and no hearing is scheduled to handle his case. He is taken to El Paso and placed in a private prison. Had he entered the United States illegally and then asked for asylum, he would have been almost immediately bonded out. But since he entered legally by declaring his identity and legal status at a port of entry and applied for asylum, he is placed in prison because Homeland Security declares that Emilio has failed to prove that “he does not represent a threat to the community.”

It is possible to see his imprisonment as simply the normal by-product of bureaucratic blindness and indifference. But I don’t think that is true. No Mexican reporter has ever been given political asylum, because if the U.S. government honestly faced facts, it would have to admit that Mexico is not a society that respects human rights. Just as the United States would be hard pressed, if it faced facts, to explain to its own citizens how it can justify giving the Mexican army $1.4 billion under Plan Merida, a piece of black humor that is supposed to fight a war on drugs. But then, the American press is the chorus in this comedy since it continues to report that the Mexican army is in a war to the death with the drug cartels.

(…)

This was part of the Bush administration’s ‘Guantanamization’ of the refugee process. By locking people up, especially Mexican asylum applicants, and making them, through a war of attrition, give up their claims there at the camp. I’ve represented ten cops seeking asylum, and not one of them lasted longer than two months. Emilio lasted seven months. On the basis of he had his son and he knew he was going to be killed. There was nowhere that he could go and practice his profession.” There are forty reporters in El Paso—print, radio, and television. Only one or two tiny reports are published by any of them. And the matter of the Mexican army killing innocent Mexicans is not mentioned at all. Like the U.S. government, they apparently believe the Mexican army is some force of light in the darkness of Mexico.” (Loc. 3514 – 86)

And when such journalists try to tell their stories to the US media, they are ignored (as if we needed more evidence of the uselessness of that institution) because no one should destroy the myth of the Mexican government as faithful ally in the War on Drugs. There is so much money at stake in the drug business that everyone wants in, and not just criminal organizations. And Emilio is not allowed to live in the US as a refugee.

And so, the killing continues, more massive than ever. And it’s not just the young women who work in the Maquiladoras (although they are victims). Because the lines are so blurred between Federal / State military, local police and cartel killers, one can never know who killed whom. So, arrests are not made. Actually, it is even lucky if police officers leave their offices to go to killing sites because they are targets. Killings and kidnappings are not reported. And in a kind of collective amnesia, once the bodies are removed, the dead disappear from memory and are no longer mentioned (same goes for the kidnappings).

“The violence has crossed class lines. The violence is everywhere. The violence is greater. And the violence has no apparent and simple source. It is like the dust in the air, part of life itself.” (Loc. 484)

As are drugs, something Bowden calls “narcotecture.”

And yes, this has something to do with NAFTA:

“A recent study found over twenty thousand retail drug outlets in Tijuana, mainly cocaine and heroin. In Juárez, there are at least as many such venues. The peddlers earn three hundred dollars a week, there tend to be three shifts, so let’s posit for Juárez twenty-five thousand outlets (a conservative estimate) and figure a payroll of seventy-five thousand retailers. This amounts to a bigger payroll than that earned by the two hundred thousand factory workers earning on average seventy-five dollars a week. And of course, the real money is not in the retail peddlers but in the organizations that control them and import and package their products. This is the economy of the city. This is supply-side economics flooring the killing ground.

(…)

When Amado Carrillo was running a cartel that hauled in $250 million a week in the mid-1990s, Juárez was barely a speck in the mind of the American government or media. When he used the same private banker at Citigroup in New York as the then-president of Mexico, this, too, was of no interest. When the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) passed and went plowing into the lives of millions like a greed-seeking missile in the early 1990s, this city that pioneered using cheap labor to bust unions and steal American jobs continued to be ignored. Only brief flickers of interest in the dead women of Juárez captures any American audience.

(…)

In Juárez, the payroll for the employees in the drug industry exceeds the payroll for all the factories in the city, and Juárez has the most factories and is said to boast the lowest unemployment in Mexico. There is not a family in the city that does not have a family member in the drug industry, nor is there anyone in the city who cannot point out narcos and their fine houses, or who has any difficulty taking you to fine new churches built of narco-dollars. The entire fabric of Juárez society rests on drug money. It is the only possible hope for the poor, the valiant, and the doomed.” (Loc. 884 – 1030)

The drug trafficking cannot be separated from the Maquiladoras economy. So, the mass violence is the story of structural breakdown and hollowing of the state, where the only legal jobs keep one in poverty, barely at survival level or illegal immigration to the US. So, killing and drugs are legitimate career choices for young men. Killing is not deviance. It is where the incentives are.

If Bowden is right and Juarez is the future, it’s not pretty.

Liquid Times – The Individualization of Coupling

Paging Stephanie Coontz, marriage is changing!

“Some are divorced and disenchanted with marriage; others are young couples ideologically opposed to marriage, but eager to lighten their tax burdens. Many are lovers not quite ready for old-fashioned matrimony.

Whatever their reasons, and they vary widely, French couples are increasingly shunning traditional marriages and opting instead for civil unions, to the point that there are now two civil unions for every three marriages.

When France created its system of civil unions in 1999, it was heralded as a revolution in gay rights, a relationship almost like marriage, but not quite. No one, though, anticipated how many couples would make use of the new law. Nor was it predicted that by 2009, the overwhelming majority of civil unions would be between straight couples.

It remains unclear whether the idea of a civil union, called a pacte civil de solidarité, or PACS, has responded to a shift in social attitudes or caused one. But it has proved remarkably well suited to France and its particularities about marriage, divorce, religion and taxes — and it can be dissolved with just a registered letter.”

It is amazing and it reveals a lot about the straitjacket aspects of cultural scripts that this is even newsworthy. It is readily accepted that economies change, political systems change, and many clamor for change in the educational institutions. But somehow, changes in the family institution seems anathema and are treated as the coming apocalypse, or with shock when said apocalypse does not happen.

This reveals several things: (1) a complete lack of historical knowledge. As Stephanie Coontz brilliantly demonstrates in Marriage: A History, family structures have had a great range of variation in the past (even limiting ourselves to the Western societies) and the meaning of marriage has also seen much change. And thus, the article commits the usual fallacy of calling “traditional” marriage, a type of marital arrangement that is actually a social and historical exception more than the norm, thereby reproducing the religious rights frame.

(2) The shock at the lack of social collapse caused by marriage decline is grounded in a patriarchal view of the institution, which is why religious rights folks get apoplectic at the slightest hint of challenge to their preferred structure (one in which the father is the ultimate authority and with whom power lies, with women and children as obedient dependents). That is the source of their opposition to “easy” divorce, contraception, women in the workplace and anything that shifts – ever so slightly – the balance of power.

What one is witnessing in Western Europe, mainly, is the de-patriarchalization of marriage. I explained this elsewhere:

“As Goran Therborn puts it, patriarchy, the law of the father, was the big loser of the twentieth century. Probably no other institution has been forced to retreat as much (2004:73). In other words, the 20th century has seen the rise of de-patriarchalization: the progressive retreat of patriarchal norms and practices. This trend has not been uniform as the various family systems were differently patriarchal to start with. In particular, the second half of the 20th century “was the period of the most rapid and radical global change in the history of human gender and generational relations” (73). Such changes occurred at three moments:

  1. After World War I, mostly in Western Europe and the USA, as well as in the new Communist Russia;
  2. After World War II, especially in East Asia where the Confucian patriarchal order was displaced either by Western influence (such as the American occupation of Japan) or the rise to power of communist regime in China. A similar development occurred in Eastern Europe where communist governments emphasized gender equality, women’s autonomy and workforce participation;
  3. In the late 1960s with a high point with the United Nations’s declaration of 1975 as International Women’s Year and of 1975-1985 as the decade for Women which generated a momentum for pro-women legislations in Western Europe in the areas of reproductive and marriage rights.

As mentioned before, family systems do not change from the inside, they are transformed by the impact of external factors. De-patriarchalization was supported by several major ideological trends: the international feminist movement, the socialist labor movement spearheaded by Communism, the secular liberal movements and the nationalist developmentalist movements all promoted an egalitarian view of the family as well as the notions of autonomy and choice for women. Other structural factors include industrialization and urbanization as well as increased schooling and education, of girls, especially, in the non-Western world.”

(3) A complete lack of understanding of the interconnections between social institutions. It is impossible to have a 21st century economy with a 19th century family structure. And yet, that is what the family values crowd argues for. Well, guess what, the liquification (Bauman) and individualization (Beck) that have taken place in the economy have overflown into the family systems as well.

On individualization of coupling, here is what I wrote as well:

“A great deal of social commentary on the family usually centers on the issues of divorce and remarriage, singlehood (temporary or permanent), same-sex marriage and the changing marital role of women. For instance, a recent New York Times article states that, in the United States, “marriage has been facing more competition. A growing number of adults are spending more of their lives single or living unmarried with partners, and the potential social and economic implications are profound” (New York Times, 10/15/2006).

However, it is important to note that societies of the past did not comprise two clearly defined categories: married and non-married. The boundaries between the two were always blurred and fluid. Different family systems tolerated types of relationships that were neither marriage nor non-marriage: cohabitation while waiting for marriage negotiations to be finalized in the Sub-Saharan system, the taking on of concubines, in addition to legitimate wife, in China, the Muslim Shiite tradition of temporary marriage as short-term contract in Iran, as well as informal marriages in the Creole system. All these practices highlight the fact that the difference between marriage and non-marriage is not as clear cut as it would appear and claims of traditional family forms under threat over both exaggerated and not new.

It does appear that there is a contemporary trend – especially in the Western European system – toward what sociologist Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim (2002) calls post-familial families. A post-familial family is a concept that indicates how the family, as an institution, now covers a wide range of organizational forms such as cohabitation, with or without children, and with or without marriage plans, singles and single parent families, conjugal succession (series of marriage, divorce and remarriage) as well as same-sex partnerships among others. Statistically, this means an increase of these family forms and a decline in the proportion of nuclear married families within the larger population of most Western societies.

(…)

The post-familial structure is largely a product of socio-economic conditions described in the section on the economy, especially the process of individualization. What does individualization mean in the context of the family? It certainly does not mean that people are becoming more selfish and self-centered, at the expenses of socially indispensable so-called traditional family values. Individualization means that the traditional external constraints on marriage and family (mostly religious and legal) have progressively disappeared and have left individuals to find biographical (individual) solutions to systemic (social) contradictions.

Such an example of contradiction is the idea of creating stable and long-lasting family ties within a rigid family form in a liquid world characterized by a fluid and flexible labor market that no longer provides stability and a political structure that progressively dismantled social safety nets. In this context, as Ulrich Beck and Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim (2002) state, the family is no longer a community of needs where individuals are economically interdependent but rather based on elective affinities: partners choose each other on the basis of individual preferences, based on the prospect of mutual fulfillment, for as long as it lasts.

This individualizing trend accompanies the greater workforce participation of women as it is no longer possible to count on marriage for financial security and marriage might actually become an impediment to independence. In this sense, both so-called traditional breadwinner and homemaker family roles have been individualized: in the current economic context, a single male breadwinner is often not enough to financially support a family; similarly, in a context where relationships are not expected to last “until death do us apart,” the homemaker role becomes a very risky one. It is therefore not surprising to find a correlation between the increasing education and workforce participation of women with an increased divorce rate.”

So, it would be nice if once, just once, journalists checked with the available research in social sciences (beyond psychology and economics) to not commit the three fallacies I noted. But I am not holding my breath.

As You Shop for Christmas…

Let’s just remember who makes all the stuff you are going to buy, or people who make the buildings in which people make the stuff you buy. And let’s remember that a cheap price does not come by magic: a price is made cheap and kept cheap by making and maintaining labor cheap, mostly through oppression of various kinds.

Item 1: I hope it’s not too hard to get the smell of smoke off these clothes:

“Dozens of workers jumped to their deaths and more than 100 were injured when a fire swept through a Bangladeshi factory that makes clothes for high street retailer Gap today.

Witnesses said the blaze – at the factory just outside Dhaka – engulfed the multistorey building, forcing some of those trapped inside to leap from the windows. The fire comes after repeated warnings about fire safety at factories making clothes for western retailers.

Authorities said that the fire initially broke out on the building’s 10th floor, where trousers were stored for shipment, and then spread up to the 11th floor where there was a canteen and a manufacturing facility. At least 27 people died in the blaze while one witness said that he saw 50 to 60 people jumping off the 10th floor to escape.

Abdur Rahim, who was injured, said most of the workers were having lunch when the fire broke out. “Heavy plumes of fire suffocated the area.” He said two of the emergency exits were closed. Unable to walk down, many broke the windows to escape the fire and injured themselves.”

Locking exits is very common in factories in the Global South, as it is assumed workers are all thieves and heaven forbid they left the shop with a $10.00 t-shirt.

Item 2: it’s a merciless world for the vulnerable:

“An alleged trafficker sold workers with learning disabilities as slave labour to a factory grinding rocks into powder for building materials, Chinese media claimed today.

The case in north-west Xinjiang province is the latest in a series of scandals over the exploitation of vulnerable workers.

Eleven labourers, eight with learning disabilities, endured three years of gruelling physical labour with no pay, inadequate food and appalling living conditions, newspaper reports alleged.

Wang Li, 40, from Heilongjiang province, told the Xinjiang Metropolitan newspaper he tried to escape twice but failed and was beaten.

Another worker, Peng Gengui, said: “Normally, if you don’t break the rules, you won’t be beaten up.” He added: “We only get to eat meat when we are too weak to work.””

And that’s not all.

“In 2007, the Chinese government vowed to stamp out the problem after the Shanxi brick kiln case . More than 450 victims – including children as young as 14 – were reportedly kidnapped or tricked into working at the site.

Last year, Chinese media said police had arrested alleged traffickers in Sichuan on suspicion of killing people with learning disabilities in faked mine accidents so they could blackmail bosses into paying compensation.”

No conspicuous consumption for any of these people but ours is based on their exploitation, directly or indirectly.

Misogyny 101 – Bitchy Old Hags

I am sure you have seen these commercials:

And this one:

Obviously, the use of cranky old – and very famous – ladies is supposed to be funny. In terms of gender, the idea is that a hungry man turns into a bitchy old hag. Because, of course, there is no masculine way of being annoying. Oh no, being naggy and annoying is a feminine trait.

Hey, why not use Charlie Sheen or Mel Gibson losing it? Well, that would not be funny, now, wouldn’t it. It’s only funny if you integrate some sexist and ageist demeaning text in there.

Dimensions of Stratification – Social Class Bites

Interesting article in that it shows how social class membership is embedded in everything about us:

“When you hear the words “class struggle”, do you reach for your toothbrush? You should. According to a report on adult dental health released this week by the NHS, one adult in 10 in Wales has none of their own teeth left. Not one. The figures are slightly better for England and Northern Ireland – the report was ominously silent about Scotland – but the average British mouth is still missing upwards of six teeth.”

And it’s not just in the UK:

“In the US, as in the UK, a person’s class is etched in their teeth. In his 1991 classic, Savage Inequalities, author Jonathan Kozol wrote: “Bleeding gums, impacted teeth and rotting teeth are routine matters for the children I have interviewed in the south Bronx.” A report by the US National Institute of Health says poor children today are far more likely to suffer from severe baby-tooth decay “caused by frequent or prolonged use of baby bottles that contain milk, sugared water, fruit juice or other sugary beverages”. The US has more celebs with perfect teeth simply because it has more celebs (and maybe more rigid standards of celebrity appearance). But US government statistics still show deep racial differences in dental health, and just as steep a class divide as Britain. That, rather than the space between our incisors, is a gap we should all mind.”

And bad teeth truly can make one’s life miserable and generate a stigma for their possessor in themselves but also in so far as teeth relate to physical attractiveness.

Also, this (not for the faint of heart!)

The Crisis of Legitimation is a Public-Private Partnership

I believe the main revelations of the Wikileaks cables are not the diplomatic gossip but rather the exposure of state complicity in corporate  – if not crimes – questionable practices. This is truly what we must not be allowed to know and see, especially in the context of unrest in major European countries as the costs of the failing excesses of the wealthy are now being passed on to the lower rungs of the social ladder (see French retirement reform demonstrations, the UK students protests, and other protests movements in Greece).

For instance,

“Les ministres européens des affaires sociales et de l’emploi, réunis à Bruxelles, ont catégoriquement rejeté lundi 6 décembre la proposition du Parlement européen visant à allonger la durée minimale du congé de maternité à 20 semaines et à instaurer le principe d’un congé de paternité rémunéré. “La très, très grande majorité des Etats membres considère que le Parlement est allé trop loin en proposant l’allongement du congé de maternité à 20 semaines, avec une rémunération à 100 % du salaire, ce n’est pas une base de négociation”, a estimé la ministre belge de l’amploi, Joëlle Milquet, dont le pays assure actuellement la présidence de l’Union européenne.

Fin octobre, le Parlement européen avait voté en faveur d’un texte allant dans cette direction. Les élus avaient aussi demandé que les Etats qui ne le font pas encore reconnaissent le principe d’un congé de paternité d’au moins deux semaines continues, payées aussi à 100 %. Actuellement, la durée minimale du congé de maternité est de 14 semaines dans l’Union européenne. De nombreux pays vont au-delà, mais les conditions d’indemnisation sont très variables d’un Etat à l’autre.

Mme Milquet a indiqué en revanche que les gouvernements européens étaient ouverts à l’idée d’instaurer un congé de maternité minimal de 18 semaines, comme proposé à l’origine par la Commission européenne, ce qui correspond aux recommandations de l’Organisation internationale du travail (OIT). Toutefois, ils refusent l’idée d’une indemnisation à 100 % du salaire.

Les pays opposés à un allongement à 20 semaines, au premier rang desquels la Grande-Bretagne et la France, font valoir que cela induirait des coûts supplémentaires importants, en pleine période de disette budgétaire en Europe.”

Well, of course there is no money to extend maternity leaves, create paternity leaves and compensate them properly, because of budget shortfalls after massive bailouts of failing banks and financial institutions.

Having to deal with a crisis of legitimacy on one front (mostly through repression), they probably do not want to open another front, hence the demonization of Wikileaks.

Item one:

“The world’s biggest pharmaceutical company hired investigators to unearth evidence of corruption against the Nigerian attorney general in order to persuade him to drop legal action over a controversial drug trial involving children with meningitis, according to a leaked US embassy cable.

Pfizer was sued by the Nigerian state and federal authorities, who claimed that children were harmed by a new antibiotic, Trovan, during the trial, which took place in the middle of a meningitis epidemic of unprecedented scale in Kano in the north of Nigeria in 1996.

Last year, the company came to a tentative settlement with the Kano state government which was to cost it $75m.

(…)

The cable claims that Liggeri said Pfizer, which maintains the trial was well-conducted and any deaths were the direct result of the meningitis itself, was not happy about settling the Kano state cases, “but had come to the conclusion that the $75m figure was reasonable because the suits had been ongoing for many years costing Pfizer more than $15m a year in legal and investigative fees”.

In an earlier meeting on 2 April between two Pfizer lawyers, Joe Petrosinelli and Atiba Adams, Liggeri, the US ambassador and the economic section, it had been suggested that Pfizer owed the favourable outcome of the federal cases to former Nigerian head of state Yakubu Gowon.

He had interceded on Pfizer’s behalf with the Kano state governor, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau – who directed that the state’s settlement demand should be reduced from $150m to $75m – and with the Nigerian president. “Adams reported that Gowon met with President Yar’Adua and convinced him to drop the two federal high court cases against Pfizer,” the cable says.

But five days later Liggeri, without the lawyers present, enlarged on the covert operation against Aondoakaa [the Attorney General].”

The lawsuits were withdrawn after confidential settlement.

Item two:

“A scandal involving foreign contractors employed to train Afghan policemen who took drugs and paid for young “dancing boys” to entertain them in northern Afghanistan caused such panic that the interior minister begged the US embassy to try and “quash” the story, according to one of the US embassy cables released by WikiLeaks.

In a meeting with the assistant US ambassador, a panicked Hanif Atmar, the interior minister at the time of the episode last June, warned that the story would “endanger lives” and was particularly concerned that a video of the incident might be made public.

The episode helped to fuel Afghan demands that contractors and private security companies be brought under much tighter government control. However, the US embassy was legally incapable of honouring a request by Atmar that the US military should assume authority over training centres managed by DynCorp, the US company whose employees were involved in the incident in the northern province of Kunduz.”

Ha, the dancing boys, another wonderful tradition… never forget that “tradition” usually means oppressive practices that the beneficiaries do not want questioned.

Of course, the interior minister has nothing to fear of the US media. This is how they report the prostitution of young boys to elders:

“He insisted that a journalist looking into the incident should be told that the story would endanger lives, and that the US should try to quash the story. But US diplomats cautioned against an “overreaction” and said that approaching the journalist involved would only make the story worse.

“A widely-anticipated newspaper article on the Kunduz scandal has not appeared but, if there is too much noise that may prompt the journalist to publish,” the cable said.

The strategy appeared to work when an article was published in July by the Washington Post about the incident, which made little of the affair, saying it was an incident of “questionable management oversight” in which foreign DynCorp workers “hired a teenage boy to perform a tribal dance at a company farewell party“.”

In both cases, national interest is defined as protecting a corporation engaged in questionable practices, against the interests of the locals.

And for those who are not clear on what the dancing boys “tradition” really involves, there is the Frontline program on this:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

The Visual Du Jour – More Institutional Discrimination

This time, it’s upward mobility (or lack thereof):

As the article notes:

“America is often called the land of opportunity, and that class mobility has long been a popular tenet of American culture. But the reality is that many children who grow up poor remain poor as adults. In addition, mobility is not always upward, particularly for black children raised in middle-class families who often find themselves in lower income ranks as adults. The Figure, from the forthcoming State of Working America Web site, shows the percent of children in each income group – from the bottom 20% to the top 20% –  who remained in or moved into  the bottom 20% as adults. Each set of columns represents the income group in which the children were raised; the percentages attached to these columns show the portion of those children who were in the poorest income group as adults. As the first set of columns in the Figure shows, close to one-third of all white children and more than half of all African American children who were raised in the bottom income fifth stayed there as adults. The second set of columns shows that 20% of white children and 48% of black children raised in the second-to-lowest income group, were in the lowest income group as adults.”

Internet and Democracy

If you understand French, you must listen to the entirety of this discussion on the social dimensions of Internet use, networking, corporate concentration, information control, generational attitudes (moral panic at every new technological breakthrough! and the digital natives are good at pushing button but suck at coding and creating content) with Dominique Cardon and Anne-Marie Kermarrec, moderated by French star socblogger Pierre Maura.

I confess to being more interested in what Cardon discussed. Kermarrec was a bit at a loss when it came to the intersections between societal trends and social networking technologies.

And yes, there is a bit on Wikileaks.

The whole thing is fascinating:

Champs Contre Champs – Internet et Démocratie from Les Champs Libres on Vimeo.

avec Dominique Cardon et Anne-Marie Kermarrec

Menaces sur l’avenir de la presse et sur la création artistique, prégnance du virtuel sur le réel, rétrécissement de l’espace privé: dans de nombreux débats, internet fait figure de coupable désigné. Pourtant, dans son essai La démocratie internet, le sociologue Dominique Cardon propose une autre approche. Et si internet était le plus grand allié de notre démocratie? Pour lui, internet constitue une forme politique particulière, en élargissant l’espace public à l’expression de nouveaux acteurs et en décloisonnant la discussion politique. Il bouleverserait la

manière dont l’information circule et dont les collectifs se créent. Les Champs Libres accueillent la Cantine numérique, le 22 novembre (voir encadré ci-dessous). À cette occasion, nous proposons de croiser les regards de chercheurs d’horizons différents sur la relation d’internet à la démocratie.

Dominique Cardon est chercheur associé au Centre d’études des mouvements sociaux et sociologue au Laboratoire des usages d’Orange Labs. Ses travaux portent sur les usages des nouvelles technologies et les transformations de l’espace public. La démocratie Internet vient de paraître (éd. du Seuil/La République des idées).

Anne-Marie Kermarrec est directrice de recherches à l’INRIA. Elle est également responsable du projet ERC Starting Grant Gossple (vers un Internet personnalisé et distribué) et docteur de l’université de Rennes 1. Ses travaux de recherche portent sur les systèmes pair à pair, les algorithmes épidémiques et les réseaux sociaux.