Monthly Archives: June 2015

Reading Russia is never easy

While there are Putinversteher to be found everywhere in Europe there seem to be no Europaversteher in Russia. Where does this lack of understanding come from?

By Denis MacShane. Published June 25, 2015 at openDemocracy.

Scottish First Minister, Jack McConnell and Vladimir Putin, President of Russia. Photo by Kremlin.ru [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Scottish First Minister, Jack McConnell and Vladimir Putin, President of Russia. Photo by Kremlin.ru [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Reading Russia is never easy. Chatham House recently produced a report on dealing with Russia, written with the help of two former UK ambassadors in Moscow, which painted Russia in almost entirely negative hues. This report lined up with the neo-Cold warriors in Washington and with the prevailing views of Polish and Baltic leaders that see Russia in terms of confrontation and containment.

On the other side of the argument there are the voices of Putinversteher(understanders of Putin), as the Germans call those who seek to explain rather than leap to knee-jerk condemnations of the Russian leader. They include the former UK Ambassador to Moscow, Tony Brenton, Richard Sakwa of Kent University, and the Independent journalist, Mary Dejevsky. Continue reading

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China Blasts US for ‘Brazen’ Human Rights Abuses at Home and Abroad

In U.S., ‘minority groups and Indigenous people are subject to unfairness in environment, election, health care, housing, and education,’ China says

By Deirdre Fulton, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published June 26, 2015.

The vice premier of China, Wang Yang (left), and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. (Photo: US State Department/flickr/cc)

In a report that covers everything from police violence to income inequality to government surveillance, China has blasted the United States for its “grim problems of racial discrimination,” use of “cruel tortures indiscriminately,” and “terrible human rights record.”

The lengthy report, carried by the official Xinhua news agency and issued on Friday in response to U.S. criticism of China’s human rights record, says the U.S. is “haunted by spreading guns,” while suffering from “serious racial bias…in the police and justice systems.”

“On June 25 local time, the State Department of the United States released its country reports on human rights practices once again, making comments on the human rights situations in many countries while showing not a bit of regret for or intention to improve its own terrible human rights record,” it reads. “Plenty of facts show that, in 2014, the U.S., a self-proclaimed human rights defender, saw no improvements in its existent human rights issues, but reported numerous new problems.”

The Chinese report charges that “money is a deciding factor in the U.S. politics, and the U.S. citizens’ political rights were not properly protected.” It also states that “minority groups and Indigenous people are subject to unfairness in environment, election, health care, housing, education and other fields.” Continue reading

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French Asylum for Snowden and Assange Would Send ‘Clear Message’ to US

In response to new revelations that U.S. had spied on French leaders, officials say offering asylum would not be surprising

By Nadia Prupis, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published June 26, 2015.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden could receive asylum from France. (Photo: Lord Jim/flickr/cc)

French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira would “absolutely not be surprised” if whistleblower Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange received asylum in France.

“It would be a symbolic gesture,” Taubira told French news channel BFMTV on Thursday, adding that it would not be her decision to offer asylum, but that of the French Prime Minister and President.

Taubira’s statement came in response to a question about recent revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) spied on the past three French presidents, which she called an “unspeakable practice.”

Snowden currently lives in political asylum in Russia, awaiting an offer of permanent refuge from several other countries, including France. He faces espionage charges in the U.S. Continue reading

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Racism is not a mental illness

Racism isn’t all in individual heads; it doesn’t just reveal itself in interpersonal relations. History, politics, and economics matter.

By Jeremy Adam Smith. Published June 26. 2015 at openDemocracy.

Little Rock, 1959. Rally at state capitol, protesting the integration of Central High School. Photo by John T. Bledsoe [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Little Rock, 1959. Rally at state capitol, protesting the integration of Central High School. Photo by John T. Bledsoe [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Last week a young white man named Dylann Roof killed nine black people at prayer in South Carolina. Some have called it racism. Others say it was a crazy, isolated act. “He was one of these whacked out kids,” said Senator Lindsey Graham. “I don’t think it’s anything broader than that.”

Does Graham have a point? After the news of Charleston broke, many of my Facebook friends referred to racism itself as a “sickness” or “disease,” and some described Roof as “insane.” A great deal of research suggests that racial discrimination can harm the physical and mental health of its targets, mainly due to the increased stress racism can cause.

But are mentally ill people more likely to embrace and express racial prejudice? Could racism itself be a mental illness?

Probably not, says the research. Even proponents of this view, like psychiatrist Carl C. Bell, argue that mental illness is associated only with certain forms of prejudice, as when people with paranoid disorders “project unacceptable feelings and ideas onto other people and groups.” Prejudice becomes pathological only when it interferes with functioning in daily life, which is part of the definition of mental illness provided by the DSM (the diagnostic manual used by psychiatrists). Continue reading

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Rejecting Right-Wing Attack, US Supreme Court Upholds Obamacare Subsidies

Experts had warned that a finding in favor of the plaintiffs would eviscerate the healthcare law

By Deirdre Fulton, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published June 25, 2015

Chief Justice John Roberts, as well as Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan were in the majority that upheld Obamacare. (Photo: Mark Fischer/flickr/cc)

Handing a victory for President Barack Obama and the Affordable Care Act—as well as millions of people who gained more affordable healthcare under the law—the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that individuals who get their health insurance through an exchange established by the federal government will continue to be eligible for tax subsidies.

The “ALEC-fueled” case, King v. Burwell, dealt with whether the Affordable Care Act provides subsidies to everyone in the country who qualifies for them on the basis of income level, regardless of whether they get their insurance through a state-run exchange or an exchange run by the federal government. Basing their argument on just four words buried in the massive legislation, the plaintiffs claimed that subsidies were supposed to be only for those purchasing health care through state-run health exchanges—not the federal one.

Experts warned that a finding in favor of the plaintiffs would eviscerate the healthcare law.

Affirming the decision of the Fourth Circuit, the justices voted 6-3 to uphold the subsidies. Chief Justice John Roberts, as well as Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan were in the majority. Continue reading

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UK Doctors Warn TTIP Means Certain Death for Public Healthcare

Physicians say national health service faces lawsuits, bullying, and privatization under contentious trade pact

By Lauren McCauley, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published June 23, 2015.

With TTIP negotiations set to continue in July, doctors in the United Kingdom have vowed to fight the deal. (Photo: Alex Proimos/cc/flickr)

With TTIP negotiations set to continue in July, doctors in the United Kingdom have vowed to fight the deal. (Photo: Alex Proimos/cc/flickr)

Doctors in the United Kingdom are warning that passage of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will mean certain death for the country’s public healthcare system, opening the door for privatization and lawsuits from the United States’ for-profit medical industry.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the British Medical Association (BMA) in Liverpool on Tuesday, Dr. Henry McKee of Belfast warned members that “if there is anything resembling an [National Health Service] by the time this treaty is in negotiation, it won’t survive this treaty.”

“The correct motion is to kill this treaty dead, not to tolerate it sneaking in and mugging us,” he added. Continue reading

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US Government Finally Admits Agent Orange Poisoned Troops

Every medical and scientific fact convincing the Institute of Medicine of our Agent Orange exposures had been presented years earlier to the VA but was simply ignored or dismissed. That was wrong.

Written by Carey Wedler. Published 6-22-15 in AntiMedia.

Leaking Agent Orange drums in Vietnam. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Leaking Agent Orange drums in Vietnam. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Decades after the Vietnam War, the Department of Veterans Affairs acknowledged this week that Monsanto’s Agent Orange—a dangerous herbicide sprayed over 4.5 million acres across Vietnam during the  conflict—is responsible for health ailments in a group of as many as 2,100 veterans. It had previously denied such allegations.

The United States government will pay out $45 million in disability benefits over ten years to compensate Air Force reservists and active-duty forces who were exposed to Agent Orange left over from the Vietnam War. The exposure came from residue on Fairchild C-123 aircraft, which were used to spray millions of gallons of the chemical, and, evidently, affected soldiers in the United States who later handled the planes from 1969-1986. According to ABC, the VA’s decision to compensate the 2,100 veterans follows a January Institute of Medicine study that found “some C-123 reservists stationed in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts had been exposed to Agent Orange residues in the planes and suffered higher risks of health problems as a result.

Further, “the VA said it subsequently determined that pilots, mechanics and medical personnel who served at seven other locations in the U.S. and abroad also were potentially affected – Florida, Virginia, and Arizona, as well as Taiwan, Panama, South Korea and the Philippines.Continue reading

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A turning point for Greece and Europe

There is still some space to avoid this worst-case scenario. And to listen to the reasons of Alexis Tsipras and of Greece – that are the reasons of democracy, in Athens as in Europe.

By Mario Pianta. Published June 21, 2015 on openDemocracy.

Alexis Tsipras. Photo by Joanna (Flickr: Επίσκεψη Αλέξη Τσίπρα στην Κομοτηνή) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Alexis Tsipras. Photo by Joanna (Flickr: Επίσκεψη Αλέξη Τσίπρα στην Κομοτηνή) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Relations between Greece and Europe are at key turning point. Between Friday 19 June and Monday afternoon, 22 June, when the European Council meets in an unexpected summit, four things may happen. An agreement, a temporary compromise, a break-up between Athens and Brussels, or a deepening of the crisis.

The first possibility – the most desirable – is an agreement based on the proposal of the Greek leader Alexis Tsipras: end austerity, release the 7.2 bn.euros of planned European aid, start a radical debt restructuring. But even the most pliable EU leader, Jean-Claude Juncker, said on Friday: “I do not understand Tsipras” and “I have warned Mr. Tsipras many times he shouldn’t depend on me being able to prevent a failure of the talks”. This is not exactly the way you would prepare an agreement.

The second possibility is that the talks this weekend will lead to an intermediate compromise: an agreement to drag along the talks, with bridging EU funds for repaying the 1.6 bn. euros owed to the IMF at the end of June. In the meantime, on Friday ECB’s Mario Draghi has provided 2 bn. euros in emergency liquidity assistance to Greek banks where the massive capital flight of past months has left no liquidity. Continue reading

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‘You Have a Choice’: Veterans Call On Drone Operators to Refuse Orders

Joint statement signed by 45 US military veterans urges drone operators to follow their consciences and say ‘no’ to surveillance and assassination missions

By Sarah Lazare, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published June 19, 2015

Drone operators at Balad Camp Anaconda, Iraq, August 2007. (Photo: Air Force/public domain)

Drone operators at Balad Camp Anaconda, Iraq, August 2007. (Photo: Air Force/public domain)

Dozens of U.S. military veterans released an open letter this week urging drone operators to “refuse to fly missions” or support them in any way—and letting them know that if they say “no” to surveillance and assassination orders, there is a whole community rooting for them.

“At least 6,000 peoples’ lives have been unjustly taken by United States drone attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, the Philippines, Libya and Syria,” states the letter, which was organized by the education and advocacy organization KnowDrones.com.

“Those involved in United States drone operations who refuse to participate in drone missions will be acting within accordance of Principle IV of the Principles of International Law Recognized in the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal and the Judgment of the Tribunal, The United Nations 1950,” states the letter. “So, yes, you do have a choice—and liability under the law. Choose the moral one. Choose the legal one.” Continue reading

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What next in Turkey?

Turkey’s election result is a tribute to its vibrant democracy. But there are hard political and economic tests to come.

Written by Dimitar Bechev and Nathalie Tocci. Published 6-9-15 in OpenDemocracy.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, image via internet blogspot

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, image via internet blogspot

At the peak of the protests of May-June 2013 in Turkey, spurred by plans to transform Gezi park in central Istanbul, the country’s then president, Abdullah Gül, made a statement that would go down in political folklore: “Democracy does not consist only of the ballot-box” (“Demokrasi sandıktan ibaret değildir“). He had a point: a democracy worthy of the name is also about other things – the rights of minorities, freedom of speech and association, the rule of law, transparency and accountability – all of them in scarce supply in Turkey, both historically and in more recent days.

Yet, the parliamentary polls on 7 June 2015 are also a strong reminder that the ballot-box can actually be the most robust safeguard of democratic governance. Free and fair elections alone may not suffice. But when a polity, which has experienced multi-party democracy for over half a century, casts its vote, it can help put back on track a process of political transformation gone astray.

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