New Episode of Prescription for Justice on Housing and Homelessness

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Be sure to check out the latest episode of Prescription for Justice on Housing and Homelessness, set to air this month and now available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6l5lgnuwB0

This episode begins with a brief history of housing policy and homelessness in the United States and how poor living conditions effect our health and well-being. Our guest Allison McIntosh, Deputy Director of Policy and Communications at Neighborhood Partnerships, will discuss current issues in local and national housing policy, renter’s rights, and how Trump administration measures affect affordable housing programs.

See other episodes covering the Educational System in the United States, Reproductive Rights for Women, and Nuclear Weapons and the Campaign to Abolish Them, all on the Prescription for Justice YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJt34I9c5vT2RpZtkg6Im2A.

The program is airing in the Portland, Oregon metropolitan area, as well as in markets in 6 states. For information regarding obtaining the program for cable television markets in your area, go through PEGMedia or contact Martin at martindonohoe@phsj.org. My production staff and I (all volunteer/unpaid) are hoping to be able to include guests from around the country via Skype or other video link, so if you have an issue about which you are passionate and would like to be considered as a possible guest (or know of someone who might be a good guest), please contact me.

Be sure to also check out the content on the Public Health and Social Justice Website at http://www.publichealthandsocialjustice.org or http://www.phsj.org

Sincerely,

Martin Donohoe

martindonohoe@phsj.org

HUMAN RIGHTS WORK IS NOT JUST ABOUT FIGHTING AGAINST INDIVIDUAL HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATORS AND EXISTING INSTITUTIONALIZED INEQUALITIES. IT UNAVOIDABLY REQUIRES STRUGGLING OVER POWER ISSUES AND DEFYING WHOLE SYSTEMS OF THOUGHT. (Open Human Rights)

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Human rights: Food for defying a system of thought

 

Human Rights Reader 433

 

A tough period is ahead of us, charged with many challenges. We have to think hard, reflect; we have to (re)invent and continue dreaming: never give up! (Jorge Scherman)

 

  1. Marx famously said that he was not interested in understanding the world but in changing the world. More than anything, human rights work depends on active agents of change. Claim holders and their leaders need to understand not just why, but also what to do.* (Alicia Yamin)

*: The word praxis suggests the need to connect philosophical ideas and theory with real-life experience and action in the political world. Human rights work is, or should fundamentally be, a praxis about the regulation of power.

 

  1. Throughout history, the single most important source of human rights (HR) consciousness and energy has come from the diverse people who have been affected by, and collectively struggled against, what Paul Farmer has elegantly termed “pathologies of power.”We must reach across silos, as well as across North/South and academic/activist divides to be able to more effectively deploy the HR framework and its tools to subvert the forms of hegemonic power that so pervasively colonize our consciousness. The power of hegemony lies in the acceptance of the ‘way things are’. Speaking truth to power requires that the HR community challenges this hegemony. The ever-greater abdication of responsibility by states to private actors is not –repeat, is not– a neutral quest for greater efficiency and innovation. (A. Yamin)

 

  1. For example, the creation and recent exponential surge of human rights indicators driven by external funders, governments and global institutions, suggests that only what gets counted, counts. (?)** An over-reliance on such technocratic exercises may well undermine our consciousness of the need to struggle against the structural obstacles within countries and in the global order. The HR community now needs to develop a praxis for exposing and disrupting the discourses that control our collective imaginations***; it also needs to destabilize the neoliberal paradigm that impoverishes our understanding of development, democracy, and the meaning of being human. (A. Yamin)

**: The goal of cross-country comparisons of these indicators appears naturally desirable, reasonable and neutral. But it is precisely their abstraction from the social context and from the meaningfulness of people’s participation that obscures more than reveals the power dynamics at play. Rather than better capturing reality, such indicators may well come to define reality.

***: Yet robust human rights and equality indicators did not make it to the SDG indicators list that will be used to measure achievements on these targets; achievements will thus most likely fall through the proverbial cracks.

 

  1. Bottom line here: Increasing technocratic interventions alone will neither change minds nor unfair power relations. In fact, well-meaning attempts by development practitioners to ‘inform’ the public may even backfire. It turns out that presenting facts that conflict with an individual’s worldview (e.g., about HR) can and does prevent people from digging-in further into matters that will eventually offer counter-power to power. (adapted from Tim Requarth)

 

The universality of human rights cannot be reinterpreted (adapted from Alicia Yamin and P. Bergallo)

 

  1. In the current political landscape, we seem to have gone back to a time when human rights are universal only to the extent that they can be universally agreed on by UN member states –this making the normative scaffolding of HR dangerously precarious. This is clearly a fallacy. Any collective deliberation to contest universality is totally out place. To move forward, as HR activists, we must hold firmly onto what we have already achieved. We must collectively reflect on where we are in relation to using the HR discourse, its tools and framing so as to de-facto advance in our struggle. Today, it is clear that there is no one path forward, no one-size-fits-all strategy. We would do well to move beyond some of the standard debates in international HR law and situate our struggles within the realm of national and global political economies, and especially within the neoliberal context.

 

  1. Legalistic approaches to HR and constitutional rights assume that ethical relations between people, states and international law are guided by the rules set by HR covenants and that they are followed. But are they? A rigid legalism tends to see international HR law, as well as domestic legislation in formalistic terms; this is why it is justifiably critiqued as naïve by HR scholars and activists. The argument is that it is naïve to assume that HR principles and standards constrain self-interested political actors: It is clearly not so. In international law, the portrayal of a linear march of progress in a formalistic vision fails to consider its social and political legitimacy. As it happens, written legal HR norms mean different things in different contexts given that such norms’ validity is contextual and are the product of historical trajectories.

 

  1. At the domestic level, then, should activists work towards law reform by launching a strategy of legal mobilization? If so, it has to be kept in mind that much of any legal mobilization often needs to incorporate an understanding of how de-facto power relations determine and structure the opportunities at hand. Activists do have to face the vast array of conservative tactics when seeking legal reforms. The transnational potentiation of advocacy plus mobilization has to be stressed here. Because we are talking of the need of a society-wide legal mobilization that will help shape a broader public understanding of HR, legal mobilization around HR cannot be disconnected from the overall social contestation that occurs in other fronts, beyond legislatures, courts and administrative bodies. We simply need to go beyond law reform and litigation. Ensuring enabling legal and policy frameworks based on international HR law is only the beginning of a longer process. The battle requires many steps to change practices in invariably complex systems.

 

  1. Just as legalism alone is inadequate, simplistic anti-legalism does not either reflect the advances made through a combination of national and supranational mobilizations in other areas. No one field alone can achieve normative victories. Achieving the fulfillment of HR requires challenging not just ideological views, but also views of human beings with equal dignity and rights. It also requires subverting neoliberal and religious fundamentalisms that increasingly control our collective imaginations. The maintenance of the neoliberal status-quo at the national and international levels is not compatible with a global system that recognizes and guarantees the effective enjoyment of substantive equality and social rights.

 

A short comment on human rights and the Welfare State

 

  1. The origin of the Welfare State was a sort of class conciliation between employers and sectors of the middle and working classes. The current widespread acceptance of this ideological-manifestation-of-clear-cut-class-interests makes it close to impossible to arrive at more radical paths to wealth redistribution that will avoid the inequalities brought about by the Welfare State to begin with. Precisely by developing a system based on merits –through educational attainment, for instance– the Welfare State ended up reproducing social inequalities that have generated a veritable social selection of individuals in society. The Welfare State and the liberal democracy that goes with it are, therefore, no panacea. So we will have to look for our own new paths –the HR framework being a prime vehicle.

 

  1. What is needed, is for all the powers of the State to be governed by fundamental principles such as the respect of HR, transparency and the rejection of the so widespread conflicts of interest. But this will not happen unless claim holders address this and demand the abolition of the many existing social control mechanisms that underlie the Welfare State. The response ought to come more from a greater radicalization of democracy than from a defense of leading and controlling liberal principles other than those compatible with HR principles.(Gonzalo Cuadra)

 

Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

schuftan@gmail.com

 

Postscript/Marginalia

 

Humans have a right to have rights (Boaventura de Sousa Santos)

 

There will eventually be a moment when societies (and not just some ‘enlightened’ individuals) will come to the conclusion that our race to the bottom can simply not go on. However, the negativity of the present will never suffice for that. There is something terminal about the condition of our times that proves to be an endless terminality. It is as if abnormality possessed an unusual energy to transform itself into a new normality that makes us feel terminally healthy instead of terminally ill. This enables those who have economic, political, or cultural power to present themselves socially as champions of causes while they are in fact champions of things. Generally hating the present is considered as being the expression of a treason or a degradation of a golden past, a time when humanity was more consistent.

The reactionary downward project makes a distinction between humans and sub-humans sound necessary. It suffices that the inferiors be treated as inferior, whether they be women, black people, indigenous peoples. The reactionary project never questions its own privilege and duty to decide who is superior and who is inferior. Sub-humans should be the object of philanthropy to prevent them from becoming dangerous and to defend them against themselves, we are told. They may have some rights, but they certainly must always have more duties than rights.

But can we think the past was definitively better than the present? Can we think that the struggles of the past were able to irreversibly overcome the excesses and the perversities of extremism? We unfortunately live in a time of informal dictatorship with imaginaries of formal democracy; in a time of racialized ideas with imaginaries of human rights –but not with imaginaries of globalization; and imaginaries of a digital communicational orgy; these are true. Is it not a paradox that the oppressed are electing their own oppressors –with false imaginaries of liberation and social justice?

Beware: If paths are many and they go in all directions they can easily become a labyrinth, a dynamic field of paralysis.

Social Medicine Course (in Spanish)

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Our colleagues in the Latin American Association of Social Medicine (ALAMES) have organized a distance learning course on Social Medicine.  Many of the classes are taught by leaders of Latin American Social Medicine. Its a rare opportunity to hear their approach to social medicine.  The structure and objectives of the course are detailed in this video:

The course will take place in Spanish. If you are interested in enrolling, you can do so at this link. Matt Anderson, MD
bronxdoc@gmail.com

PEOPLE TOO OFTEN LOWER THEIR GAZE AND SUBMIT TO THE OVERWHELMING POWER OF THOSE WHO GOVERN US.

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Human rights: Food for a thought on mediocrity

 

Human Rights Reader 432

 

In reality, if people get closer and look those who govern us in the eye they will often be astonished by their mediocrity. (Voltaire)

 

It is known for economists and politicians to make inaccurate/unrealistic predictions

 

  1. The empirical analyses economists embark-on are inherently backward looking.* I ask: Is it possible that a forward-looking approach could give a more optimistic view of the future? Economic historians do tell us that the enhancement of ‘social capabilities’ is a key determinant of societies’ success or failure. Social capability is thought to be the capacity to reform institutions and policies –and attaining the capacity to reform institutions and policies is a human rights (HR) and a political challenge requiring, among other, tackling discrimination, embarking in large social transfers, in taxation reforms and in market regulation, as well as in employment creation and working towards social protection being considered seriously beyond lip service. Significant structural reforms are thus required. Will they be forthcoming? That is the question.** (Nicholas Crafts) I am afraid no, unless…

*: Unfortunately, economists inability to communicate their analyses and predictions to the general public in ways that are understandable and applicable to people’s lives is a key political problem. (Kristin Forbes)

**: Just keep in mind that public sector transfers for pensions, health care and long-term care will be unsustainable unless a) progressive taxes are raised, b) benefits are reduced, or c) both: This is the via crucis (way of sorrows) of the politicians. (Ronald Lee)

 

Canadian political scientist Harold Lasswell defines politics as Who Gets What, When and How

 

  1. Given that purportedly without political parties there is no democracy (or is this rather what those who deal with ‘the things public’ want us to believe…?), one does not have to be a genius to figure out that political parties are not necessarily part of the solution, but often are part of the problem. The French philosopher Simone Weil tells us that the revolutionary temperament leads revolutionary parties to look at the totality of change. The petti-bourgeois temperament looks at slow, continuous, limitless progress; the fraud in the latter is so evident that some illuminati came up with the concept of a participatory democracy that purportedly leads to ‘empower the people’.

 

  1. Be conscious: The Anglicism ‘empower’ in reality stands for a top-down ‘authorization of representation (as in giving a power of attorney). From this perspective, claiming that the people are empowered, in reality too often means that someone has given the people a very limited authorization to participate –a concept diametrically opposed to the legitimate and sovereign power that resides in the people without anybody granting it to them (…as well as diametrically opposed to the HR-based approach).

 

  1. As regards the above participatory democracy, the same is, again, too often a fraud. Just consider elections –the favorite political method pushed by the oligarchy for centuries… Our ability to withdraw our confidence (and our vote) from professional politicians has always been touted to be the warranty of the democratic character of our public (democratic?) institutions. But sometimes, you have to wait four years or more till the next election –even in the face of patent crises…*** (Louis Casado)

***: Mind you, etymologically speaking, the word crisis does not have a negative connotation. Crisis is the moment when routine-stops-serving-us-as-a-guide so that we need to opt for a new roadmap and discard the old one.

 

Young People: You didn’t vote, and now you protest?

 

  1. Immediately after the vote on Brexit, thousands of young people marched in the streets of England to show their disagreement over the choice to leave Europe. But polls indicated that had they voted en masse (only 37 percent voted), the result of the referendum would have been the opposite. What is a real cause of concern for democracy, as an institution based on the waning concept of popular participation, is that young people are not at all apolitical. In fact, they are very aware of priorities like HR, climate change, gender equality, social justice, common goods, and other concepts, much more than the older generation. They feel much more connected to the causes of humanity, have fewer racial biases, believe more in international institutions, and are more interested in international affairs —but they stay away from the poles. There is a general consensus among analysts that the damages of globalization and the discrediting of political parties are the major causes for the decline in participation. Bottom line here: If young people would vote, they could change the results. (Roberto Savio) Not being facetious, is it that the young tend to know what they do not want earlier than what they want? (Albino Gomez)

 

There is a worrisome (dangerous?) fashion already entrenched among us: centrism (L. Casado, Frederic Lordon)

 

  1. There is no longer a clear political left –and the right is fuzzy or extreme. There is a center-left and a center-right, yes, a clever positioning that allows either to co-govern with the other satisfying the interests of the powerful. Note that the center has sort of an ideology that, at best, generates confusion given the fact that those who call themselves centrists say they reject all ideologies; they prefer to call their ideology pragmatism and use it as a panacea that actually too often leads to inaction buried, as it is, in the paradise of free markets and the negation of conflict.

 

  1. This negation of conflict results from assuming that the interests of the powerful are also those of everybody. The centrist utopia is based on some kind of reconciliation and political peace that makes no sense. The language used is insipid, polished and lubricated by the agencies that handle the political marketing of centrism. Centrists typically only leave open the avenues of accommodation that are bearable to them.

 

Unfortunately, democracy is transformed into an illusion when some interpret ‘peace of mind’ as the possibility to forget confrontation

 

  1. Centrism has made this nonsensical no-conflict assumption the center of its political creed. It imposes laws that ultimately express disdain for HR and domination by the strong without even attempting to understand the structural mechanisms at play. But as you throw them out by the window, problems come back to haunt you. The list of conflicts through which our societies are going through is never ending.

 

  1. A strong dose of cynicism is needed to pretend that a politics of accommodation resolves the hidden mass of contradictions. Under these circumstances, how can minimum consensus be reached? Consensus around what? Around the interests of the powerful? Around the interests of those who expropriate the wealth generated by the efforts of the many? This is all ambiguous, devoid of a vision, of a program or of a clear direction –with a strategy limited to fostering ‘fair market competition’ when the whole institutionality of the system is rigged.

 

The tenets of centrism infiltrate all spaces

 

  1. Centrist elites have the press and other media in their pocket so they can effectively manipulate public opinion so that the public never really understands the true purpose of the system they live under. The sorry thing is that the centrist position can garner the support and help of the otherwise progressive social forces that pursue peace and stability.

 

  1. The practitioners of centrism should be reminded that the moment always comes when one has to come back to the harsh realities of a world in conflict that looks the other way about myriad violations of HR. “We are all brothers, part of humanity, and there is no conflict” is, after all, a mirage. The program of the centrist onslaught is just that: “Do not do anything that can lead to controversy, violence; be reasonable, moderate, only ask that which we can give up without losing our position of power”. A sad situation we are in…

 

Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

schuftan@gmail.com

www.claudioschuftan.com

 

Postscript/Marginalia

The thief violates a law; corruption violates all laws. The murderer takes a life; the corrupt takes-in all of society. (Theodor Roosevelt)

 

Global Health Watch 5 just published

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Global Health Watch, a production of the People’s Health Movement, provides an invaluable alternative health report to the mainstream consensus that privatized health insurance (known as Universal Health Coverage) is the answer to the world’s health problems. 

The GHW is widely perceived as the definitive voice for an alternative discourse on health. This new edition addresses the key challenges facing governments and health practitioners today. Like its predecessors, GHW5 challenges conventional wisdom while pioneering innovative new approaches to the field.While the book covers a very large canvas, this edition has a particular focus on two areas: the recently announced Sustainable Development Goals; and the rapid transition on global governance for health from a nation driven process to one that promotes the influence of private foundations, consultancy firms and corporations.

Readers can find more information at this link: http://bit.ly/2BTSEct. The report can be purchased at Hesperian’s online store.

Matt Anderson, MD (bronxdoc@gmail.com)

CONVENTIONAL HISTORY HIDES A WHOLE LEGACY OF HISTORICAL INEQUALITIES, STRUCTURAL DISADVANTAGES, GENDER DIFFERENCES AND HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES, AS WELL AS BIASES IN HOW LAWS AND POLICIES HAVE BEEN IMPLEMENTED THROUGHOUT.

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Human rights: Food for a concealed thought

 

Human Rights Reader 431

 

  1. Conventional historians are inclined to use histori­cal information of previous historians to supplement what they find during their research and to flesh out old and/or new details provided by their findings. As readers of history, we cannot be certain that historical details are 100 per cent accurate, particularly from a human rights (HR) perspective. This serves as a cautionary tale about using (or misusing) evi­dence to often support what have been nationalistic agendas. This debate involves the trustworthiness and credibility of historians’ accounts and the influence of nationalism on the interpretation of their narratives. Whom do we believe? And can we ever tap evidence from hundreds of years in the past to establish the origins, legal claims and the ignored birth rights of peoples then and today? While there is a concerted effort among historians today to avoid being unduly influenced by nationalism or other similar sentiments, that may not always have been the case. (Eric H. Cline)

 

  1. In conventional history, intelligent and persuasive chronicling has too often been used as a fig-leaf to justify domination, HR violations and destruction. (Stephen Cave) Some have called this ‘historicizing beneficience’:
  • Consider: Have the abuses of tyranny only been miserably hushed by the influence of sheer self-interest of the haves and carefully hidden shame? (Edward Gibbon)
  • Consider: Is conventional history a contested discipline that shapes our perception away from social justice?
  • Consider: Learned tomes by historians, economists, political scientists and other scholars fill many bookshelves with explanations of how and why the process of modern economic growth or ‘the Great Enrichment’ exploded in Western Europe in the 18th century. Europe’s success was not the result of any inherent superiority of European (much less Christian) culture –it was in good part pilfering. (Joel Mokyr) Think slavery and colonialism (actually also the ongoing historic processes of neocolonialism). (Lori Hanson)
  • Consider: Famine, plague, HR violations and war. These have been the four scourges of human history. The question is: How were their true causes recounted…?
  • Consider: Today, people in growing number of countries are more likely to die from eating too much rather than too little, more likely to die of old age than a great plague, and more likely to commit suicide than to die in a war. The question is: How are their true causes chronicled today…? (Derek Thompson)

 

Is the past to be seen in some way as a prelude of what is to come?

 

-Many experience the course of history with total indifference.

-Against any rationale of history, the clarion call from those in power, has by and large, been “let us go back to yesterday, but to an even better yesterday”. (Roberto Savio)

 

  1. When we look at the past through the eyes of the present, we find huge cemeteries of abandoned potential futures, e.g., struggles (including HR struggles) that inaugurated new possibilities, but were neutralized, silenced, or distorted; futures murdered at birth, or even still-born futures; contingencies that determined the winning choice of the haves later ascribed to ‘the course of history’. That is why we mourn so many whose HR were violated with impunity, so many dead –though never the same dead since the bad things that happened in the past continue to happen right now.

 

The trivialization of innovation goes hand in hand with the trivialization of ongoing historical horror

 

  1. Too many people have long given up making-the-world-happen and, therefore, accept with resignation the fact the-world-happens-to-them. (Ever thought about the long-term consequences of the widespread use of smartphones?). These include the cynics, the professionals of skepticism, those who ask little of the future. However, there are groups of people, very dissimilar in kind and size, for whom giving up on HR is just not an option. These still-minority-groups can be powerful though. With the exception of ‘neoliberal fundamentalists’, skinheads and ‘radical Jihadists’, a growing number of minority groups envision a better world to happen –every day defining and fighting-for a better future. The beginnings and evolution of this has simply not been too brilliantly chronicled by conventional historians. The history of the last many hundreds of years recommends that we approach this phenomenon with due caution. Has this historical failure been the direct or indirect cause of the-imprisoning-lack-of-choice we have in which we live between extreme fundamentalisms, radicalisms and tomorrows with no certainty about what happens the day after tomorrow? More important than answering this question, it is crucial that we know how we get out of here. If historically democracy and revolution were chronicled on opposite sides of the divide and both democracy and revolution collapse(d), maybe the solution lies in reinventing them both so they can coexist in mutual articulation. Differently said, democratize the revolution and revolutionize democracy. (adapted from Boaventura de Sousa Santos)

 

Bottom line

 

  1. I feel conventional history has been a closed system of (almost) historical periodicity. For a fairer account of the flow of the course of history, I think that what is needed/missing is history being written as a human relational field —embedding this in the reality of the economic, social and cultural milieu of the past (way before HR were codified…). What I am saying is needed is elevating the entire history of the HR victims and their struggles. I am thus seeking historical vindication of, what I think, is an inaccurate rendering of historical facts by shifting the historico-political emphasis aspects of history, i.e., viewing history through a biased social, historical and political lens.*

*: Beware historians: More than ever, the West’s unresolvable moral ‘quest for innocence in a post-colonial world’ needs to be put to rest. I think historians can do more, guided not only by introspection, humility, and reflexivity, but also by a practice of solidarity and social justice and a rigorous critique of the systemic and structural issues into which their work is inserted. (Lori Hanson).

 

Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

schuftan@gmail.com

www.claudioschuftan.com

 

Postscript/Marginalia

According to historian Walter Scheidel, based on historical evidence, the suppression of inequality was only ever brought forth in times of sorrow, i.e., economic inequalities are usually narrowed most effectively as a result of cataclysmic events: war, revolution, the collapse of states and natural disasters. Scheidel concludes that these catastrophic levelers are gone for now, and are unlikely to return any time soon. This casts doubt on the feasibility of future leveling. But, is this true? The proletariat of early industrial societies did turn out to be a different kind of historical subject from all other oppressed classes. Its early revolutions were abruptly redistributive for the very reason Marx outlined: It had no stake in society, but had the means to mobilize itself independent of demagogic factions of the elite. Only specific types of confrontation have consistently forced down inequality. Scheidel asks whether war has to be total; revolution to be ultraviolent and socially pervasive; state failure to lead to violence so intense that ‘it wipes the slate clean’. Social democracy is actually something very new in history. Social democracy wishes to suppress inequality in a controlled, consensual way, using the very state the elite has fashioned and entrenched; the only problem is that, for 30 years, social democracy lost the will to redistribute (other than upward…). Human rights work should not adopt the pessimism whose premise pervades this thinking. (Paul Mason)

 

I HAVE DERIVED MY POLITICS FROM ETHICS… IT IS BECAUSE I SWEAR BY ETHICS THAT I FIND MYSELF IN POLITICS.

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Human rights: Food for a dispassionately critical thought

 

Human Rights Reader 430

 

The end justifies the means when something justifies the end (Joseph Stalin)

 

  1. In case you have not noticed it, consensus positions are pushed by the powerful to benefit the powerful. Since claim holders are kept out of consensus building processes, opposition and grand standing in staged protests has become a banality since to govern has ultimately become a way of cutting business deals at any cost. (Arturo Alejandro Muñoz) Therefore, do note that resistance is something very different from opposition… (William Burroughs) We need more of the former.

 

Rulers vs intellectuals

 

  1. Growing numbers of us think that rulers lose their right to govern, indeed even to be in politics, if they breach the fundamental ethics, principles and standards of human rights. Given that this is so prevalent, an intelligent though not-yet-convinced ruler would be one who would be wise enough to surround her/himself with people more versed in human rights (HR) she or he is.* (Albino Gomez)

*: I am reminded here of an old Chinese proverb that says that those who are closely involved can be blind while bystanders can see clearly.

 

  1. Facts are powerful. This is why autocratic rulers make such an effort to suppress inconvenient truths. (Kenneth Roth) By now we know that, too often, the opposite of a lie is not the truth, but another lie. (A. Gomez) And, yes, never forget: Patriotism is the last refuge grabbed by many of these autocratic rulers.

 

  1. Populist rulers are a special breed. (Some come to mind to you…?)
  • They claim to know what people want.
  • They are not interested in nuanced debate.
  • They read any criticism of themselves as an attack on ‘the people’.
  • Only they know what the nation wants and, accordingly, only they can govern it properly.
  • Claiming that anyone who opposes them is thwarting their wonderful intentions, they keep hounding opponents; they need scapegoats.
  • They are prone to changing laws, regulations and constitutional clauses to perpetuate their power.
  • They limit media freedom, suppress civil society activism and monopolize their grip on state institutions.
  • They keep casting themselves as representatives of the ‘silent majority’.
  • They promote technocratic ideas according to which there are no alternatives to the market-driven policies.

The big issue here is whether public interest civil society organizations and the media keep a check on them. The way to resist populism is to insist on pluralism, diversity and broad-based controversial debate. (Jan-Werner Mueller).

 

  1. A true intellectual produces ideas in any field based on her/his knowledge, but she or he also assumes a compromise in the public space. (Antonio Gramsci) But unfortunately, these days, intellectual/political debates have a very limited horizon and scope and transpire an underlying (subconscious?), conformist resignation. (Mario Vargas Llosa)

 

  1. There is no choice. Intellectuals have to jump into the political arena and produce/contribute ideas, not repeat slogans; they must question the political imposition of a system that is responsible for the wholesale violation of HR in today’s world. (Emir Sader)

 

Anti-neoliberal (just) rhetoric only serves to distract us from forcefully denouncing policy failure (Henning Melber)

 

  1. The language used by the left does no longer ‘bite’; it does not move masses –even if, at some time, it had merit. Class struggle exists, neoliberalism exists, domination and exploitation exist, violence against labor exists, excessive wealth accumulation in the hands of a handful of privileged families is not an anecdote. Nevertheless, for reasons worth examining, that phraseology does no longer have any effect, among other, because the left keeps repeating these poorly understood and explained concepts as a parrot; it has literally fallen into the trap of allowing those who dominate –the powerful– to impose this language in a distorted, washed-down version. (Louis Casado) Something to worry here.

 

  1. Let us not forget that, after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, there was an attempt to throw ideologies by the wayside. Politics became mere administrative competition, devoid of vision and values. Corruption increased, citizens stopped participating, political parties became self-referential, politicians turned into a professional caste and elite global finance became isolated in fiscal paradises. (Roberto Savio)

 

Bottom line

 

  1. Never mind ‘the left’. Current HR problems are of such magnitude that many think that we are beyond resolving them; they are deepening. But let us be clear: Either we resolve them ourselves or they will not get resolved. The progressive solutions are not going to come from outside not even from our best allies or our best friends, because those solutions we will not own. (Mario Vargas Llosa)

 

Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

schuftan@gmail.com

www.claudioschuftan.com

 

Postscript/Marginalia

-‘Correct thinking’ often is coward thinking, i.e., a way of always being at the extreme center (Alan Berg) and a way to hide what one really thinks or believes-in. (Vladimir Volkoff)

-He who does not want to think is a fanatic; he who cannot think is an idiot; he who does not dare to think is a coward. (Francis Bacon) The problem we have in the world is that the stupid and the fanatics are always sure of themselves, as opposed to the wise who are full of doubts. (Bertrand Russell)

-Pope Leon XIII in his Encyclic Rerum Novarum promoted the creation of labor unions, set the bases for social doctrine of the church and introduced the concept of social justice. [Rerum novarum (from its first two words, Latin for “of revolutionary change”), or Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor, is the encyclical issued in 1891. It was an open letter, passed to all Catholic Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops and bishops that addressed the condition of the working classes. It discussed the relationships and mutual duties between labor and capital, as well as government and its citizens. Of primary concern was the need for some amelioration of “The misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class.” ]. (Wikipedia)

 

YOUR BELIEFS DO NOT MAKE YOU A BETTER PERSON, YOUR BEHAVIOR DOES.

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Human rights: Food for a committing thought

 

Human Rights Reader 429

 

-If you do not have the courage of living the way you think, you end up thinking the way you live. (Albino Gomez)

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. (Martin Luther King)

-We have to act like thinking men; we have to think like men of action. Contemplation is a luxury; action is a necessity. (Henri Bergson; excuse his sexist construct)

 

  1. As I often do in the Readers, let me start with, what I consider, some strategic iron laws:

 

  • Beware: Beautiful rhetoric can go along with brutal human rights (HR) behavior.
  • All societies ultimately decide themselves what degree of hypocrisy and violations of HR they are willing to accept.*
  • *: Talk about the world’s hypocrisy: Do-gooders want to help those rendered poor —yes, but provided the state of affairs of the world’s order and the prevailing power relations are not questioned. (A. Gomez)
  • When morality disappears in a nation, the whole social structure crumbles. (Alexis Carrel)
  • Too often, caring about the other, a HR attribute, is superseded by an irrational form of individualism (that so many have managed to rationalize). (Jose Luis Vivero)
  • Frequently, justice, instead of being seen and used as a universal value, is merely seen and used as one perspective among other. (A. Gomez) The same is true for HR!
  • For too many political leaders, the alleged and unsupported proclamation of a ‘right to property’ includes claiming the authority of deciding what HR ought to be. (adapted from A. Gomez)
  • Too many states have the opportunity to foster equality and HR, but neither do they have the will** nor do they make available the means to really do so. (Beatriz Sarlo)

**: Actually, political will is usually understood as a greater resolve on the part of states. But political will is not owned by politicians, who usually act only in response to consistent and compelling pressure from organized and mobilized claim holders from the left and (cronies from) the right. Therefore, it is not a lack of political will, but rather the accumulation-of-a-political-will-by-the-powerful to oppose or stall the implementation of progressive policies that tackle HR abuses. We cannot forget that ‘a political will’ must be pulled from those in power and thus depends on the capacity of local, national, and transnational public interest civil society and social movements to push governments and the international agencies to be consequent with the HR framework.

 

You cannot insult claim holders more than when you say that theoretical issues and polemics are only for academics (adapted from Rosa Luxemburg)

 

We strive for a world where we all are socially equal, humanly different and totally free. (Liberty is to mean liberty for those who think differently) (R. Luxemburg)

 

  1. In HR work, we do not look down upon street action; on the contrary, we celebrate it as profoundly formative. Spontaneity of such claim holder actions has much to teach a leadership that has become cozy in their positions. A year of claim-holder-direct-actions teaches them more than 30 years of parliamentary or union struggles that do not give them what learning-by-doing gives them.*** Their political experience widens beyond narrow limits. Direct actions are a vital element –the air without which the HR cause cannot advance– because these actions strengthen their global strategic vision and reinforce their, till then, only weak demands. (R. Luxemburg) For her, future victory will be born from our defeats in direct action.

***: This is true, provided that these actions revolve not only about denouncing, but also about announcing a new order.

 

The widespread tendency to understand concerns about the human condition as ‘common-sense-concerns-of-economics’, in fact, amounts to a colonization of our minds (Ryan Higgitt)

 

The current Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, acknowledges that, for most purposes, the World Bank is “a human rights-free zone, treating human rights ‘more like an infectious disease than universal values and obligations”.

 

  1. The terms economics and development have found themselves being effectively used as homologous. In good part, this explains the fact that the vast majority of the people employed by the World Bank and IMF are economists (Philip Alston). This also explains why questions of development have found themselves, by and large, posed as economic questions.**** One must, therefore ask: Why are economists –researchers of economics, teachers of economics and advisors of economics– so celebrated as the ultimate authority on development issues? At least part of the answer lies in the way economists present their discipline as science, whereby ‘development’ and ‘onwards evolution’ are treated as synonyms.

****: Economic rationality has come to constitute the intellectual processing of practically all problems and solutions in our world today. Par excellence, the World Bank’s $2-a-day money metric poverty measure is a manifestation of this. Also, the Bank argues that, to achieve its view of humanity, includes using highly systematic and sophisticated processes of quantification (think DALYS…). (R. Higgitt)

 

  1. But it is the use of the human rights framework what makes the enormous difference, argues Alston –which is exactly why the Bank is so resistant to using it. With the authority of its ‘scientists’, the Bank has actually reduced what it means to be human to a veritable mathematical formula –one that insinuates that the more money any given individual has, the more human that individual is. Alston speaks of the World Bank being concerned that any engagement on its part with HR “would bring about a radical paradigm shift with unknown consequences”.

 

Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

schuftan@gmail.com

www.claudioschuftan.com

 

Postscript/Marginalia

-Being powerful or a miser, judgments of the Court will find you innocent or guilty. (Jean de la Fontaine, 1621-1695)

-It is by worrying about adversity that people survive; complacency brings catastrophe. (Mencius). Never let a serious crisis go to waste. (Philip Mirowski)

-Charity, even if commendable, is not a right and lasts only as long as the giver wants it to last or funding is available.

 

New Cable/YouTube Program, Prescription for Justice

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This is to announce the new show from the Public Health and Social Justice website, Prescription for Justice. The show, hosted by Dr Martin Donohoe, runs 30 minutes per episode, and will cover a variety of issues related to social justice, from health care to the environment to food justice to racism to war to economic justice. Most shows will begin with a review of the episode’s topic, followed by a discussion with a guest expert. The show began in Portland, Oregon in October, 2017, and has already been picked up by cable access markets in 6 other states. The first three episodes cover The Education System in the United States, Reproductive Rights for Women, and Nuclear Weapons and the Campaign to Abolish Them. Episodes are available on the program’s YouTube channel  at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJt34I9c5vT2RpZtkg6Im2A. For information regarding obtaining the program for television markets in your area, go through PEGMedia or contact Martin at martindonohoe@phsj.org. My production staff and I (all volunteer/unpaid) are hoping to be able to include guests from around the country via Skype or other video link, so if you have an issue about which you are passionate and would like to be considered as a possible guest (or know of someone who might be a good guest), please contact me.

ANY SITUATION, AS BAD AS IT HAS BECOME, CAN GET WORSE. (Ho Chi Minh)

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Human rights: Food for a realist’s thought

 

Human Rights Reader 428

 

 

-In the post-truth era, it is not pessimism that is called-for, realism is. Perhaps truth will ultimately survive and there will be a renaissance. It will take a long time though, but valuable things always do take time. (Nathan Stone)

-These days, the discourse about progress has stopped being a discourse about improving the quality of life of the many to become a discourse dealing with their mere survival. (cited by Albino Gomez)

 

In human rights work we constantly battle the technocratic development mindset

 

  1. We battle this mindset, because it approaches every problem with a five-point plan designed to produce ‘evidence-based deliverables’. This clearly leaves human rights (HR) vulnerable or rather marginalized. Unfortunately, technocratic experts have come to symbolize even what democracy is supposed to be all about. Technocrats have always shown little interest in fights over fundamental values. Their line of thought proceeds from the assumption that everyone –or at least all ‘the people who truly matter’– already share the same enlightened commitment to development values (OK, but also to HR values?). The only debate they are concerned about is over evidence on ‘what works’ among the policy inputs they propose to produce the desired measurable outputs. So, when technocrats are all we have to defend democracy and HR, arguments over fundamental values become predictably one-sided. Technocrats do not even have a good answer for technocratic-sounding attacks on development. Technocrats’ defense of development on the basis of ‘what works’ makes HR values become hostage. But, furthermore, these self-proclaimed experts often cannot agree on what this ‘what works’ is –or even rightly interpret what has already happened. (William Easterly)

 

The principal defense of fundamental values (HR included) must be that they are desirable in themselves as values. Period!

 

  1. Technocrats are not trained to duly criticize their infatuation with evidence-based policy. This is why equal rights proponents need to mount more eloquent defenses capable of building broad resistance alliances on behalf of HR. But the long reign of technocracy has deprived-us-of proactively using the needed moral and political weapons to defend the core values that are the foundation of democracy. We will not be able to fight back against HR violations unless we, once again, find the capacity (and courage) for moral and political outrage and for actively claiming for non-negotiable democratic and HR values. (adapted from W. Easterly)

 

In human rights work we also constantly confront the main ideological divide

 

  1. As the Third World freed itself from colonialism, it gradually became clear that reformism would never lead to socialism –it might, at the very best, have led to capitalism-with-a-human-face (not a-HR-face). Eventually, both models of social transformation collapsed with the fall of the Berlin Wall. The revolution became a discredited, obsolete fundamentalism that collapsed down into its very foundations. On the other hand, democratic reformism gradually lost its reformist drive and with it its democratic practices. Reformism became a byword for the desperate struggle to maintain the rights of the popular classes (to public goods, such as public education, health and water) that had been gained during struggles in the previous period. Reformism thus slowly languished until it has become a squalid, disfigured entity shamelessly reconfigured around neoliberal fundamentalism by means of a facelift that has then been transformed into the sole model of ‘exporting democracy’, i.e., liberal democracy converted into an instrument of imperialism. (Boaventura de Sousa Santos)

 

The term International Community should never be used. It simply cannot be defined and has become an easy reference to avoid the needed ideological discussion (Urban Jonsson)

 

  1. The development aid agenda of rich countries has evaporated. This leaves development agencies (both bilateral and multilateral) with the challenge to take up a meaningful role in the broader mainstream socio-economic, political and HR discourse. This will require new alliances, not those vaguely-defined with members of ‘the international community’, but concretely with public interest civil society organizations, with social movements, with political parties, with women’s and trade unions. What is needed is for these groups to develop a new narrative for their respective constituencies (members, supporters, funders…). Inequality and HR will definitely have to be part of this narrative as the two main drivers of the required system change. (Rene Grotenhuis)

 

Important note

 

  1. As evidence indicates that there is a net outflow of funds/resources from low income Southern countries to high income Northern countries, we ought not talk about the latter as ‘donors’ (under this optic, Africa is actually an important donor*), but must refer to them as ‘external funders. The use of the term donor obscures this and is perhaps part of the fallacious worldview propagated by those interested. (Rene Lowenson)

*: After decades of development, aid has failed to carry Africa significantly forward. Critics even consider it partly to blame for the continent’s underdevelopment. Foreign aid has failed to spell out that measures to ensure the rights to food, to health or to social protection, among other, truly serve ‘legitimate policy goals’. (Armin Paasch)

 

  1. Let us also remind ourselves that, whereas the World Bank, as a key external funder (mostly of loans rather than grants!), claims to contribute to the eradication of poverty, it continues to finance projects that jeopardize those people and groups that for generations have been rendered vulnerable and poor. [There comes a point when help becomes overly manipulative, and violates the dignity of those who are supposed to benefit. (George Kent)].

 

Bottom line

 

  1. The more we become aware that the goal to be pursued by external funding is not really to attaint ‘aid effectiveness’, we must replace this concept by the concept of ‘development effectiveness’. (Urban Jonsson) This means that foreign-aid-funding nations must not primarily strive for security and stability, but for fulfilling the HR and protecting the dignity of those they purport to be helping. (Robert Fisk) And for us, this further means that we have to take the initiative to challenge external funders and must be bold to make room for new forms of activism and virtual and de-facto engagement that ultimately mobilize people to innovate, claim, demand, and yes, if needed, confront. (H. Wolf)

 

Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

schuftan@gmail.com

www.claudioschuftan.com

 




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