Friday, September 12, 2014

The Power of the People: Battle In Kingsbridge

The following is the transcript of a recent interview I had with Álvaro Franco, a member of the People’s Power Movement which is working with residents of Kingsbridge Heights in the Bronx to battle against gentrification and rent hikes.


1. How did the situation in Kingsbridge start? What was the context for the gentrification and increase in rent? What is the make-up of the Kingsbridge community?

The City and a nonprofit called NWBCC created a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) that would redevelop the Kingsbridge Armory into the world's biggest ice skating center; in return, the majority of the workforce for this new center would come from Kingsbridge. Since then, many property owners hoping to capitalize on the redevelopment have started raising rent for merchants and tenants.

I forgot to mention KARA: the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance. KARA is/was a coalition of 27 community groups and business owners that, for 15+ years, heard proposals from various developers about the future of the Armory. I'm not too sure about the exact year, but I would say about 3-4 years ago the majority of KARA voted on a CBA that allowed an ice skating center w/ 8 rinks inside, as long as Kingsbridge residents constitute the majority of the workforce. However, after that CBA was made, the KARA meetings became private, and the community groups that had voted against the Ice Center were shut out of the conversation.

Working-class Dominican and black residents make up the majority of Kingsbridge; it is a primarily low-income neighborhood, and a great many of the business owners live there instead of elsewhere.

2. What was the tipping point(s) for many in the community? When did you all start to get together and organize?

For the tenants, the tipping point was when the landlord applied for an MCI rent increase on the basis of external repairs, when the cost of repairs should come out of his pocket; for the merchants, it was when the new landlord neglected to renew their leases and instead doubled their rent.

3. What activities are people in Kingsbridge engaging in to resist gentrification and rent increases?

The tenants in one particular building on University Ave created their first tenants' association in 10 years, and together they are organizing to block the rent hikes. The members of the Merchants Association on Kingsbridge Road are meeting separately w/ the landlord to negotiate terms for staying a little longer; others are willing to fight harder and raise more public awareness about the economic injustice.

4. In what manner are the tenants organized?

The Tenants' Association of 2800 University Ave elected a President, Vice President, and Secretary during their first meeting in July; no backlash from the landlord so far. The body of leadership is primarily working-class women of color, and they are deciding whether to elect captains for each side of the building: North, South, and Center.

Right now PPM is revising its list of demands for the tenants, so we can't really publish that information right now, but the goal is for the list to match one of the immediate demands from our group: "Institute a massive program of quality, affordable public housing for all, under tenant management.  Roll back rents. End gentrification. The New York City Rent Control Board to be popularly elected."


5. Are you all looking at the situation from a perspective of reform or something more? Is the situation being examined as a short-term goal or are you going for the long haul? 

We are looking at it from the perspective of fundamental social change, in for the long haul. We are currently working on our list of demands for tenants.

6. How much and what kind of support have the movement achieved? 

Part of the support the tenants received was news coverage by the Riverdale Press and Manhattan Neighborhood Network (MNN); the merchants' story was covered on News 12, the Bronx.

7. Are there future plans to link up with other communities that are facing the same problems?

For now, future plans involve reaching out to other buildings within University Ave and Kingsbridge Road to see if they also received an MCI rent increase; when our capacity increases, then we can link up with other neighborhoods in the Bronx, or even Crown Heights in Brooklyn.

8. How can people get in touch with and support the movement?

They can email us at 2011peoplepower@gmail.com

Follow us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/2011PeoplePower 

On Tumblr at peoplepowermovement.tumblr.com 

On Twitter at twitter.com/PPM_MPP

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Exploring The Graveyard (Part 2)

 
Image Courtesy of A State Anthem 20th Century Russian History Blog




Exploring The Graveyard
 

Part 2: Bloodshed

See Part 1 here



After Daoud Khan ascended to power, the situation in Afghanistan seemed rather stable, however on the ground; problems had begun to brew in past years, problems which would ultimately play a major role in shaping not only Afghanistan, but ultimately the larger geopolitics of the region.

The People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan

Before Daoud Khan’s coup, there were talks of forming a new constitution and due to this the number of political groups became increasingly active after 1963. The People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (aka the Afghan Communist Party) formed in 1965. It was during this decade that the country “underwent political polarization in the mid-1960s, with factions on the extreme left and right gaining strength.”[1]  The Parcham faction was led by Babrak Karmal, the “son of a well-connected army general, Karmal became involved in Marxist political activities while a student at Kabul University in the 1950s and was imprisoned for five years as a result.”[2]  After being released from prison, he served in the army and attained a law degree. The Khalq faction was led by Nur Mohammad Taraki, a man with a rural background who had clawed his way up to being an appointed attaché at the Afghan embassy in Washington, D.C. and continued to be involved in politics.

The Parcham were “drawn mainly from the non-Pushtun, Dari-speaking elite centered in the capital”[3]  and “enlisted followers mainly among Dari-speaking Kabuli intellectuals”[4]  as well as pro-Soviet moderates, whereas the Khalq were “a nationalistic, grassroots party dominated by the Pushtuns”[5]  and popular in rural areas. The Communists split into two factions, the Parcham and Khalq in 1967, due to disputes over policy.

Yet, there was more than just the PDPA that was politically active; there were also a student movements and Islamist groups.

Political Movement and the Saur Revolution

Student movements were a fairly recent occurrence in Afghanistan, such as in 1950, when a student union attempted to form but ultimately failed due to differences between pro- and anti-government factions.

In the 1960s, students were actively exposed to politics as many in high school would read leftist literature that had been snuck in from Iran and India. College students were in environments that “favored political debates, which soon resulted in the formation of discussion groups that later coagulated into political parties” and they “were actively involved in the campaign for both parliamentary elections in the 1960s.”[6]  This large-scale involvement helped to change Afghan political parties as some of them had their roots in the university.

However, there were also Islamists in the university as well, many of them were influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood and “comprised mainly of university professors who had studied at al-Azhar in Cairo,”[7]  with the student wing of Islamist movement eventually evolving into a full-fledged organization.

So what we see is that there was a large amount of political organizing going on, among a variety of sectors in society. However, the landscape would soon change.

Quickly after July 1973, when Daoud Khan came back to power in a coup, he began a war against not only the splinter parties of the PDPA, but more broadly against groups that opposed him. Khan removed PDPA members from positions of importance, “closed down the independent press, which led to the publication of underground, antigovernment leaflets by the left and the religious right” and initiated “a crackdown on fundamentalist Muslim groups in 1974” and “sent a small number of fundamentalists into exile in Pakistan.”[8]  Yet, this only caused political instability, with a number of assassinations taking place in late 1977 and early 1978.

The attack caused the Parcham and Khalq factions to put aside their differences in favor of fighting their common enemy in Daoud Khan. The arrest of leftist leader in April 1978 was the final nail in the coffin. On April 27th, with the aid of Marxist-influenced military officers, the PDPA took power and immediately began to attack members of the former regime.

Afghan Communist Rule

The new regime has led by Nur Mohammad Taraki of the Khalq faction of the PDPA. He moved quickly to transform the country, embarking on a campaign that “challenged not only traditional Afghan political sentiments, but also the new Islamist movement.”[9]  Taraki “introduced a series of radical reforms, beginning with the replacement of the traditional Islamic green flag of Afghanistan with a red one, [which] collectively amounted to a declaration of war on traditional Afghan society.”[10]  Instability soon began to show, with an army unit revolting in March 1979, but even before then, in October of 1978, large armed rebellions occurred in eastern Afghanistan and began to spread.

Yet, the new Communist regime did not take these rebellions sitting down. They responded to the rebellion with extremely brutality, strafing rural villages and setting fire to crops in rebel areas.[11]  This only increased anti-Communist sentiment and by 1979, the new regime was being seriously threatened.

The Afghan Communist government had contacted the Soviets in March 1979 to ask for assistance, but was rebuffed. Yet in December of that year, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in order to prop up their fledgling Communist government.

However, there were a number of countries interested in the new Afghan government.

Pakistan

The Pakistani’s had always been interested in Afghanistan, however, with Russia’s invasion of their neighbor, the politics of the situation drastically changed. Now the country was faced with Soviet troops everywhere among the Afghan-Pakistani border and on top of that, Afghan refugees were regularly flooding over the border. In addition to this, Soviet aircraft would “periodically [violate] Pakistani airspace, occasionally "buzzing" refugee camps well within its borders.”[12]

The question of Baluchistan also came up. Some saw the Soviet invasion as a plan to “penetrate Baluchistan and advance to the Arabian Sea.” Many were concerned about ethnic tensions in Pakistan and thus “were wary of Soviet and Afghan efforts to organize Baluch dissidents, resentful that Baluchistan was not being given its due recognition as a full-fledged province of Pakistan."[13]

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia, too, had interests in what was going on in Afghanistan as they saw the country “as a buffer state that helped prevent Soviet expansion toward the Gulf.”[14] 

They were glad to join the US in an effort to take out the Soviet Union, but war in Afghanistan also served as “an outlet as radical as that of the Iranian revolution, though distinct from it, for all the Sunni Islamist militants who dreamed of striking a blow at the impious” and let the Saudi government “[shield] their American ally- which supported the holy war- against the wrath of Sunni activists,”[15]  as the Islamists distrusted both the US and the USSR and had no qualms about attacking either country. Saudi Arabia actively supported the Sunni Islamists as a way to thwart Iran’s influence that was moving increasingly westward.

In Afghanistan, the Saudis teamed up with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Pakistani Jam’at-i-Islami (Islamic Party) to “promote the more radical Islamist parties among the Afghan fighters, check Iranian influence, and prevent Western cultural influences from spreading among refugees and the mujahideen,” with “the first two objectives [having] the full support of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence and the CIA.”[16]

The US also had interests in Afghanistan and would go quite far to ensure those interests were met.

The United States

During the Saur Revolution, while the US was concerned that the country had gone Communist, they still maintained diplomatic relations with Afghanistan. That quickly changed when, on February 14, 1979, “the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, Adolph Dubs, was kidnapped by terrorists and later died under circumstances that have never been completely explained.”[17]  After this incident, the US did not assign an ambassador.

The US would have its revenge though, as President Carter quickly signed a presidential finding, initiating Operation Cyclone, which would supply anti-Communist Afghan fighters with lethal aid via Pakistan. It must be noted that this finding was signed in July 1979 and the Soviet invasion took place in December 1979.  Carter’s administration knew that arming Afghan fighters would encourage the Soviets to militarily intervene. “In fact, Carter's National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, informed the president that 'this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention'. He told a French reporter: 'We didn't push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would. The secret operation ... had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap."[18]  (emphasis added) The US did this in order to weaken the USSR, but also to get revenge for the Soviets aiding the North Vietnamese just several years earlier.

The US soon aided the Afghan fighters with Stinger anti-aircraft missiles; however the situation did not go over as smoothly as portrayed. In 1983, US Ambassador to Pakistan, Ronald Spiers, say the value of the Stinger missile and the impact it could make on the Afghan war theater. Due to the missiles being in short supply, he contacted undersecretary of state Lawrence Eagleburger and “[urged] that ‘serious consideration’ be given to supplying the rebels via Pakistan with Stingers, ‘when they're available.’"[19] 

However, most of the Reagan administration was opposed to arming the rebels, with Reagan not wanting them to get their hands on hi-tech weaponry and there was a large amount of opposition in the CIA. Many at the CIA “claimed the unsophisticated rebels could not handle a weapon like the Stinger, citing the rebels' past failure to shoot down planes with the Soviet SA-7 missile.”[20] 

Then-Director of Intelligence, Robert Gates, joined the fray as well, arguing that “’the Soviets would have to consider more seriously more dramatic action,’ if the U.S. were to increase aid significantly.”[21]  The State Department stood against further arming the rebels, worried that doing so could potentially disrupt issues where the US and USSR formerly cooperated and where Soviet cooperation was needed, such as with arms control.

The situation shifted when Senator Michael Pillsbury was assigned to covert programs in Sept. 1984. He was forced into supporting giving Stinger missiles as other weapons were inadequate for fulfilling the task of downing Soviet aircraft. People’s attitudes also began to change when attacks against the rebels and their Pakistani weapons pipeline sharply increased, which put all of Operation Cyclone at risk, and when Congress began publicly pushing for increased aid to the Afghan rebels. In January 1985, “a Congressional Task Force on Afghanistan was established and began holding hearings to showcase the purportedly desperate plight of the Mujahedin.”[22]  With the signing of National Security Decision Directive 166 by Reagan in March 1985 which stated that the US would “improve the military effectiveness of the Afghan resistance,”[23]  it assured that the aid would get to the Afghans.

By next year, the rebels were getting Stingers.

There is still one country, not often talked about, that was also heavily involved in Afghanistan during this time period: China.

China

Before delving into China’s involvement in Afghanistan during this time period, it would first be pertinent to include a brief overview of China’s interaction with Afghanistan overall.

China shares about a 60 mile border with Afghanistan. From the very start, China didn’t regard Afghanistan as a threat to its geopolitical interests and generally didn’t see themselves as having a strategically important border with Afghanistan.

That changed once the Soviets invaded. Due to the Sino-Soviet split in which China and the USSR called it quits on their relationship, the Chinese became “were concerned about the military activity near the Badakhshan (including Wakhan) province of Afghanistan, which was connected to the China border.”[24]  The Chinese thought that this was a serious security threat, with the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs sending a message to the Soviet ambassador on the last day of 1979, stating that “‘Afghanistan is China’s neighbor … and therefore the Soviet armed invasion of that country poses a threat to China’s security. This cannot but arouse the grave concern of the Chinese people.’”[25]

China quickly moved to establish contacts with Pakistan and Iran on a deeper level and began to give financial and military aid to Afghan rebel fighters. Aid was given to Pakistan as well in order to counter the Soviet encirclement of China and avoid a direct military confrontation with the superpower.

Finally, there were massive shifts in Chinese policy as China “also stepped up its diplomatic and political offensives against the hegemony of the Soviet social imperialism by cultivating better relations with the USA.”[26]  Thus a series of de-facto alliances formed against the Soviet Union, which resulted in the failure of their military campaign and the war fully ending on February 15, 1989.

While Afghanistan had survived the Soviet Union, there will still a number of problems and concerns. In the next decade radical Islamists, allied with a even more radical group, would take over the country. But we must first pause and ask ourselves three questions:


1.    What is the Taliban?

2.    What is Al Qaeda?

3.    Who exactly is Osama bin Laden?







Endnotes

1: Michael W. Reisman and James Silk, "Which Law Applies to the Afghan Conflict?" (1988). Faculty Scholarship Series. Paper 752. http://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/fss_papers/752, pg 467

2: Encyclopedia Brittanica, Babrak Karmal, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/312510/Babrak-Karmal

3: Selig S. Harrison, “A Breakthrough in Afghanistan?” Foreign Policy, Summer 1983, pg 9

4: K. Wafadar, “Afghanistan in 1980: The Struggle Continues,” Asian Survey 21:2 (1981), pg 173

5: Harrison, pg 9

6: Antonio Giustozzi, Between Patronage and Rebellion: Student Politics in Afghanistan, Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, http://www.areu.org.af/EditionDetails.aspx?EditionId=312&ContentId=7&ParentId=7&Lang=en-US (February 2010), pg 2

7: Thomas Ruttig, Islamists, Leftists and A Void in the Center. Afghanistan's Political Parties and Where They Come From (1902-2006), Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, http://www.kas.de/wf/doc/kas_9674-1522-2-30.pdf?061129052448

8: Reisman, Silk, pg 468

9: Charles C. Cogan, “Partners In Time: The CIA and Afghanistan Since 1979,” World Policy Journal, Summer 1993, pg 75

10: Alexander Alexiev, The United States and the War in Afghanistan, Defense Technical Information Center, http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a216845.pdf  (January 1988)

11: David Gibbs, “Does the USSR Have a 'Grand Strategy'? Reinterpreting the Invasion of Afghanistan,” Journal of Peace Research 24:365 (1987), pg 372

12: W. Howard Wiggins, “Pakistan's Search for a Foreign Policy After the Invasion of Afghanistan,” Pacific Affairs 57:2 (1984), pg 285

13: Wiggins, pg 287

14: William B. Quandt, Saudi Arabia In the 1980s: Foreign Policy, Security, and Oil (Washington D.C., Maryland: Brookings Institution Press, 1981), pg 41

15: Gilles Kepel, Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam (London, UK: I.B. Tauris, 2006), pg 137

16: Rachel Bronson, Thicker than Oil: American’s Uneasy Partnership with Saudi Arabia (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2006), pg 170

17: Cogan, pg 75

18: Andrew Hartman, “The Red Template: US Policy in Soviet-Occupied Afghanistan,” Third World Quarterly 23:3 (2002), pg 470

19: Alan J. Kuperman, “The Stinger Missile and US Intervention in Afghanistan,” Political Science Quarterly 114:2 (1999), pg 222

20: Hartman, pg 223

21: Ibid

22: Hartman, pg 228

23: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, National Security Decision Directive 166, http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/reference/Scanned%20NSDDS/NSDD166.pdf

24: A.Z. Hilali, “China’s Response to the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan,” Central Asian Survey 20:3 (2001), pg 327

25: Ibid

26: Hilali, pg 323

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Quiet War On Students

Image Courtesy of TheNorthStarNews.com






College students and graduates around the nation are buried in debt and trying to succeed in an extremely difficult and competitive economic environment. Many people are graduating only to find out that they are unable to get the jobs they want, whether it be due to the small amount of available jobs or (more usually) the problem of ‘experience,’ and thus are reduced to having to work menial jobs while paying back exorbitant loans. So far very little legislation has been passed to aid students in paying back their loans and many are blaming politicians for this. However, the situation goes deeper and in part lies at the feet of a little known institution called the American Bankers Association.

The American Bankers Association, according to their website, is “the voice of the nation’s $14 trillion banking industry, which is composed of small, regional and large banks that together employ more than 2 million people, safeguard $11 trillion in deposits and extend nearly $8 trillion in loans” and believes that “Laws and regulations should be tailored to correspond to a bank’s charter, business model, geography and risk profile.” While it is quite obvious that the ABA is an organization that works in the interest of the bankers, they have an interesting history with regards to student loans and how they have actively fought against the interest of students.

The ABA’s war against students started in the mid-1960s with the rise of the Johnson administration. Johnson ordered the formation of a task force to examine the role of the federal government in higher education, specifically student aid, to be headed by John W. Gardener. In its report, the task forced noted that “Of the students who did not attend college and who had families who could contribute only $300 or less to their education, about 75 percent of the men and 55 percent of the women indicated that they would have attended college if they had had more money available.” Johnson saw this as a loss of human capital and wanted to remedy this, ultimately signing the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 1965 into law. The law included many suggestions from the Gardner taskforce, such as that the government should aid students monetarily via grants and loans, as well as creating special programs for college-aspiring low-income students.

However, this was a major problem for the ABA. The organization was worried about government encroachment on their business, specifically loans and argued that “the federal government could not replicate the working relationships that locally-owned financial institutions had with state and private non-profit guarantee programs” and “the federal government would end up taking over the industry because there would be little incentive for the state and private non-profit agencies to establish their own programs.” In order to placate the bankers, the Johnson administration told them that the government would be the ultimate loan guarantor if no one else was available.

Yet, in the present-day, the ABA is without a doubt waging a quiet war on students by actively combating virtually any legislation that would ease their debt burden. With regards to being able to get rid of student loans in bankruptcy, the ABA stated in 2012 that, if allowed to go into effect, it “would tempt students to rack up big debt that they won't repay [and that] ‘The bankruptcy system would be opened to abuse.’” This is rather ironic, accusing that students will engage in irresponsible lending, even though the banks themselves engaged in massive amounts of the exact same activity by giving mortgage loans to people they knew couldn’t repay the amount. 

The assumption that students would just borrow money and they declare bankruptcy is rather ridiculous as filing for bankruptcy has severe negative effects such as “negatively affect your credit and future ability to use money” and can “prevent you from obtaining new lines of credit and may even cause problems when you apply for jobs.” Yet, due to the bankers and other groups fighting against being able to get rid of student loans in bankruptcy, the only other option is default, which works quite well for the banks. When a person defaults on their student loans, a number of effects:
  1. Your entire loan balance will be due in full, immediately. 
  2. Collection fees can be added to your outstanding balance. 
  3. Up to 15% of your paychecks can be taken. 
  4. Your Social Security, disability income, and state and federal tax refunds can be seized.
  5. You will lose eligibility for federal aid, including Pell grants. 
  6. You will lose deferment or forbearance options. 
  7. Outstanding fees and unpaid interest can be capitalized (added) onto your principal balance. (emphasis added)

While numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 7 are horrible for the borrower, they work quite well for the banks as it allows them to get their money back no matter the cost to you in the immediate aftermath or the future. So your entire economic future has pretty much been destroyed? Well, that’s just the cost of doing business.

The ABA has recently fought against efforts to not have the interest rate on student loans double from 3.4% to 6.8%. The bill in question was Senate Bill 2343, also known as the “Stop The Student Loan Interest Rate Hike of 2012.” 

Democrats wanted to finance the bill by closing a tax loophole in which “wealthy individuals and large corporations [would] often file using ‘subchapter S’ companies to dodge paying employment taxes.” The ABA and other business groups such as the US Chamber of Commerce financing of the bill on the grounds that it “would make tax collection ‘less enforceable than current law and will do little to increase compliance.’” Republicans with some Democratic support effectively shut down the bill and thus student loan rates have now doubled.

While many have accused the ABA of having a major sway with Republicans, a report from the organization Campaign For America’s future entitled Moneychangers In The Senate noted that “six Democratic senators—Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark.; Mark Warner, D-Va.; Tom Carper, D-Del.; Ben Nelson, D-Neb.; Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Jim Webb, D-Va.—sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to make him ‘aware of our concern’ about reform efforts [to aid students] and urging consideration of ‘potential alternative legislative proposals.’” 

Essentially Democrats who had been bought and paid for by lending companies were urging that Harry Reid abandon legislation that could aid students and instead look for supposed alternatives which would not harm the banks. Yet, what is interesting is that student loan companies all have close ties to each of these senators, such as Blanche Lincoln’s former chief of staff working as a lobbyist for the student loan industry and Ben Nelson’s former legislative director being a lobbyist for Nelnet, a major student lender.

It must be noted that this campaign against student loan reform has massive amounts of money on the line. From the previously cited report, it was stated that in 2009 Nelnet posted profits of $139 million and that in “In May 2008, the student lenders were bailed out by the Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act (ECASLA), which gave the banks further federal subsidies. The bill allowed lenders like Sallie Mae to sell loans back to the Department o Education through a number of loan-purchase programs.” This allows lenders to make even more money. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the government would save over $68 billion over ten years if they switched over to direct lending, however, now that $68 billion will “subsidize private lenders like Sallie Mae to pay their executives exorbitant salaries and bonuses,” such as Sallie Mae chairman Albert Lord who raked in over $225 million during his tenure at Sallie Mae which ended in 2013.

The situation does not end there, however. The Senate has proposed the “Protecting Aid for Students Act for 2014” and its House counterpart is entitled the “Curbing Abusive Marketing Practices with University Student Debit Cards Act,” or the CAMPUS Debit Cards Act. Each of these bills is meant to “protect students from unfair banking practices involving campus-sponsored financial products, including debit cards.” More specifically, the bills would “remove conflicts of interest and end kickbacks between financial institutions and schools, give students control of their financial aid and banking products, and provide transparency over campus-sponsored financial product.” 

Yet, this is a problem for the Ken Clayton, Chief Counsel of the ABA. He stated that this legislation “would limit financial choices for students and parents, and raise costs for everybody” and that “Attempts to vilify financial institutions and require free services will limit consumer choice, increase costs for students and universities, and stifle innovation that has helped modernize higher education financing.” Apparently eliminating conflicts of interests and kickbacks between colleges and banks as well as giving students control of their finances, is a problem.

While we cannot get rid of the American Bankers Association as an institution, we can actively fight against them by organizing ourselves and demanding that we be treated as human beings, not just an investment. Politicians and colleges will not have our backs, we must do this on our own, we must fight ourselves. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Talking Palestine with Dana Busgang





Talking Palestine with Dana Busgang 

By Devon Douglas-Bowers 

This is a transcript of a recent interview I had with Dana Busgang, who is currently working in Palestine.


1. Tell us about yourself.

My name is Dana Busgang, I am 21 years old, and originally from South Orange, NJ. I am going into my senior year at Goucher College in Baltimore, MD, where I major in Political Science with an International Relations minor.

2. What made you want to go to Palestine? 

There are a number of factors that influenced my decision to spend my summer in Palestine. Perhaps the largest and most salient reason is that I grew up in a very pro-Israel area and was raised to believe that I should defend Israel and support it no matter what. I was raised to believe that Israel could do no wrong.

Somewhere along the way, I started questioning whether the so called Israeli Defense Forces are really for defense. As I started learning more and more about the atrocities committed against Palestinians daily, continuing my studies as a Political Science student, one sentence repeated itself over and over in my head; not in my name.

I consider it my duty to make sure that the Palestinians receive justice for the injustices that the state of Israel has committed against them in the name of Jews everywhere. The other reason stems from American perceptions of Arabs in general. The way that the Middle East is treated in the mainstream media, the portrayal of Arabs in pop culture, media and in general as "terrorists," "animals," or "uncivilized," always struck me as wrong. A whole civilization of people could not possible be the demonized version we hear of in America.

After spending a semester in Jordan, I knew I had to come back as soon as possible. I want to be able to go home, and tell people what it’s really like in Palestine, that not all Arabs, not all Palestinians are terrorists who value death and blood, that these are wonderful people, living in terrible conditions.

3. What were your views on the Israel-Palestine conflict before traveling? How have your views changed since? 

 I have definitely been pushed way farther to the left than I ever imagined due to my stay here and used to consider myself very neutral, very central, but I've definitely begun to start thinking far more along pro-Palestinian lines.

 It’s hard to keep a level head when surrounded by oppression, death, and pain. I never really believed in a two state solution, and I still don't. While I think it’s important for Palestinians to have self determination, I also have come to learn of rampant corruption inside the Palestinian Authority, and the distrust that the Palestinian people have in their "government." Therefore, i believe a new Palestinian state would be ripe for takeover by even more radical parties (such as ISIS), or would fall into a violent struggle for power and control.

As far as how my views have changed, I understand now just how powerless the Palestinians are in the current situation. I understand why they resort to violence to resist, I understand that there are many different ways of resistance, and I understand the necessity of resistance. I also didn't realize until coming here how important and salient the idea of the right of return still is.

4. Many people would argue that one should have a neutral stance on this issue. Do you think that such a stance is acceptable in anyway, especially given the Desmond Tutu quote, "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor?"

I have struggled a lot with the question of what my role and the role of the international community in general is in this conflict. One the one hand, the posts and arguments I witness over Facebook are disgusting, disturbing and ridiculous considering most of them occur between people who are not here on the ground experiencing what is happening.

 Even then, the dissemination of trustworthy, non-biased information here is nearly non-existent, with both sides spreading lies and propaganda. I have given up trying to urge people not to make judgments about a situation that they know nothing about, and do my best to inform my friends and family based on the reality that I witness on the ground.

While I do believe it is important, especially for Americans as our government supplies most of the weapons and arms being used against the Palestinians, to have not take a neutral stance, I think that the role of ordinary Americans is to pressure our own government to recognize the injustice occurring in Palestine and stop supporting Israel militarily. In this globalized and hyper connected world, its nearly impossible not to take a stance on an issue like this, and it also makes the international community that much more important.

However, posting on Facebook, sharing articles with like minded friends, or getting into pointless arguments on FB posts is not helping anything. If you want to change something—go to a protest, call your representative, or even sit down and have a face to face, rational discussion with someone without resorting to name calling or shouting.

5. Tell us about your first couple of days in Palestine.

Oh goodness, that was a while ago. Lately, I have been feeling and thinking so much, that I cannot find the words to summarize what I have been experiencing. So it may be a little difficult to summarize, but I'll try.

The most shocking thing for me originally upon coming to Palestine was the physical travel itself. In order to get to Nablus from Tel Aviv, I hitched a ride to Jerusalem with my cousin, snagged down a bus to Ramallah and then from there took a private taxi to Nablus instead of dealing with a another bus and my giant suitcase. The road from Ramallah to Nablus has a US state department warning placed on it, due to the amount of settlements and Palestinian villages.

If you drive in a Palestinian taxi, you risk settler attacks. If you go by Israeli car or bus, you risk Palestinian stone throwers-- there's no winning. This road, unlike many others in the West Bank, was nicely paved and had many signs pointing out nearby towns-- but wait; they weren't for towns, just for settlements. The signs that pointed to Palestinian villages were red and angry, warning that they were about to enter a "dangerous" Palestinian village. I laughed to myself, thinking-- what danger do I face from Palestinians? Getting overfed? Too much tea and coffee? After driving through this stretch of settlements, we hit the village of Huwara, which is about 10 minutes away from Nablus.

There were army jeeps and soldiers milling about, dressed like they were at war while just standing near groups of Palestinian youths. Finally we arrived to the Balata refugee camp, where we would be working for the rest of the summer and staying in for a week. Two foreign girls, with giant suitcases looking slightly lost and confused in a refugee camp was definitely not a sight that people are used to. Eventually we found our accommodation, and got settled. Later, we went into the city to meet our co-worker/boss/friend Omar (name has been changed) to have dinner and drink tea in a nice park.

The next day we were taken on a tour of the old city, where we got to see the only Nablusi soap factory still in working order, eat some delicious Knafeh (a traditional Arab sweet that Nablus is famous for), and see Omar's grandparents home that has a beautiful view of the old city. Even until this day, when walking around this city, I hear "Welcome to Palestine," (Ahla wa sahla in Arabic) and it always warms my heart.

The next few days were spent meeting with the kids that we would be working with for the summer, and getting to know the city better. Nablus is unique, in my perspective, because it’s very isolated. The Palestinian authority has a visible presence here, and you could spend months staying within the borders of the city and not seeing Israeli soldiers or settlers.

This gives you the feel that you are in Palestine, the country, not Palestine, the occupied territory. The most visible reminder is the Israeli military base that sits atop Mount Gerzim, with its radio towers casting an eerie red glow into the night.

6. What has been the most uplifting experience you've had while in the area?

My time here has been marred by violence, and death. When trying to think of one specific moment that helps me see some light in this situation is difficult. Things like seeing the kids I work with get excited and passionate about creating a summer camp program for their friends in the camp, seeing the city come alive at night during the last few days of Ramadan and for Eid al- Fitr (the holiday right after Ramadan), being invited into so many people's homes for tea, coffee, or a meal, being told "Welcome to Palestine," by a group of slightly threatening looking young men whom I was suspicious of beforehand, being able to communicate with a taxi driver or a young child with my broken Arabic-- these are the moments that lift my spirits.

Living in this place is hard, but the people here are so tough and resilient. They find ways to smile, joke and laugh every day, and are generally some of the most well humored people I have ever met. It’s truly incredible and inspiring.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Coming Calamity, The Coming Resistance





The Coming Calamity, The Coming Resistance

Currently, the world is facing a number of problems, politically, socially and economically. While we may be paying attention to important stories such as the Islamic State’s movements in Iraq and the ongoing fighting in the Gaza Strip which are extremely important, there are dealings being made behind our backs of which we know virtually nothing about. There are major international trade deals in the works and the government seems to be getting prepared for the fallout.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has its roots in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) organization. In 1994, APEC stated in its Bogor Declaration that:

With respect to our objective of enhancing trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific, we agree to adopt the long-term goal of free and open trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific. This goal will be pursued promptly by further reducing barriers to trade and investment and by promoting the free flow of goods, services and capital among our economies.
[…]
We further agree to announce our commitment to complete the achievement of our goal of free and open trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific no later than the year 2020.[1] (emphasis added)

Furthermore, in the free trade agreement between the US and Singapore both leaders made a statement in 2000 in which they stated that both countries “are committed to APEC’s Bogor Goals of free and open trade and investment by 2010 for industrialized economies and 2020 for developing economies.”[2] Thus we can see that some sort of trade deal has been sought after for quite some time and logically, it would be much easier to have a regional trade deal between APEC nations rather than individual trade deals among the many countries in the region.

The TPP itself, originally had nothing to do with the United States, rather it was a trade deal between Chile, New Zealand and Singapore and Brunei which was signed in 2005. The US became involved three years later and officially joined the TPP in 2009.[3]  However, this leads to the question: If the trade deal was originally between four Asia Pacific nations, why did the US feel the need to become involved?
According to Deborah Elms, head of the Temasek Foundation Centre for Trade & Negotiations, the US became involved for three reasons:

1) A trade agreement between the European Union and South Korea bolstered the argument for greater US economic intervention in the region.

 2) Alternative trade configurations were starting to be discussed such as ASEAN plus China, Japan and Korea. If these were to become a reality, the US would end up being sidelined from Asian markets.

3) “The TPP gave the United States a seat at the economic table in Asia in a way that these alternatives did not. It represented a better platform for meaningful engagement than the only remaining configuration—somehow coaxing APEC to do more.”[4]

The last point is further backed up when one looks at the US President's 2008 Annual Report on the Trade Agreements Program, which read that “US participation in the TPP could position US businesses better to compete in the Asia-Pacific region, which is seeing the proliferation of preferential trade agreements among US competitors and the development of several competing regional economic integration initiatives that exclude the United States.”[5]

However, there is also much more to the story than just not wanting to be locked out from Asian markets. US geopolitical interests are also involved as well. The aforementioned annual report also stated that “Apart from economic considerations, there are also geopolitical  concerns, particularly with regard to the growing power and influence of China, something which became clearer with the Obama administration's policy announcement of a military and diplomatic 'pivot' or 'rebalance' towards Asia” and a US Congress research paper noted that the TPP would have regional effects for the US, especially when one factors in that “the region has served as an anchor of US strategic relationships, first in the containment of communism and more recently as a counterweight to the rise of China.”[6] (emphasis added)

Jane Kelsey, a professor of law at the University of Auckland, argued that the TPP had “very little to do with commercial gain and everything to do with revival of US geopolitical and strategic influence in the Asian region to counter the ascent of China” and that the US wanted to “isolate and subordinate China in part through constructing a region-wide legal regime that serves the interests of, and is enforceable by, the US and its corporations – and in the TPPA context, what the US wants is ultimately what counts.”[7] Many in China seem believe that the TPP indeed is meant to harm China, with it being reported that "official media have suspected that the deal has more insidious goals than simply forging a trade alliance, accusing the US of corralling Pacific nations against Beijing’s interests.”[8]

While many praise the Trans-Pacific Partnership as free trade, one must be wary not only due to the geopolitical aspects, but also due to it being so secret that “often times, members of Congress and Parliament are denied access to them, even though the agreement will set out legal obligations that these elected officials will be expected to meet.”[9] However, the TPP is not the only secretive trade deal currently being discussed. There is also the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

A transatlantic partnership between the US and Europe has been in the works for quite some time. In 1995, the US mission to the European Union stated that it wanted to “create a New Transatlantic Marketplace by progressively reducing or eliminating barriers that hinder the flow of goods, services and capital” and that the US and EU would “carry out a joint study on ways of facilitating trade in goods and services and further reducing or eliminating tariff and non-tariff barriers.”[10]

The idea of focusing on Europe economically was pushed by those who thought that, due to the Cold War being over, the US should shift away from examining Europe through a military lens. Robin Gaster and Alan Tonelson wrote in The Atlantic that the military-view of Europe “completely misreads the nature of America's post--Cold War interests in Europe, and has resulted in a deepening transatlantic rift on both the security and the economic front” and that “the United States and Europe urgently need to develop a NATO-like forum for handling economic issues.”[11] While this argument isn’t for a US-EU free trade agreement, it still signals that to some, there needed to be a shift in the US relationship with Europe.

However, that quickly changed as some began to argue for a deeper economic integration between the transatlantic partners. In 1997, Ellen L. Frost, a then-senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, proposed to the to the House Subcommittee on Trade (part of the House Ways and Means Committee) the creation of a North Atlantic Economic Community which would be “a framework combining APEC-like trade and business initiatives with a NATO-like strategic, political-economic orientation” and would “establish a deadline for free and open Transatlantic trade and investment (say, 2010) on a Most Favored Nation Basis.” She argued that the Community “should span not only trade and investment but also macroeconomic coordination, monetary policy, exchange rates, and other financial aspects of the transatlantic relationship, as well as trade and investment.”[12]

The very next year, in May 1998, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair announced in a press conference that “we have launched a major new transatlantic trade initiative, the Transatlantic Economic Partnership, which will further add momentum to the process of developing what is already the most important bilateral trade relationship in the world. We've also agreed to work ever more closely together to promote multilateral trade liberalization.”[13]

The push for a transatlantic economic partnership has continued into the present day, both by individuals and organizations. In 2006, an article was penned in Der Spiegel which argued that “The role NATO played in an age of military threat could be played by a trans-Atlantic free-trade zone in today's age of economic confrontation” and that such a partnership would “help reduce the slope of Asia's ascent and prevent our flight paths from crossing too frequently.”[14]

In 2012, “BusinessEurope released a report to contribute to the EU-US High Level Working Group entitled, Jobs and Growth: Through a Transatlantic Economic and Trade Partnership, in which it was recommended to eliminate tariffs and barriers, to trade in services, ensure access and protection for investments, ‘opening markets,’ to establish ‘global standards’ for intellectual property rights, and to build on the Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC) for regulatory cooperation.”[15]

While both of these ‘free trade’ partnerships are quite worrisome, there is still the Trade in Services agreement which has recently come to light.

Trade in Services Agreement

The TiSA is so new and so secretive that barely any information can be found about it. Public Services International, a global trade union federation, issued a report in April 2014 discussing the origins of TiSA, stating:

The TISA appears to have been the brainchild of the U.S. Coalition of Service Industries (CSI), specifically its past president Robert Vastine. After his appointment as CSI President in 1996, Vastine became actively involved in services negotiations. The CSI initially endorsed the Doha Round and seemed to be optimistic in the early stages of negotiations, but when the target deadline passed in 2005, the CSI became increasingly frustrated. Vastine personally lobbied developing countries for concessions in 2005 and continued to try and salvage an agreement until at least 2009.

By 2010, however, it was clear that the WTO services negotiations were stalled. In mid- 2011, Vastine declared that the Doha Round “holds no promise” and recommended that it be abandoned. Vastine was also one of the first to suggest, as early as 2009, that plurilateral negotiations on services should be conducted outside the framework of the WTO. Working through the Global Services Coalition (GSC), a multinational services lobby group, the CSI then garnered the support of other corporate lobbyists for the TISA initiative. The TISA is a political project for this corporate lobby group.[16]

Some of the actual effects TiSA would have were released in June 2014 by Wikileaks. In the leak, it explained that TiSA would have horrendous effects on public services. TiSA would “lock in the privatizations of services-even in cases where private service delivery has failed-meaning governments can never return water, energy, health, education or other services to public hands,” “restrict a government's right to regulate stronger standards in the public's interest,” “restrict a government's ability to regulate key sectors including financial, energy, telecommunications and cross-border data flows,” and “limit the ability of governments to regulate the financial services industry at exactly the time when the global economy is still recovering from a crisis caused by financial deregulation.”[17] (emphasis added) This trade agreement not only has the power to allow corporations free rein and to truly be unrestricted in doing whatever they please, but also to put the public in massive danger via permanently privatizing public goods.

However, this brings up the questions of what exactly is the Coalition of Services Industries, what involvement do they have with TiSA, and who is Robert Vastine?

According to its website, the Coalition of Services Industries is an organization representing the interests of the US service economy and aims at “expanding the multilateral trading environment to include more countries and more services, enhancing bilateral services trading relationships, and ensuring competitive services trade in the global marketplace.”[18] Among its board of directors are people such as Zubaid Ahmad, the Vice Chairman of Institutional Clients Group and Member of Senior Strategic Advisory Group of Institutional Clients at Citigroup and Jake Jennings, Executive Director of International External Affairs at AT&T. It represents companies ranging from Walmart to JP Morgan Chase and Citigroup to Google, Verizon, and AIG. In many ways it represents a variety of interests, virtually all of whom benefit from worker subjugation and/or economic deregulation.

The Coalition of Services Industries is part of the TiSA Business Coalition (aka Team TiSA) which is “dedicated to promoting and advocating for an ambitious agreement which eliminates barriers to global services trade, to the benefit of services providers, manufacturers and farmers, and consumers globally.”[19]
Now, with regards to Robert Vastine, in 2012 he retired from the presidency of the Coalition of Services group and is currently a senior industry fellow at the Center for Business and Public Policy at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University.[20] He is quite known for having stated in 2011 at the Doha Round, a round of negotiations among the members of the World Trade Organization with the aims of achieving “major reform of the international trading system through the introduction of lower trade barriers and revised trade rules,”[21] that the talks were a waste of time and “hold no promise.”[22]

However, he already had problems with the Doha Round talks as he stated in 2005 in the Global Economy Journal that “High expectations for substantial reductions in barriers to services trade emerged from the 1997 negotiations, but thus far remain unfulfilled” and that “a Doha Round that does not contain substantial benefits for services is a Round that will have failed.”[23] Thus, it is no wonder that he is a supporter of TiSA.

The effects of these trade agreements will be horrendous for millions of people around the world, but especially the poor and working-class, much of whom are more vulnerable to these agreements as few have the money needed to learn new skills and adapt to the changing economy. For them and many in what remains of the middle class, if these trade agreements become a reality, it will result in a global race to the bottom in which, among them, there are no winners.

All of these trade agreements, however, are being done all the while the police are becoming increasingly militarized and the Pentagon is preparing for a mass breakdown in society.

Police Militarization

We have recently been seeing an increase in coverage of the militarization of the police and a number of stories reveal this. It was reported in July 2014 that the Albuquerque police purchased 350 AR-15 rifles[24] and the American Civil Liberties Union released a report in which they found that the police are often being used incorrectly and actually creating violence as “SWAT teams today are overwhelmingly used to investigate people who are still only suspected of committing nonviolent consensual crimes. And because these raids often involve forced entry into homes, often at night, they’re actually creating violence and confrontation where there was none before.”[25]

Police are also acquiring military-grade weaponry. A New York Times article written in June 2014 noted that “the former tools of combat — M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, silencers and more — are ending up in local police departments, often with little public notice” and that “During the Obama administration, according to Pentagon data, police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft.”[26] The situation also has the potential to get increasingly strange as it was reported that a drone which can shoot pepper spray bullets at protesters had been developed by a company in South Africa.[27] Unfortunately, however, police militarization isn’t anything new.

A study was conducted in 1998 which “found a sharp rise in the number of police paramilitary units [PPUs], a rapid expansion in their activities, the normalization of paramilitary units into mainstream police work, and a close ideological and material connection between PPUs and the U.S. armed forces. These findings provide compelling evidence of a national trend toward the militarization of U.S. civilian police forces and, in turn, the militarization of corresponding social problems handled by the police.”[28] (emphasis added) The study found that this increased militarization would lead to three problems:

1)    It would reinforce “the cynical view that the most expedient route to solving social problems is through military-style force, weaponry, and technology.”[29]

2)    The militarist-feel could potentially infect the police on an institutional level, noting that many police departments have specific paramilitary units to deal with patrolling, drugs, and suppressing gangs.

3)     Most PPUs don’t solely react to already existing emergencies which require their level of skill, but also “proactively seek out and even manufacture highly dangerous situations” and these “units target what the police define as high crime or disorderly areas, which most often are poor neighborhoods.”[30]

Furthermore, police militarization in many ways doesn’t make sense as we have seen a decrease in the amount of crime, but it does make sense when we acknowledge the fact that most of the victims of police militarization are the poor.

According to the 2003 Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) annual crime report, violent crime in America has declined by 3 percent since 2002, and declined some 25 percent since 1994. Aggravated assaults, which make up two-thirds of all reported violent crimes, reportedly declined for the tenth consecutive year. The 2003 annual crime report also revealed that property crimes had declined 14 percent since 1994.

Similar findings of a historic decline in the violent crime rate in America over the past decade were also reported in other government studies. One such study that provided supporting evidence of this declining violent crime rate was the United States Justice Department's annual survey of crime victims, released in September 2004. This report revealed that the nation's violent crime rate was at its lowest point since their study of crime victims began, in 1973. However, even with this reported decline in violent crime there still remained throughout suburban communities a perceived threat of being victimized by violent acts of crime, perpetrated by the urban underclass.[31] (emphasis added)

We can further see that there is a war on the underclass in the form of police militarization as a study in 1997 found that SWAT teams “were characterized by the deployment of military special operation weapons, such as Heckler and Koch MP5 submachine guns, diversionary devices, and the wearing of tactical body armor and camouflage uniforms” and that often those resources were used “in daily and routine policing activities against the urban underclass.” One can even go so far as to say that “the use of special weapons, military tactics, and the wearing of combat style uniforms in the course of routine urban policing by street-level law enforcement officers would suggest that they are engaged in an actual urban war with the enemy being the urban underclass.”[32]

This increased cooperation between the police and military should have us wonder: What exactly is the Pentagon up to?

The Pentagon

The Pentagon is actively preparing for civil unrest and a breakdown of society. The organization currently has a research program which “is funding universities to model the dynamics, risks and tipping points for large-scale civil unrest across the world, under the supervision of various US military agencies” and earlier this year awarded a project to the University of Washington which “seeks to uncover the conditions under which political movements aimed at large-scale political and economic change originate,’ along with their ‘characteristics and consequences.”[33] However, like with police militarization, this has been going on for a while.

In 2008, it was noted that “A U.S. Army War College report [warned that] an economic crisis in the United States could lead to massive civil unrest and the need to call on the military to restore order.”[34] The use of the military to quell civil unrest was also discussed in Directive No. 3025.18, the Defense Support of Civil Authorities. The directive was rather interesting in that it stated that “Federal military forces shall not be used to quell civil disturbances unless specifically authorized by the president in accordance with applicable law or permitted under emergency authority,” however, later the document reads that federal military commanders are able, “in extraordinary emergency circumstances where prior authorization by the president is impossible and duly constituted local authorities are unable to control the situation, to engage temporarily in activities that are necessary to quell large-scale, unexpected civil disturbances,”[35] (emphasis added) under two conditions. The two conditions are when the military has “to prevent significant loss of life or wanton destruction of property and are necessary to restore governmental function and public order” and “when federal, state and local authorities are unable or decline to provide adequate protection for federal property or federal governmental functions.”[36] This is quite vague in the sense of who defines what “significant loss of life” or “wanton destruction of property” is? What exactly does “adequate protection” for federal property and/or governmental functions mean?

Unfortunately, this isn’t just occurring in the US, but also in Europe as well. It was reported in July 2014 that “European governments are working together to prepare to militarily suppress social unrest. This effort—involving legal, technical, as well as military plans—is in an advanced stage of development, according to a report by Aureliana Sorrento that aired on June 20 on Germany’s Deutschlandfun k radio station.”[37] Just like the US, the Europeans also utilize vague language, saying that a disaster “is defined as ‘any situation that has harmful repercussions on human beings, the environment or wealth assets.’”[38]

 However, among all of this preparation and secrecy, there is mounting resistance to these trade deals. In December 2013, 30 protests were held across the US and Mexico, with people voicing their opposition against the Trans-Pacific Partnership.[39] The World Development Movement, a UK-based group fighting poverty and inequality, noted that “Campaign groups and trade unions announced plans for Europe-wide protests on 11 October against the deal, known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Campaigners also launched a ‘Citizens’ Initiative’ petition to the European Commission with the aim of gathering one million signatures against the deal.”[40]

We are beginning to resist against the secretive trade deals and police militarization, but we must go further. We have to also reject the governments, no matter how large are small their facilitation or complicity may be, as they are being used as tools in a corporate agenda meant to oppress us even further. The calamity may soon be coming, the question is, will you resist?





 


Endnotes

1: Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, 1994 Leaders' Declaration Bogor Declaration, http://www.apec.org/Meeting-Papers/Leaders-Declarations/1994/1994_aelm.aspx (November 15, 1994)

2: US Government Printing Office, Joint Statement by President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong on a United States-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/WCPD-2000-11-20/pdf/WCPD-2000-11-20-Pg2885.pdf (November 16, 2000)

3: Office of the United States Trade Representative, TPP Statements and Actions to Date, http://www.ustr.gov/about-us/press-office/fact-sheets/2009/december/tpp-statements-and-actions-date

4: Deborah Elms, “US Trade Policy In Asia: Going For The Trans-Pacific Partnership?” November 26, 2009 (http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2009/11/26/u-s-trade-policy-in-asia-going-for-the-trans-pacific-partnership/)

5: T. Rajamoorthy, “And Then There Were Twelve: The Origins and Evolutions of the TPPA,” Third World Resurgence, July 2013, pg 4

6: Ibid

7: Jane Kelsey, “TPP As A Lynchpin of US Anti-China Strategy,” Scoop, November 19, 2011 (http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL1111/S00171/tpp-as-a-lynchpin-of-us-anti-china-strategy.htm)

8: Shawn Donnan, David Pilling, “Trans-Pacific Partnership: Ocean’s Twelve,” Financial Times, September 22, 2013 (http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/8c253c5c-2056-11e3-b8c6-00144feab7de.html?siteedition=intl#axzz37adFOqTN)

9: Cory Doctorow, “Trans Pacific Partnership Meeting Switched From Vancouver to Ottawa, Ducking Critics,” Boing Boing, July 2, 2014 (http://boingboing.net/2014/07/02/trans-pacific-partnership-meet.html)

10: United States Mission to the European Union, Transatlanic Relations, http://useu.usmission.gov/new_transatlantic_agenda.html (December 5, 1995)

11: Robin Gaster, Alan Tonelson, “Our Interests In Europe,” The Atlantic, August 1995, pgs 28, 31

12: Peterson Institute for International Economics, Transatlantic Trade: Towards a North Atlantic Economic Community, http://www.iie.com/publications/testimony/print.cfm?ResearchId=286&doc=pub (July 23, 1997)

13: The American Presidency Project, The President’s News Conference With European Union Leaders in London, United Kingdom, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=55983 (May 18, 1998)

14: Gabor Steingart, “A NATO for the World Economy: An Argument for a Trans-Atlantic Free-Trade Zone,” Der Spiegel, October 20, 2006 (http://www.spiegel.de/international/a-nato-for-the-world-economy-an-argument-for-a-trans-atlantic-free-trade-zone-a-443306.html)

15: Andrew Gavin Marshall, Large Corporations Seek U.S.–European ‘Free Trade Agreement’ to Further Global Dominance, http://andrewgavinmarshall.com/2013/05/12/large-corporations-seek-u-s-european-free-trade-agreement-to-further-global-dominance/ (May 12, 2013)

16: Public Services International, TISA Versus Public Services, http://www.world-psi.org/sites/default/files/documents/research/en_tisaresearchpaper_final_web.pdf (April 28, 2014)

17: CNBC, Secret Trade Deal Puts Public Services at Risk Around the World, http://www.cnbc.com/id/101773881 (June 19, 2014)

18: Coalition of Services, Who We Are, https://servicescoalition.org/about-csi/what-is-csi 

19: Coalition of Services, The TiSA Business Coalition, https://servicescoalition.org/about-csi/team-tisa

20: Georgetown University, J. Robert Vastine, http://cbpp.georgetown.edu/staff/j-robert-vastine/

21: World Trade Organization, The Doha Round, http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/dda_e/dda_e.htm

22: Claude Barfield, “It’s Time To Dump The Doha Development Round,” Real Clear Markets, August 25, 201(http://www.realclearmarkets.com/articles/2011/08/25/time_to_dump_the_doha_development_round_99212.html)

23: Robert Vastine, “Services Negotiations in the Doha Round: Promise and Reality,” Global Economy Journal 5:4 (2005), pg 1

24: Travis Gettys, “Highly-criticized Albuquerque police militarize with $350,000 purchase of 350 AR-15 rifles,” Raw Story, July 11, 2014 (http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/07/11/highly-criticized-albuquerque-police-militarize-with-350000-purchase-of-350-ar-15-rifles/)

25: Radley Balko, “New ACLU Report Takes a Snapshot of Police Militarization in the United States,” Washington Post, June 24, 2014 (http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2014/06/24/new-aclu-report-takes-a-snapshot-of-police-militarization-in-the-united-states/)

26: Matt Apuzzo, “War Gear Flows to Police Departments,” New York Times, June 9, 2014 (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/09/us/war-gear-flows-to-police-departments.html?_r=0)

27: Hack Read, “Riot Control” Drone Will Shoot Pepper Spray Bullets At Protesters, http://hackread.com/riot-control-drone-shoots-pepper-bullets/ (June 22, 2014)

28: Peter B. Kraska and Victor E. Kappeler, “Militarizing American Police: The Rise and Normalization of Paramilitary Units,” Social Problems 44:1 (1998), pg 12

29: Ibid

30: Ibid

31: Daryl Meeks, “Police Militarization in Urban Areas: The Obscure War Against the Underclass,” The Black Scholar 35:4 (2006), pg 37

32: Ibid, pgs 37-38

33: Nafeez Ahmed, “Pentagon Preparing For Civil Breakdown,” The Guardian, June 12, 2014 (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2014/jun/12/pentagon-mass-civil-breakdown?CMP=twt_gu)

34: Diana Washington Valdez, “Unrest Caused By Bad Economy May Require Military Action Report Says,” El Paso Times, December 29, 2008 (http://www.elpasotimes.com/ci_11326744)

35: Bill Girtz, “Inside the Ring: Directive Outlines Obama's Plan to use the Military Against Citizens,” Washington Times, May 28, 2014 (http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/may/28/inside-the-ring-directive-outlines-obamas-policy-t/?page=all)

36: Ibid

37: Dennis Krassnin, “European Governments Prepare For Military Suppression of Popular Opposition,” World Socialist Web Site, July 10, 2014 (http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/07/10/euro-j10.html)

38: Ibid

39: Truthout, 30 Cities Across US Protest Toxic Free Trade Agreements, http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/20457-30-cities-across-us-protest-toxic-free-trade-agreements (December 5, 2013)

40: Miriam Ross, “Opposition to EU-US Trade Deal Gathers Negotiation as Talks Falter,” World Development Movement, July 17, 2014 (http://www.wdm.org.uk/trade/opposition-eu-us-trade-deal-gathers-momentum-negotiations-falter

Friday, June 20, 2014

Talking Anarchism with Anarchist Memes

The following is the transcript of a recent interview I had with the administrators of the Facebook page ' Anarchist Memes.' In the interview we discuss the creation of the Anarchist Memes page, anarchism as it relates to social media, and how people can learn about anarchist thought.


1. How did the Anarchist Memes page come to be?

[Ao]: Anarchist Memes was originally the brainchild of an Australian Wobbly who was experimenting with using social media, and image macros in particular, to spread anarchist ideology. When the page began to draw a lot of attention, he assembled a small team of wobblies and other anarchists he knew online from around the globe to begin keeping up with the demand for images and moderation, as well as to begin giving the page a more serious edge by more regularly posting news and information. The page grew more quickly than anyone had imagined and soon a couple admins became a team of over 30 moderators.

[E]: It should probably be noted here that the current admin collective is actually a "second founding" of sorts. Many of the current admins were added around the same time, in response to a rather controversial situation including a former admin who was removed from the page.

[Ao]: Indeed, this is when we became a 'collective' rather than a loose team and restructured our decision making processes to reflect that democratic and horizontal character. Many of us have been around for a variety of time spans, ranging from 2.5 years to a couple of months depending on the individual admin. This isn't to suggest the page was originally an authoritarian creation, simply that it wa small enough for ideological agreement not to be much of an issue. We now represent a much larger section of anarchist thought than we did in the earliest days of the page. This has its benefits and downfalls, but as someone who has been around since the very early days of the page, I'm happy to see us finally functioning as cohesive group with formal processes and a range of ideas (though we have some mandatory principles of agreement), rather than a small team who always seemed to agree on everything. Constant consensus can be a curse when it kills discussion.

2. What kind of activities does the page engage in to promote anarchist thought and discussion amongst its members?

[k]: Well, we certainly try to share news articles, opinion pieces, literature, and of course, image macros (we are Anarchist MEMES after all) but that's really surface level stuff. Posting these things in itself tends to instigate conversation amongst fans of the page that we tend to moderate and occasionally join. What I think really works is when admins engage in the conversation and suggest class struggle organizations or any other radical organization to join after briefly getting to know the participants. Whether it's an IWW local or a branch of an anarchist federation or a nearby chapter of the Torch Network, our crowd is the type that wants to get involved and, to borrow a bit of a liberal line, "create real change." Discussion is all fine and dandy, but if we're limited to that we're just another group of assholes standing around a burning building talking about the best way to put it out. Getting people actually involved and active, that's the bee's knees.

[E]: We take quite a bit of care to very specifically and decisively critique reactionary norms within anarchist spaces, too. As many have probably noticed, we take a very strong stance against transphobia, ableism and anti-feminism. Complete internal condemnation of such attitudes has to start somewhere, and we're not swayed by the (oft-repeated) argument that such things 'create division' within 'the movement'. Racism creates division, sexism creates division, transphobia creates division. If someone thinks themselves an anarchist but are not ready to face these facts and change their praxis accordingly, them feeling alienated is not a loss, it's a win.

The main goal is always to have people self-criticize and understand how their own reactionary actions and modes of operation can hurt the ability of revolutionaries to organize among the oppressed sections of society. We've been rather successful in this capacity, and we do get quite a few people sending us messages thanking us for being so hardline about stuff like this. Either because they come from a background where they feel marginalized by many self-termed 'anarchist' spaces (the ones we are critiquing) or because they used to not see the problems inherent in, for example, anti-feminism, and do now because we refused to shut up and had them look up theory to try and argue against it. Stubbornness is sometimes a virtue it seems.

3. Why do you think that a social media platform for anarchism is needed as compared to a physical platform?

[E]: I've always disliked the assertion that there is some sort of great divide between 'the real world' and 'the internet', like you have to sacrifice a goat and cast some sort of incantation to cross over into the digital world. It's a very silly assertion that the two are entirely separate, and don't impact each other in any way whatsoever, and yet a lot of people are acting like that is the case. I've seen a lot of people post stuff like "don't take it so seriously, it's just the internet" and I'm like, why? How does the fact that something is on the internet make it any less a part of 'the real world'?

For me, this understanding that what is said and done on the internet is still said and done in 'the real world' makes it very obvious that we need a presence on social media as well if we want our outreach and propaganda to be effective. Quite a few people have taken to shaming, for example, introverts because they 'limit their social life' to 'the internet' rather than 'the real world', which I think is a laughable position. If we actually look at the way things are today, a lot of our social interactions take place online, and we're at a point where this trend exists for almost all groups in industrialized society. Just turning away from that is a waste of potential.

Those people who, back in 1900, would stand on a soapbox on the streets and spread political radicalism, those people have started using social media. Those people did not do that because the streets were 'more real'; it was just the most effective way to spread their views. Don't limit yourself to 'old' platforms, go where the people are, use whatever platform is most efficient. Since so many people are on Facebook and so many of our social interactions take place on Facebook, it only makes sense to create a platform for anarchist outreach and propaganda on Facebook. It helps that Facebook is comparatively easy to use, free, and despite all its flaws, it still manages to get the word out better than shouting at people on the streets or selling physical newspapers would.

[Ao]: Social Media is extremely powerful in current times, especially for youth. As centers for meeting and information sharing have begun to fade from the real world, creating online community is essential to spreading and perpetuating a living ideology. Social media is cost free and is not labor intensive, yet it is a primary way many people find information and events and therefore is essential for spreading ideas and awareness. Many still see anarchists as angry bomb throwing kids without real ideas or organizing, as years of government and corporate propaganda has portrayed us. If we wish to dismantle these ideas and show others that anarchists are serious revolutionaries whose ideas are grounded in a 250+ year theoretical tradition, we must go to where the people are.

Marx once said something along the lines of 'the capitalist will sell us the rope with which we will hang him', and I believe this is essential advice. The government, the corporate media, the right wing, and other agents of disinformation and propaganda utilize social media,so we must do an even better job if we wish for our ideas to be heard. We must not be afraid that facebook is a 'capitalist device'.

We live in capitalism, we must use what it offers us to tear it down and build something new. The beautiful thing about social media, as opposed to mainstream media or books, is that it is user driven, and that we do not need to bring a profit to producers or anyone else to exist. As long as people visit our page and share our posts, our ideas will be seen. Additionally, social media is free and easy to use. That means we can reach those who are curious about anarchist ideas, but who are not yet ready to, for example, buy a book on anarchism, or attend a lecture they may not yet know how to find.

This is, of course, not to say that an online platform is more important than a physical platform. We should be striving to create as many physical anarchists spaces as possible. Nothing is as good as physical organizing. That doesn't mean we shouldn't utilize everything we can to spread our ideas- we should. That's why, although sometimes I find myself more focused on my organizing here in my community, I still think Anarchist Memes has an essential role to play in spreading anarchist thought and inspiring others to become involved in their own communities.

[k]: Same reason we thought newspapers and leaflets were the way to go in the late 1800's and through the 1950's and zines were important from the 60's to today. Gotta put information out where the people have interest in seeing it. Over 750 million people use Facebook every day. 500 million tweets are sent each day. Through any number of the 170+ million Tumblr blogs, every day there are about 100 million unique posts. That kind of potential can't be ignored. It's high time to evolve.

[OM]: In addition to what was said by my fellow admins, organization and propaganda via the internet has two added major benefits:

1. It transcends regional and national boundaries rather easily compared to other forms of organization and propaganda. Looking at globalized capitalism, the importance of international organization cannot be over-estimated for Anarchism. Contemporary Anarchism, at least in my country (Germany) often lacks international orientation, and usage of the internet is often hindered by technophobia and IT illiteracy.

2. For people with disabilities and those who live away from active Anarchist circles, participating online is often the best (or even the only way) of participating. As an example: due to a neurological condition, I am impaired in my auditory processing, which can make face-to-face interaction difficult for me, while online communication is comparatively easy.

4. What are some of the problems from both Facebook and other users that you all have to deal with? Do you have plans to deal with Facebook if it again represses the page?

[k]: With the 750+ million daily users on Facebook, you're gonna get some shitty people. We field everything from racism, sexism, transphobia, ableism, and all that shitty verbal stuff to porn, gore, abuse of women, abuse of children, and sometimes combinations of the above. We've dealt with nazis, MRAs, Rothbardian capitalists, TERFs, you know, assholes. It's a daily thing. We've earned ourselves the nickname "Banarchist memes" amongst a lot of these groups because we take a "no platform" stance to this type of asshattery and remove these elements as quickly as possible. Even with a relatively large admin staff, we don't always have enough eyes to catch all of it, so even with the "Banarchist Memes" nickname floating around, there's a contingent that thinks we don't care enough to rid our space of the filth. It's a lose-lose sometimes, but we try, and for the most part I feel we do pretty well.

[D]: We even have our own "Shit Anarchist Memes says," courtesy of the groups [k] mentioned above. There are infamous familiar faces that appear outside of AM, on other anarchist pages, which can be a bit disheartening when we make that effort to keep the reactionaries out. It's a bit like, "First I had to read your horrible stuff as an admin, now you're going to spout it here, too?" Outside of Facebook, or the internet, if you exclude someone problematic from the group, then you're much less likely to see them again shy of something that warrants a restraining order.

[OM]" We have already been taken down once by facebook and the page has only been restored after a major outcry. As precautions, we have spread to other internet platforms, including twitter and our own internet forum at anarchistmemes.org.

And as my fellow admins have stated, the complaints about our safer space policy can get really annoying and removing the people violating definitely is a stressful and repetitive task.

[E]: We've still got the most output on our Facebook page, though, by far. At the high point of our 'seeking out other platforms' phase (don't know if that's the correct word to use, but bear with me) right after our initial takedown we even had a Team Fortress 2 and a Minecraft server for a while. Go where the people are, and all that. In the end, we reach by far the majority of our subscribers on Facebook, and as such we primarily focus on Facebook.

5. How do you think that social media can actively combat the stereotypes about anarchist thought?

[k]" Well, first we have to establish a real foothold. I mean the left needs pages that contend with things like "I Fucking Love Science" or George Takei's fan page. We get a great following, but it's a lot of preaching to the choir, pissing off the jerks, and not enough of bringing in new blood. We get people saying we were their gateway to the ethos, but it'll never be enough people. The last "anarchist" tidbit that really went viral was a local news video of some kids bloc'd up during May Day this year. They all screamed their "fuck you"s to the local reporter

"We're out here to combat the bourgeois liberal notion of a market state and we think your media organization plays into that idea. We're here to combat capitalism in all its forms, which is why most of the people here are not willing to talk to you. This International Workers Day contingent is hellbent on exemplifying the ethos that rule of law is another shackle to break free from, and only horizontal government - truly by the people - is best for the worker. You don't need your boss, you don't need your congressperson, you don't need your president, they all need YOU."

That's what pages on the left need to be instilling in these people taking to the streets. Educating people on how to speak about anarchism to non-anarchists (even though I'd consider that bloc non-anarchist, that's another story) is paramount. With silly kids running around spray painting circle-As on things and screaming obscenities at their local reporters, our message is entirely lost. That's where the stereotypes come from, and that's the type of people social media can reach.

[E]: Yeah, whether we like it or not, the media will be watching. Having some media awareness is key in situations where you will have media attention. We need to get better at "PR", to put it another way.

6. Does Anarchist Memes work with other pages and in what fashion?


[E]: We do have a relationship with quite a few pages, such as Lesbians And Feminists Against Transphobia, Fuckin' A, Green Anarchist Agency, Still Laughing At "Anarcho"-Capitalism and so on. Most of the time it's not really all that organized, it's very informal, and I don't want anyone to get the idea that it's like, an iron-bound alliance or anything, because that's about as far from the truth as it can get. We like their work, we share some of their stuff, sometimes they share some of our stuff, sometimes we post on each others pages as our pages, and so on.

[Ao]: Many of us also have personal relationships with admins on other pages and network with them directly, sharing the news and information which each of us deem most important to spread. Again, this is rather informal, but it helps to spread the most essential and time sensitive information quickly and effectively.

[OM]: In addition, quite a few of us also admin other pages like those mentioned by [E].

7. How do you encourage people to get into the streets or organize/advocate in their own communities?

[Ao]: Anarchist Memes has always been dedicated to bridging the gap between the online and physical world by inspiring others to learn about and discuss anarchism online was well as to organize in their real lives. Admins regularly post organizing guides, different ideas of ways to get involved, and opportunities to join activists online and in person. Admins also regularly reach out to followers of the page for their organizing questions, tips, and ideas to keep the page as participatory and relevant as possible. Many admins even choose to update followers of the page on their own organizing efforts to inspire them to do the same, as well as to receive support and advice. Above all, we regularly remind our followers that while we appreciate their likes and comments, online activism is never enough on its own, and that they must be even more involved offline as they are online if they wish to make a difference.

[E]: With that said, there are people who can't organize physically in a dedicated organization, for one reason or another (be it health issues, lack of opportunity, lack of time, or something else) and are pretty much limited to either online organizing or day-to-day awareness building and propaganda. We try to have something for that portion of our subscribers as well.

8. What is the best way for people to learn more about anarchism as a political philosophy ?

[Ao]: There is no one best way to learn about anarchism. While we believe our organizing must always be grounded in theory, we also believe theory will remain stagnant if we do not learn from our real life organizing efforts. Those new to anarchism may want to start off by reading some basic theoretical texts, but the best way to learn is often from those more experienced than us, so we encourage even the newest of anarchists to find their local anarchist organizations, get involved, and to ask questions. We don't learn from pretending to know all the answers, we learn from admitting what we don't yet understand. That being said, revolutionary discipline is essential. There is no excuse not to read, not to understand the ideology which you are seeking to organize towards. I only wish to make it clear that sitting in your bed and reading about organizing will not teach you how to be an effective organizer. For that, you have to get your hands dirty.

[E]: As for specific places to find theoretical texts and explanations of anarchist ideology and theory. If that is what you happen to be looking for, I find that 'An Anarchist FAQ' and its reading list is a great place to start out. I would advise anyone with even the slightest interest to check it out. The struggle, to an extent, is also an intellectual struggle.