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Monthly Archives: March 2020
Posted: March 31, 2020 at 7:06 am
In this season of infection, the stock market little more than a twitching corpse, in an atmosphere of alarm and despondency, I am reminded of the enlightenments of the strict curfew Uganda endured in 1966. It was, for all its miseries, an episode of life lessons, as well as monotonous moralizing (because most crises enliven bores and provoke sententiousness). I would not have missed it for anything.
That curfew evoked like today the world turned upside-down. This peculiarity that we are now experiencing, the nearest thing to a world war, is the key theme in many of Shakespeares plays and Jacobean dramas, of old ballads, apocalyptic paintings and morality tales. It is the essence of tragedy and an occasion for license or retribution. As Hamlet says to his fathers ghost, Time is out of joint.
In Uganda, the palace of the king of Buganda, the Kabaka, Mutesa II also known as King Freddie had been attacked by government troops on the orders of the prime minister, Milton Obote. From my office window at Makerere University, where I was a lecturer in English in the Extra Mural department, I heard the volleys of heavy artillery, and saw smoke rising from the royal enclosure on Mengo Hill. The assault, led by Gen. Idi Amin, resulted in many deaths. But the king eluded capture; he escaped the country in disguise and fled to Britain. The period that followed was one of oppression and confusion, marked by the enforced isolation of a dusk-to-dawn curfew. But, given the disorder and uncertainty, most people seldom dared to leave home at all.
The curfew was a period of fear, bad advice, arbitrary searches, intimidation and the nastiness common in most civil unrest, people taking advantage of chaos to settle scores. Uganda had a sizable Indian population, and Indian people were casually mugged, their shops ransacked and other minorities victimized or sidelined. It was also an interlude of hoarding, and of drunkenness, lawlessness and licentiousness, born of boredom and anarchy.
Kifugo! I heard again and again of the curfew a Swahili word, because it was the lingua franca there. Imprisonment! Yes, it was enforced confinement, but I also felt privileged to be a witness: I had never seen anything like it. I experienced the stages of the coup, the suspension of the constitution, the panic buying and the effects of the emergency. My clearest memory is of the retailing of rumors outrageous, frightening, seemingly improbable but who could dispute them? Our saying then was, Dont believe anything you hear until the government officially denies it.
Speaking for myself, as a traveler, any great crisis war, famine, natural disaster or outrage ought to be an occasion to bear witness, even if it means leaving the safety of home. The fact that it was the manipulative monster Chairman Mao who said, All genuine knowledge originates in direct experience, does not make the apothegm less true. It is or should be the subtext for all travelers chronicles.
The curfew three years into my time in Africa was my initiation into the misuse of power, of greed, cowardice and selfishness; as well as, also, their opposites compassion, bravery, mutual aid and generosity. Even at the time, 24-years-old and fairly callow, I felt I was lucky in some way to be witnessing this convulsion. It was not just that it helped me to understand Africa better; it offered me insights into crowds and power and civil unrest generally, allowing me to observe in extreme conditions the nuances of human nature.
I kept a journal. In times of crisis we should all be diarists and documentarians. Were bound to wail and complain, but its also useful to record the particularities of our plight. We know the progress of Englands Great plague of 1665 because Samuel Pepys anatomized it in his diary. On April 30 he wrote: Great fears of the sickness here in the City it being said that two or three houses are already shut up. God preserve us all! Later, on June 25, The plague increases mightily. And by July 26: The Sicknesse is got into our parish this week; and is endeed everywhere.
A month later he notes the contraction of business: To the Exchange, which I have not been a great while. But Lord how sad a sight it is to see the streets empty of people, and very few upon the Change, jealous of every door that one sees shut up lest it should be the plague and about us, two shops in three, if not more, generally shut up.
In that outbreak of bubonic plague, spread by rat fleas, a quarter of Londons population died.
My diary these days sounds a lot like Pepys, though without the womanizing, snobbery or name dropping. The progress of the Covid 19 pandemic is remarkably similar to that of the plague year, the same upside-down-ness and the dizziness it produces, the muddle of daily life, the collapse of commerce, the darkness at noon, a haunting paranoia in the sudden proximity to death. And so much of what concerned me as important in the earlier pages of my diary now seems mawkish, trivial or beneath notice. This virus has halted the routine of the day to day and impelled us, in a rare reflex from our usual hustling, to seek purification.
Still writing gives order to the day and helps inform history. In my journal of the Ugandan curfew I made lists of the rumors and tried to estimate the rate at which they traveled; I noted the instances of panic and distraction there were many more car crashes than usual, as drivers minds were on other things. Ordinary life was suspended, so we had more excuses to do as we pleased.
My parents habits were formed during the Great Depression, which this present crisis much resembles. They were ever after frugal, cautious and scornful of wasters: My father developed a habit of saving string, paper bags, nails and screws that he pried out of old boards. The Depression made them distrustful of the stock market, regarding it as a casino. They were believers in education, yet their enduring memory was of highly educated people rendered destitute college graduates selling apples on street corners in Boston! My mother became a recycler and a mender, patching clothes, socking money away. This pandemic will likely make us a nation of habitual hand-washers and doorknob avoiders.
In the Great Depression, Americans like my parents saw the country fail and though it rose and became vibrant once more, they fully expected to witness another bust in their lifetime. Generally speaking, we have known prosperity in the United States since the end of World War II. But the same cannot be said for other countries, and this, of course, is something many travelers know, because travel often allows us glimpses of upheaval or political strife, epidemics or revolution. Uganda evolved after the curfew into a dictatorship, and then Idi Amin took over and governed sadistically.
But Id lived in the dictatorship and thuggery of the Malawi of Dr. Hastings Banda (Ngwazi the Conqueror), so Ugandas oppression was not a shock. And these experiences in Africa helped me deconstruct the gaudy dictatorship of Saparmurat Niyazov, who styled himself Tukmenbashi Great Head of the Turks when, years later, I traveled through Turkmenistan; the Mongolia of Jambyn Batmnkh, the Syria of Hafiz Assad, the muddy dispirited China of Maos chosen successor, Hua Guo Feng. As for plague, there have been recent outbreaks of bubonic plague in Madagascar, Congo, Mongolia and China, producing national moods of blame-shifting and paranoia, not much different from that of Albert Camuss The Plague.
Were told not to travel right now, and its probably good advice, though there are people who say that this ban on travel limits our freedom. But in fact, travel produces its own peculiar sorts of confinement.
The freedom that most travelers feel is often a delusion, for there is as much confinement in travel as liberation. This is not the case in the United States, where I have felt nothing but fresh air on road trips. It is possible to travel in the United States without making onward plans. But I cant think of any other country where you can get into a car and be certain at the end of the day of finding a place to sleep (though it might be scruffy) or something to eat (and it might be junk food). For my last book, I managed a road trip in Mexico but with hiccups (bowel-shattering meals, extortionate police, bed bugs). But the improvisational journey is very difficult elsewhere, even in Europe, and is next to impossible in Africa. It is only by careful planning that a traveler experiences a degree of freedom, but he or she will have to stick to the itinerary, nagged by instructions, which is a sort of confinement.
In fact, most travel is a reminder of boundaries and limits. For example, millions of travelers go to Bangkok or Los Cabos, but of them, a great number head for a posh hotel and rarely leave: The hotel is the destination, not the city. The same can be said for many other places, where the guest in the resort or spa essentially a gated and guarded palace luxuriates in splendid isolation.
The most enlightening trips Ive taken have been the riskiest, the most crisis-ridden, in countries gripped by turmoil, enlarging my vision, offering glimpses of the future elsewhere. We are living in just such a moment of risk; and it is global. This crisis makes me want to light out for the territory ahead of the rest. It would be a great shame if it were not somehow witnessed and documented.
Paul Therouxs latest book, On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey, was published in 2019 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
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Posted: at 7:06 am
I, for one, dont necessarily welcome our technocratic overlords. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Earlier this week, congressional Democrats and Republicans were locked in contentious negotiations over what the American public should ask of corporations before bailing them out. Conservatives contended that Uncle Sam should not interfere with these private enterprises internal affairs. After all, airlines, hotels, fast-food chains, and retailers didnt create the economic crisis that now threatens to bankrupt them. Rather, the governments failure to prepare for the COVID-19 pandemic and the heavy-handed social distancing measures that its under-preparation necessitated robbed these companies of expected revenue. Thus, the state had an obligation to extend cheap credit to corporate America, no strings attached.
Progressives saw things differently. In their view, all corporations are, fundamentally, creations of the state. After all, it was our democratically enacted laws of limited liability that brought these institutions into being, and our publicly funded infrastructure, technology, education, and social services that undergird their profits. In recent decades, our corporate-funded political class had rewritten the rules of our market economy in a manner that redounded to the benefit of corporate executives and well-heeled shareholders thereby enabling the rich to commandeer the gains of economic growth. Now, in a context of neo-feudal levels of wealth inequality, the American people shouldnt be asked to stem the capitalist classs losses unless we get something in return: Bailed-out corporations should have to provide their workers with job security, collective-bargaining rights, board representation, and higher wages, and provide the broader public with voting shares.
And then while these factions were still arguing the Federal Reserve went ahead and started lending money directly to private corporations with no significant conditions.
The central banks unprecedented decision to start directly financing the real economy as opposed to lending to private banks came in the face of equally unprecedented conditions. The coronavirus pandemic hadnt just obliterated demand in the service sector. It had also indirectly threatened the ability of virtually all corporations to access affordable credit, even if their business models were somewhat insulated from the effects of mass lockdowns and social distancing. Investors had lost their appetite for all manner of corporate bonds. This was partly due to a self-reinforcing flight to cash: Once anxiety led some investors to shy away from bonds, other investors began to fear that, if they didnt also abandon the market, they would end up saddled with bonds that were impossible to resell without taking a steep loss. The Fed therefore moved to shore up liquidity (i.e., convertibility to cash) in the corporate-bond market through a relatively conventional intervention: It started buying corporate bonds from financial institutions at a rate intended to stabilize demand for such instruments. (The name for this program is the Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility, or SMCCF.)
But investors skittishness about buying corporate bonds wasnt just about liquidity. It also reflected fears that a wide variety of companies might not be able to pay back their debts, given the COVID-19 crisis and its potential ripple effects. The Fed could not solve that dimension of corporate Americas funding woes by juicing demand for its bonds on secondary markets. Rather, this problem could only be significantly mitigated by providing cheap public credit directly to private firms. Which is, traditionally, the kind of thing that requires the approval of our governments elected branches. But the economy was imploding, and Congress was dilly-dallying and so the Fed just went ahead and established a Primary Market Corporate Credit Facility (PMCCF).
Narayana Kocherlakota, former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, found this alarming, writing for Bloomberg View:
[T]he Fed shouldnt get in the business of lending directly to corporations through a vehicle like the PMCCF. Because the Fed is fixing the liquidity problems through the SMCCF, its direct loans are simply a way to assume default risk without receiving a compensatory return. This is simply a direct taxpayer subsidy to corporate shareholders.
Right now, there is a debate in Congress about the shape of a fiscal stimulus package. The administration clearly believes that corporate subsidies are desirable. Its Democratic opponents are much less convinced. By setting up the PMCCF, the Fed is using its independence to decide this important and necessary debate in favor of the White House. Congress would be doing the Fed a favor by eliminating its ability to make direct loans to nonfinancial corporations.
But Kocherlakota was lonely in his alarm. For understandable reasons, few lay news consumers took much interest in (or notice of) the central banks latest alphabet soup of inscrutable lending programs. And anyhow, days later, the Senate gave its formal blessing to the Feds direct lending to corporations. Democrats were able to attach a couple modest conditions to the loans. But the terms were far more lax than progressives had been calling for; the public will assume the risk of lending to embattled corporations without securing any significant claim on their future profits, or durable influence over their operations. Meanwhile, discretion over which businesses should and should not be bailed out was largely outsourced to the unelected bureaucrats at the central bank. Congress simply provided the Fed with a (largely symbolic) $454 billion pot of capital with which to backstop upward of $4 trillion worth of loans, leaving the central bank in charge of divvying up that credit between individual corporations, small businesses, and state governments. There is now a bipartisan consensus in favor of top-down economic planning just so long as that planning is done by officials who are less accountable to the median voter than to the median investment bank, debated far afield from the media spotlight, and articulated in acronym-laden jargon completely inaccessible to ordinary people.
Our elected officials havent just been contracting out wide swaths of economic policymaking to the Fed. Theyve also been letting the central bank make immensely consequential foreign-policy decisions with no public scrutiny or debate.
During the 2008 financial crisis, private banks all across the world suffered from a sudden shortage of U.S. dollars. Such institutions had financed hundreds of billions in dollar-denominated loans by borrowing U.S. currency on wholesale money markets; when investor panic depleted those markets, their funding suddenly dried up. The Federal Reserve came to their rescue. By establishing dollar swap lines with foreign central banks which is to say, allowing those banks to trade their own currencies for however many dollars their nations private banks happened to need the Fed effectively bailed out banks throughout Europe. This constituted nothing less than an epochal reformation of global economic governance, executed with virtually no democratic input or even public awareness. As the historian Adam Tooze summarizes the development, The central banks had, in other words, staged their Bretton Woods 2.0. But they had omitted to invite the cameras or the public, or indeed to explain what they were doing.
The Feds dollar swap lines like most of their crisis-fighting measures, both in 2008 and today were preferable to inaction. Few Americans (or humans more broadly) would have been well-served by cascading bank failures across the pond. But our central bank didnt just impartially stabilize the global financial system it decided which foreign nations central banks would enjoy privileged access to dollars and which would not. Western Europe was cut in on the deal; Eastern Europe was not. These policy choices had profound geopolitical consequences, and were made without any input from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, or any other elected body.
Last week, with global banks once again running short on dollars, the Fed reestablished unlimited drawing rights for all 14 of the central banks that had enjoyed such privileges 12 years ago. Whether the central bank sticks to that legacy system or extends its largesse to dollar-starved developing countries and/or China is a question with wide-ranging economic and geostrategic implications. And its one that none of our elected officials are publicly debating.
There is much to admire in how the Federal Reserve has conducted itself under chairman Jerome Powells leadership. After decades of prioritizing the prevention of hypothetical inflation over the elimination of actual unemployment, Powells Fed has kept interest rates historically low so as to facilitate genuinely full employment. After Alan Greenspan strong-armed the Clinton administration into deficit reduction, Powell explicitly encouraged House Democrats to go big on fiscal policy. And as Congress spent the past two weeks struggling to formulate a relief package remotely commensurate with the scale of the economic crisis, the Federal Reserve has taken a series of quick, ambitious, and creative actions to keep the financial system afloat.
But theres also much to lament about the outsize role that the Fed has come to play in governing our self-professed republic. For much of our nations history, questions of monetary policy which is to say, of how the money supply should be managed, and credit should be allocated were at the very center of democratic debate. In fact, the desire to secure monetary democracy was among the animating passions of the American Revolution.
In 1764, Britain forbade its American colonies from printing new paper money, a policy that produced a currency shortage and devastating deflation. As money appreciated in value faster than agricultural products, farmers struggled to pay back their existing debts, and were forced to accept onerous terms on new credit. In this context, popular control over the powers of money and credit creation became central to colonists conception of independence and self-government.
The historian Terry Bouton has detailed how radicals in revolutionary-era Pennsylvania sought to secure democratic control of what would later become the (putatively nonpolitical) Federal Reserves core functions.
To bring money and credit to the masses, Pennsylvanianscalled for the creation of a government-run loan office to offer ordinary folks low-cost mortgages as long as they owned a modest amount of land or propertyAt the time, most Pennsylvanians believed that privatizing finance turning control of money and credit over to private banks promoted inequality and oppression and, therefore, posed a threat to liberty every bit as dire as control by Britain. People viewed private banks (which did not yet exist in America) as dangerous institutions that undermined freedom by putting economic power in the hands of unaccountable men.
Once independence was secured, the revolutions merchant and planter wing beat back the masses calls for democratizing finance. But the ambition to exert popular influence over monetary policy remained integral to democratic movements in the United States for more than a century, animating the original Populist Partys calls for expanding access to money and credit through the unlimited coinage of silver.
Today, private finance reins supreme, and monetary policy has been depoliticized. Goldbug cranks, socialists, and MMTers may agitate against the Feds independence from popular influence. But for the median voter, monetary policy is neither salient nor readily comprehensible. Meanwhile, liberals and conservatives alike hail the central banks immunity from popular passions as a positive good. And not without reason.
These days, even a militant small-d democrat might have trouble getting worked up about the Fed impinging on this Congresss prerogatives. After all, our federal legislature routinely acts in blatant defiance of public opinion, allows the hired hands of well-heeled interest groups to write its laws, and spends much of its time soliciting campaign funds from plutocratic patrons. Our central bank may be a bit more insulated from democratic accountability. But at least its policymakers boast some genuine expertise, and are capable of responding to pressing challenges without first engaging in several days-worth of performative demagoguery. If our options are to be ruled by a blundering, pseudo-democratic body (a.k.a. Mitch McConnells Senate) or by competent, unelected technocrats one might reasonably prefer the latter.
And yet, Congresss present dysfunction is not extricable from the depoliticization of money and credit that such dysfunction now serves to justify. In truth, the past four decades of exploding inequality, trade-union decline and the plutocratic politics that these two developments have facilitated are in no small part attributable to the deregulation of finance and undemocratic monetary policymaking of the late 1970s. In that era, a crisis of low growth and high inflation had rendered credit scarce. And New Deal-era financial regulations politicized this scarcity: Congress found itself in the position of routinely needing to ration credit between its disparate constituencies; if it rewrote regulations to channel more lending towards businesses, it would threaten the availability of credit to homeowners, and vice versa. As Greta Krippner documents in her book Capitalizing on Crisis, Congresss embrace of financial deregulation was largely motivated by the desire to escape such difficult votes by letting the free market ration credit for it. This had the unintended consequence of making credit abundant albeit, for many working Americans, at usurious interest rates.
Meanwhile, under Paul Volckers leadership, the Federal Reserve chose to lick the countrys persistent inflation problem by giving price stability absolute priority over full employment. In the view of Volcker and his fellow technocrats, reducing price growth required reducing demand, which required reducing working-class wages. To achieve the latter, Volcker engineered a recession by raising benchmark interest rates to unprecedented heights. This policy had its intended effects along with a variety of others. The exorbitant price of credit in the early 1980s didnt just drive up unemployment (and thus, drive down workers bargaining power). It also gave large corporations an immense competitive advantage over less creditworthy small businesses, thereby fueling corporate consolidation. Meanwhile, sky-high benchmark interest rates combined with deregulated financial markets redistributed enormous sums of wealth from debtors to creditors. Add to all this Ronald Reagans regressive changes to the tax code and assault on organized labor, and you get a recipe for a neo-Gilded Age.
The coronavirus crisis is changing our world in many sorrowful respects. It has rendered our already atomized and aching society poorer, sicker, and lonelier than it was a few months ago. If this weeks bailout legislation plays out as some progressive analysts predict, the pandemics economic side effects will accelerate corporate concentration and income inequality.
But this disaster also offers a vital opportunity for beneficent forms of change. By accentuating the perversity of our nations employment-based health insurance model which is now causing millions of workers to lose coverage in the midst of a pandemic the crisis creates an opening for progressives to remake the politics of health reform. By spotlighting the indispensable labor that grocery store clerks and delivery drivers contribute, it could help unionists illustrate the markets unjust undervaluation of such low-skill work. And by politicizing just about every aspect of our economy which is to say, by forcing Congress to demonstrate the private sectors dependence on the state, and to allocate scarce subsidies and credit between corporations, small businesses, and individuals the crisis gives us a fighting chance to secure a more democratic and egalitarian form of economic governance.
Unless, ya know, we just throw up our hands, curse those clowns in Congress, and wait for Jerome Powell & Co. to restore some facsimile of the world we just lost.
Daily news about the politics, business, and technology shaping our world.
Posted: at 7:06 am
If you think the coronavirus pandemic is the worst thing you have experienced, you havent experienced the Israeli occupation of Palestine, which has been far more brutal and lethal than any virus could ever be.
I was in occupied Palestine during the First Intifada, writing on the resilience and strength of the Palestinian people in the face of Israeli military oppression. My family lives in East Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Beit Jala, Beit Hanina and Beit Sahour. I know what they are forced to experience every day by Israels oppressive government.
For many, the words and phrases most associated with the coronavirus outbreak lockdown, stay at home, and shelter in place may be new, but they arent to the Palestinians. They have lived with curfews, lockdowns and severe restrictions, and often been unable to buy groceries, get medical attention or even visit relatives for more than 70 years. They know what it is like to go without food, without schooling, without celebrations or events.
Israel has adopted more than 65 laws that discriminate against the Palestinian people simply because they are Christian and Muslim, rather than Jewish. One of the first grants immediate citizenship to any Jew from any country around the world and of any nationality or origin, but denies that same privilege to the Palestinians, who have been living on that land since time immemorial.
My family name, Hanania, is a Hebrew Word not Israeli, by the way. It means God has been gracious. My family, we believe, originated from the Hebrews and converted to Christianity in the first century, while even some converted to Islam in the seventh century. We have Christian, Muslim and Jewish relatives, so our history and rights are clear to everyone, except the Israelis. As heavily armed Israeli soldiers wandered through Palestinian cities and villages, we hunkered down eating mujaddara, the rice and lentil dish that became the symbol of Palestinian resistance to Israels brutality.
As I watch Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urge unity with his political rivals, I wonder where that has been in the countrys dealings with the Palestinians.
There have been so many Palestinian deaths over the years that the world has become desensitized to them
So far, there have been more than 420,000 cases of the coronavirus worldwide, and there have been about 19,000 deaths. But those numbers continue to change so, by the time you read this, they will be less than what is reality. And yet the Palestinians have seen even worse statistics that continue to increase daily. The deaths have been staggering over the years. Tens of thousands died during the war of 1947-49. More than 20,000 were killed during the Israeli assault on Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, including the civilians massacred under Ariel Sharons terrorist direction in Sabra and Shatila. Another 2,000 Palestinians were killed during the First Intifada, during which I secretly walked the streets at night with my cousins, collecting rubber bullets that were in reality lethal metal balls covered in a thin plastic coating. More than 2,300 were killed during Israels invasion of Gaza in 2014.
There have been so many Palestinian deaths over the years that the world has become desensitized to them. Palestinian deaths are little more than numbers in a news report, usually presented in such a way as to defend Israels extremist government. But those deaths are dwarfed by the injuries to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, maybe even millions.
This week, Israels government and the Palestinian Authority it controls issued orders to lock down citizens, block immigration and travel, and close all cultural and educational activities and events to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. But, when it is over, life will return to normal for the Israelis and Palestinians. The Israelis will be free to live a fantasy life of happiness, blocking the trauma they cause from their eyesight with an 8-meter-high concrete wall. The Palestinians will return to being oppressed, brutally beaten, and arrested by Israeli soldiers and the Shin Bet. They will continue to scramble for food, any work, and see power outages, restrictions on their movement, and punishments that range from beatings to killings for actions involving protest and militancy, which Israel labels as terrorism.
Pandemics are not as bad as occupation. If you want to know how to survive this coronavirus pandemic, take a look at how the Palestinians have managed to survive Israeli brutality. And why not take a minute to eat a plate of mujaddara with your family to show some solidarity.
What Palestinians have been forced to go through over the years under Israels oppression is no different than what the world is now going through as a result of the coronavirus. Although the truth is that Israels oppression has been far worse and there still is no antidote for that virus.
Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist. He can be reached on his personal website at http://www.Hanania.com. Twitter: @RayHanania
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Ray Hanania is an award winning political and humor columnist who analyzes American and Middle East politics, and life in general. He is an author of several books.
Hanania covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. He began writing in 1975 publishing The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published The National Arab American Times newspaper (2004-2007).
Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues as Special US Correspondent for the Arab News ArabNews.com, at TheArabDailyNews.com, and at SuburbanChicagoland.com. He has published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper, YNetNews.com, Newsday, the Orlando Sentinel, Houston Chronical, and Arlington Heights Daily Herald.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club Peter Lisagor Awards for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named Best Ethnic American Columnist by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.
Click here to send Ray Hanania email.
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Posted: at 7:06 am
HOW might our government policies responding to COVID-19 effect women who are victims of domestic violence, where home is already an unsafe space?
Thats a question raised by CQUniversity domestic violence researcher Dr Brian Sullivan, who also asks how could our COVID-19 response embolden already abusing and controlling men?
Dr Sullivan has reflected on possible consequences but says these concerns are in no way meant to be definitive.
If a woman is living with a coercive controlling abusive man, she and her life are already in lockdown she is microregulated in the home her movements and whereabouts are monitored she is living with an atmosphere of oppression and domination already under threat and under surveillance already, like a hostage.
A COVID-19 lockdown could limit her freedom even more and make him even more dangerous because her isolation is now government policy.
If services (government and non-government) are also in lockdown and services are running with skeletal staff, will this mean that womens support services are going to be harder to access? Will this mean that police response to domestic violence is going to be compromised? Will this mean that mens domestic violence intervention programs are no longer able to keep eyes on him and keep him motivated to change if groups are not up and running?
If hospitals are inundated with patients who have contracted COVID-19 and emergency wards are overloaded, will this mean that a woman who is a victim of domestic violence is unable to get the medical attention she needs and when she needs it?
Will womens domestic violence shelters be open and functioning and accessible? A womans pathways to safety may be roadblocked by enforced lockdown.
If churches, gyms, schools, kindergartens, etc are closed for business, are these other potential avenues of support for the woman that are now blocked for her?
If neighbours are in lockdown and social distancing is the expected behaviour, could that mean a woman who is a domestic violence victim is even more isolated and cut off from informal social and extended family supports?
We know that disasters can cause financial strains and this context can be where an already violent and abusive man can escalate his violence and abuse. How are our already stretched intervention systems going to be able to cope with this likelihood to keep women safe and perpetrators nonviolent?
There are many unknowns, unanswered questions and ongoing complexities in the current situation our society is trying to navigate, Dr Sullivan says.
What we do know is that when resources are low, and responses are slow then the safety of women and children is compromised and our ability to contain and constrain perpetrators is weakened. We need to be on guard and prepared for this contingency also.
If this article has raised concerns or you have experienced domestic or family violence, call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732 (24/7 counselling).
Posted: at 7:05 am
Rhett WilkinsonMarch 30, 2020Rey in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. (Disney/Lucasfilm)
-SPOILERS AHEAD FOR STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER-
Reys father being a failed clone (and nothing about her mother being Sheev Palpatines daughter and presumably not Force-sensitive) is revealed the novelization of The Rise of Skywalker. It preserves the emphasis in the saga that you can be a nobody but be Force-sensitive.
Kylo Ren tells Rey in the film version of The Rise of Skywalker that Palpatine is Reys grandfather. That seemingly explained why Rey was (very) Force-sensitive: she inherited it from the Dark Lord of the Sith.
But then the novelization of revealed what it did about Reys father, aside from Palpatine being a clone.
This continues an emphasis in Star Wars in the last few years of people not needing to be Force-sensitive by blood, where anyone could be Force-sensitive a democratization of the Force.
This emphasis was especially marked by Star Wars: The Last Jedi ending with a slave boy using the Force to grab a broom to continue his slave work.
It may even be a shift given that the previous focus in Star Wars has been on the Skywalker line, the stories of father and son Anakin and Luke Skywalker, with their Force powers.
Its true that Anakin was not powerful in the Force because of blood, but that was a whole other enchilada an Immaculate Conception, Star Wars style.
This new emphasis is good. Its important to teach children that anyone can be special and that your last name doesnt determine your abilities. Its important to teach children that you can make your life incredible regardless of your family line.
Further, the democratization of most things is good. Its important to decentralize power. In politics, its important to give power to the people to preserve freedom from government oppression. In business, its important so that employees are not exploited by their employers, like corporations. Regarding the Force, its to teach those lessons lessons of inclusivity and self-determination.
At nine years old, Rhett Wilkinson wrote stories about Han Solo & Princess Leia's son Ben Solo, so he's waiting for Disney to pay up! Rhett is the owner of Hero's Journey Content and author of "'Star Wars' Is Still Intact: Re-finding Yourself in the Age of Trump." His work has been seen in USA TODAY, ESPN & the Pew Forum. He also was a screenwriter for the theatrical production "Before Your Time" and is a survivor of abuse. Reach him on Twitter @rhettrites.
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Posted: at 7:05 am
What better way to ignore the world possibly crumbling around us then doing some research on different apocalypses
With so much of the news cycle devoted to the coronavirus, it can feel like were living through our very own apocalypse. Its a scary time to be alive, and the fact is, a lot of our lives have become incredibly uncertain and uprooted as a direct result of the virus, quarantining and socially distancing ourselves. Obviously, its all to protect the members of our society who need it most, but that doesnt stop the whole situation from being chaotic, and even a little frightening.
Something that helps for me (and it seems counterintuitive), is watching a movie about the apocalypse, whether its about nuclear war, an alien invasion or a zombie plague. Somehow, it puts things into perspective and reminds me that, no matter how bad things are right now, at least Im not John Cusack in 2012 (Never watch that movie sober). With that said, lets look at some of the hits.
MadMax series (1979-2015) directed by George Miller
The four films in the Mad Max franchise are some of the best movies about the leather-clad, biker gang end of the world ever made. In the future, nuclear war and oil shortages have created anarchic wastelands, where gangs of violent criminals control the desert, driving over-the-top cars and fighting for gas. Mel Gibson (before he went off the deep end) shines as Max Rockatansky, a former cop who drives a V8 hot rod around the desert, fighting for justice, eating dog food and generally being extremely Australian. Tom Hardy takes over the role for Mad Max: Fury Road, which besides being one of the best shot and directed movies of the 2010s, has a guy playing a flaming guitar on a truck made entirely of amps. Really, thats all I should need to say.
Available on Amazon Prime & Netflix.
Childrenof Men (2006) directed by Alfonso Cuaron
This is one of those rare films where, and Im not ashamed to say it, I cry every time. Its a grim portrayal of the near-future, where humanity has lost the ability to have children. Clive Owen plays a depressed government worker who has to escort a pregnant refugee girl to safety, through warring gangs and government oppression, to give birth to the first child in two decades. Children of Men is by turns immensely sad, crushingly prescient and surprisingly hopeful, with a depiction of totalitarian England that feels incredibly possible.
Available on Amazon Prime.
10Cloverfield Lane (2016) directed by Dan Trachtenberg
Weve all got that weird prepper uncle whos probably building a bomb shelter in his backyard right now. This is a movie about what happens when it comes time to use the shelter. John Goodman shines as a sociopathic conspiracy theorist, who brings two unsuspecting young adults into his survival bunker, after an unknown disaster strikes the US. As the movie continues, and the intensely claustrophobic atmosphere amps up to 11, Goodmans character slips closer and closer to the edge. No spoilers, but theres a scene with a vat of acid that made me physically slip into the fetal position. Watch this one if you dont plan on sleeping any time soon.
Available on Amazon Prime.
I Am Legend (2007) directed by Francis Lawrence
A classic of apocalypse sci-fi horror, this stars Will Smith as New Yorks only survivor of a plague that turned everyone else into bloodthirsty, sun-fearing zombies. AND HES GOT A DOG!!! Atmospherically, seeing Smith run around a completely empty New York, succumbing to the effects of loneliness and fear is unlike any other performance, and he really taps into the existential ennui of being the last guy around when everyone else is gone. The ending leaves something to be desired, but overall, this is a must-watch.
Available on Amazon Prime.
Dredd (2012) directed by Pete Travis
Take a break from leather biker gangs and psychopaths in bomb shelters and enjoy one of the coolest action movies ever made, starring Hollywoods scowliest actor: Karl Urban. Dredd is essentially a 90-minute shootout, and it kicks ridiculous amounts of ass. Future America is an irradiated wasteland, except for Mega-City One, a giant urban sprawl stretching over the entire East Coast. Crime runs rampant here, and the only lawmen are authoritarian Judges, like Urbans Dredd. When a drug dealer locks down an apartment building, the only thing thatll stop her is you guessed it a ridiculous amount of guns and ammo. Its like if the shootout scene from Heat was an entire movie, and I can find nothing wrong with it. I am the law!
Available on Amazon Prime.
28 Days Later (2002) directed by Danny Boyle
Im saving one of the best for last, because this zombie movie, directed by the mind behind Trainspotting is one of the best of the genre. Its lo-fi, its genuinely disturbing and its one of the most realistic depictions of post-apocalypse England out there. Cillian Murphy plays a coma patient who wakes up after a zombie plague has wiped out most of the population. He finds survivors, but thats nowhere near the end of the story, that features a power-mad army leader, an adopted family and of course, lots and lots of the undead. Plus, Godspeed You! Black Emperor contributed the soundtrack, which makes this an automatic classic, no matter which way you slice it.
Available on Amazon Prime and Hulu.
The Rover (2014) directed by David Michod
Twelve Monkeys (1995) directed by Terry Gilliam
The Road (2009) directed by John Hillcoat
Escape From New York (1981) directed by John Carpenter
The Book of Eli (2010) directed by the Hughes Brothers
Shaun of the Dead (2004) directed by Edgar Wright
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Posted: at 7:05 am
The post, Hello world! How is the Lockdown? Kashmir, appeared on different social media platforms right after various countries of the world started to announce lockdowns as a precautionary measure to combat the COVID-19 outbreak. It was a reminder from the oppressed valley of Kashmir, now enteringtheninth month of the lockdown, after Indias unilateral move of abrogating the special status of the occupied Kashmir on August 5, 2019. On October 30, India practically split the state of Kashmir in two union territories-Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh-takingthem under direct control of the central government in Delhi. The move waswidely criticised by different countries and even the United Nations, but India was deaf to all the hue and cry.It imposed a strict curfew with an information blackout in the occupied Kashmir.
The coronavirus has offered a chance to the world to realise that Kashmiris are not the children of a lesser god
The valley of Kashmir has a long history of witnessing restrictions, curfews and lockdowns,especially in the last three decades. India has used different draconian laws, like the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA), Public Safety Act (PSA), to suppress the voices of Kashmiris. Kashmiris have been resisting the Indian occupation for the last 72 years, and their resistance has transformed in many ways. The youth of the Kashmir has now become the new face of the resistance movement and is using social media platforms, along with other techniques, to unveil the real face of the Indian state to the world. India, afraid of that, has imposed restrictions on the oppressed territorythat is witnessing an information blackout with no access to internet, mobiles and even print media. 2G was partially resumed after six months, andthe valley is still compelled to use 2G.
The coronavirus has offered a chance to the world to realise that Kashmiris are not the children of a lesser god and that they also have the right to exercise their right to self-determination and other basic human rights. This is the time for the world to realise the suffering of 70 million people living in an open prison in the Indian-occupied Kashmir. International organisations, especially the UN, must play its part to end the miseries of the people living under the oppression of India.
Cries of the mothers of Kashmir might be better understood by mothers all over the world now when they are afraid for their children because of an invisible virus. Maybe it could be the point for the world to understand what it means to have mass graves in Kashmir. Maybe the world could comprehend what it means to have a complete shutdown, students not able to go to schools, and Ph.D. scholars like Raafi Butt,Mannan Waniand Sabzar Sofi losing their lives at the hands of Indias occupational forces. Maybe the world could realise the pain of half-widows, waiting for several years for their husbands to return home. Maybe the world could grasp the pain of the father who because of the inhumane curfew is unable to earn enough to feed his children
It is the time for the world to fight against the common threat to humanity:coronavirus. I am sure that the combined efforts of humanity would defeat this temporary pandemic, but I doubt if the world would realise its duty towards the permanent pandemic faced by humanity: injustice. It must be debated and realised by the so-called superpowers of the world that injustice anywhere is the threat to justice everywhere.If the world failsto comprehend its duty, it would have to face more severe pandemics than this virus as it is the law of the nature that injustice cannot prevail for a long time.
The campaign started by Kashmiris in the form of a short but a meaningful phrase should be taken seriously, and the government of India must be compelled to release the JRL and other political leaders jailed on false accusations, as their lives are at stake due to the pandemic. Countries throughout the world are granting bails to political and general prisoners during the pandemic.Secretary General of UN Antonio Guterres has called for a global ceasefire. India should listen and release political prisoners as the first gesture of international cooperation regarding Kashmir.
Humanity is facing the most severe global health crisis of its time. Only global cooperation can help us fight this pandemic. The guidelines by the World Health Organisation and self-curfew must be imposed to slowthe spread of this virus down and eventually defeating it.
The writer is an MPhil graduate in International Relations. Currently visiting lecturer at COMSATs, Islamabad
Posted: at 7:05 am
Donald Trump has been roundly criticized for calling the virus that causes Covid-19 a "Chinese virus" it has been said that using a term invented by Chinese state media the "Wuhan Virus" is also racist. He is trying to rebut the propaganda and lies of the Chinese government, the Chinese Communist Party which has said via official channels that they think it came from an American serviceman who visited Wuhan China. That it was developed by the US Army to use against China. That is a lie on the order of stating that the Great Leap Forward was a huge success and the Tiananmen Square protest never occurred. It must be rebutted with all available force. However, Asian Americans have suffered "racist" xenophobic and discriminatory attacks because of this. That said, a stern lesson from history shows why we cannot simply concede to the language chosen by the Chinese Communist Party in the name of not being called racist. To criticize this party is to stand up for over one billion Chinese people who cannot dare speak out. According to the Chinese communist party the Tiananmen square massacre never occurred. That is a lie,a huge lie.Compared to that lie a bit of propaganda about a virus is nothing.
Asian Americans, Casualties of a Propaganda Battle.
East Asians are a smaller group here in the US who have a complex relationship to racism. Suffering greatly yet also being thought of as an treated as a "model minority". Accepted in some context yet rejected in others. Thought of as smarter than the other students and so not needing as much help YET being no more able than any other students. As a result, they may struggle latter on in school unless they study hard on their own. This virus has reminded people that both sides of that status are rooted in the idea of Asians as "other" than white. No it is not quite the same as that which was done to Africans the world over. We were as Robin DiAngleo describes it treated as the ultimate racial other. (Chinese and Japanese people got the exclusion acts black people were property.) This makes it hard for some people to see this discrimination for how bad it is even if it does not rise to the level of something like chattel slavery or the holocaust. Yet it is a great evil and can lead to such thing if unchecked.Asian Americans have suffered hundreds of xenophobic attacks in the last few weeks as foolish people think that a virus originating in China means that all Asian people are responsible. Those people are the same kind who when told bleach will kill the virus might drink a cup of bleach.
It is a very real problem that fighting this propaganda battle with the CCP will cause as a casualty suffering for Asian Americans. The blame for that lies on the fools and bigots who firstly cannot see the difference between people from China VS Vietnam VS Japan VS Korea. The same ignorant people, and even many who think themselves enlightened cannot see that the Chinese Communist Party is not of by or for the Chinese people.
The story of the tank man. In 1989 students in Beijing China created a protest camp in Tiananmen square. It started out as mourning a communist party official who had died and evolved in time into a pro-democracy movement. The military was called in once and backed off. Then they came one night with tanks and live ammo and cleared Tiananmen square with deadly force. To this day if you try to discuss it on the internet or in public in the Peoples republic of China you may be disappeared.
The great leap forward was portrayed as a huge success by the CCP. This economic program of Maos lead to approximately 45-50 million deaths due to famine. He had the children of city people shipped to the country to work on collective farms called peoples communes. He had people who lived on the communes try to produce steel in back yard furnaces. Both agricultural production and steel production were lied about. The deaths due to starvation were lied about. Then the whole thing was covered up. Mao was out and free years latter to launch a cultural revolution which would devastate traditional Chinese culture.
Beware of Chinese Communist Party Propaganda Not Random Asian People You Meet.
The Chinese Communist Party whose propaganda has been unwittingly spread by western media and social media is the greatest oppressor of Asian people inside and outside of China in history. They have killed millions via their inability to punish the incompetence of party members including their paramount leaders. They have made criminal their negligence by refusing to acknowledge even that mistakes were made. In the covid-19 situation their same old pattern has repeated.
The largest country by population on Earth is China to hate China is to hate a large fraction of humanity. To love Chinese people is not to love the Chinese government. To equate China or Chinese people with all Asians is ignorant. To attack Asian people in America for a situation that is, at worst, due to the mismanagement of a government they never had anything to do with is criminally stupid.
The only thing worst is to mindlessly parrot the CCP propaganda and to prolong, even slightly, the brutal oppression of over 1.4 Billion people. Including the specific oppression of minorities in Tibet, Uighurs of Xinjiang in concentration camps, and the repression of Falun Gong practitioners. In all cases chiefly for having a cultural identity that is not in lock step with that of the Han Chinese dominated CCP. That is an evil that must be opposed right along with our own domestic racism.
We in the west can and must do both.
Do not believe anything the CCP says about this virus. Do protect the rights and lives of Asian Americans.
More reading on this.
"Coronavirus Is More Fodder for Chinese Propaganda" By Jonah Goldberg, National Review
"Life in China Has Not Returned to Normal, Despite What the Government Says" Charlie Campbell Time.
The Comprehensive Timeline of Chinas COVID-19 Lies By Jim Geragthy, National Review
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I was an AmeriCorps Member in West Virginia. The Benefits and Limitations of National Service. – TIME
Posted: at 7:05 am
In a cavernous ballroom at the Hilton Hotel Philadelphia in 2009 when I was twenty-one years old, I sat at a round table with the others whose name tags had also been stamped with the double green dots meaning we were headed for central AppalachiaWest Virginia, western Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina.
There were tuna wraps and miniature bags of chips, then slides projected on a wall-sized screen told us all the things we couldnt do now that we were Volunteers in Service to America (better known as VISTAs): work another job, advocate for any political cause or candidate, get drunk in public, etc. We encourage you to remember, said a skirt-suited woman, that even on your off hours, you are now a representative of the United States government.
I exchanged smirks with another outspoken nose-ringed white girl sitting next to me. From the summer I had already spent at the nonprofit for which I would be working in southeastern West Virginia, I knew that the economic realities of modern central Appalachia could not be easily fixed by anything I could offer. The problems there were largely the result of centuries of corporations often based elsewhere systematically extracting the regions wealth and natural resources. Yet I still believed in real altruism, in service, and that the work I was off to do would accomplish that lofty mission.
From todays vantage point, I can see why I believed thisthe Jewish moral seriousness of my childhood, the Quaker empathy of my small collegebut I no longer do. My time as a VISTA was many thingsawakening, grueling, joyful, dark, life alteringbut I do not believe anymore that it was service, meaning work done for others, or acts contributing to the public good. I was neither skilled enough nor mature enough nor knowledgeable enough about the context of the work to perform it with real efficacy. This is a problem greater than me and intrinsic to the structure of VISTA itself. VISTAs tend to be young, white, and unskilledthe only requirement to apply is that you be at least 18 years old and a citizen of the United States (or national or asylum seeker) without a criminal record.
On the morning of our last day at the Hilton Hotel, they gave us grey polo shirts with the insignia of an A with a star and two stripes on the sleeve, and they told us to raise our right hands and to swear. I will get things done for America, we said. Faced with apathy, I will take action. Faced with conflict, I will seek common ground. I will carry this commitment with me, this year and beyond. I am an AmeriCorps member, and I will get things done. I looked at the other pierced girl, to see how I should respond, but she was gone. I raised my hand and I swore.
We know VISTA as one of the many arms of AmeriCorps, the governmental organization which connects thousands of mostly young or underemployed Americans with meaningful work in exchange for job experience, a modest living stipend, health insurance and a lump sum to use towards future education or loan repayment, effectively indistinguishable from other similar AmeriCorps programs. But it did not begin this way. In 1964, Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty and signed into law the Economic Opportunity Act to eliminate the paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty in this Nation. Johnson located this paradox in three main placesmigrant worker communities, big-city slums, and the hill towns of Appalachiaand its solution in peoplevolunteers. By the 1970s, several thousand volunteers were working in poor communities all over America; President Clintons 1993 National Community Service Trust Act created AmeriCorps, an expanded umbrella organization for dozens of domestic service opportunities, and VISTA took shelter there.
It was my job as a VISTA in Pocahontas County to work at a nonprofit that offered local teenaged girls a different picture of themselves than the ones that were readily available in that place where just 8% of the population is between the ages of 18-24.
Half of Pocahontas County is Monongahela National Forest. Eight major rivers have their headwaters here, and more than one million tourists visit each year to camp and hike, fish and ski. Snowshoe Mountain ski resort is here, on land that was logged in the first half of the twentieth century, then left to burn. It is the birthplace of Nobel Prize winner Pearl S. Buck, and hosts Allegheny Echoes, a local annual Bluegrass and Old Time music institute to which people from all over America travel to study under local teachers. At its heyday in the mid 1970s, it was home to over two hundred Back to the Landers, and it hosted the 1980 and 2005 Rainbow Gatherings. This is not coal country. Instead, its main exports are timber and people.
Being a VISTA created a divide between the kind of life I lived and the kind of life everyone else in Pocahontas County lived. Where most people worked reasonable hours, working often just enough to get by, then spending their leisure time playing music, hiking, and relaxing with their families, I worked Sundays and nights. Though I didnt always feel connected to the term VISTA, I quickly learned that whether I felt like one or not, in Pocahontas County I was identified that way. In a community where peoples work was, by and large, unyoked from their identity, I was always, always Emma the VISTA.
VISTA is partly modeled after the Civilian Conservation Corps, the New Deal initiative that trained millions of unemployed Americans in such useful tasks as fighting fires, planting trees and building campgrounds. These days, most VISTAs are employed doing less tangible workrunning youth programs or senior centers or YMCA programs, offering education or services, assisting an existing cultural or environmental nonprofit in many of the aspects of their daily functioning, as I did.
I came to understand that I was linked to a history and legacy of the VISTA program that is illustrious, complicated, and fraught, particularly in Appalachia. VISTA is a program specifically designed to fight poverty; only organizations in places the government deems sufficiently poor receive VISTA workers. By the time I arrived, Pocahontas County and the neighboring counties had seen more than 250 people serve as VISTAs in their communities over the course of 40 years. To wear the AmeriCorps seal that says VISTA is like wearing a name tag that says, hello, Im here to fight your poverty.
If poverty alleviation is its goal, VISTA may not be very effective. According to the most recent USDA data, which defines a U.S. county as persistently poor if twenty percent or more of its population has lived in poverty for the past 30 years, 353 American counties currently fit the bill, 301 of those are rural, and 55 are in West Virginia, including all three of the counties served by the non-profit which employed me. Much has changed since Johnson declared war on poverty, but little is profoundly improved.
I think its important to note, says Samantha Jo Warfield of the National Corporation for Community Service which houses AmeriCorps that VISTAs mission, is to strengthen organizations that alleviate poverty. No one entity government or philanthropic can eliminate poverty alone. What national service brings to the table is people power and VISTAs unique scope in that space is to support organizations working to address the issues of poverty by providing human capital a VISTA.
Warfield also notes that in the five years the CNCS has published a list of their top AmeriCorps-member producing states, West Virginia has never dropped below the top five, meaning more West Virginians are signing up to become AmeriCorps members than in other states. I suspect many of them are choosing to serve in their home state.
There is also the matter of the fact that VISTA pays its members a wage that is calculated, on purpose, to put them at the poverty line, which is both ideologically and pragmatically misguided. Ignoring the fact that some who sign up for VISTA may have access to family wealth or may already be poor, this presumes that manufacturing circumstances of poverty supposedly parallel to that experienced by the people VISTAs are supposed to serve will make the quality of their service better. I was paid about $800 per month in 2009, though I was lucky because my rent in Pocahontas County was $150 per month and the local DHHS office was so used to the ebb and flow of service volunteers arriving and leaving that getting on food stamps was as easy as showing up and saying the word VISTA. But friends of mine who served as VISTAs in Philadelphia or Atlanta or New York City during the same time were paid only minimally more and either denied access to food stamps by the bureaucracy of a big city or shamed by those involved in VISTA for wanting to access a program designed for the truly poor. The CNCS states that today however, it would pay a VISTA in West Virginia their lowest pay tier of $12,490 and a VISTA in Manhattan approximately $20,600 (75% of VISTA members earn less than $14,000 per year).
I am not the first to question the efficacy and workings of VISTA. Even before there were VISTAs, there were Appalachian Volunteers (AVs), a similar volunteer corps that came together organically when students from Berea College in Berea, Kentucky volunteered to go repair a one room school in Harlan County, Kentucky. Soon college students and young people from around the northeast had gotten word of the opportunities to work against poverty in Appalachia and began showing up.
Sometimes I wonder about the real value of [AV/VISTA] in places like Fonde [Kentucky], wrote one corps member there in 1966. Were supplying candles when the house needs to be wired for electricity.
Some AV/VISTAs and other mountain activists including Harry Caudill, author of Night Comes to the Cumberlands, felt it was the duty of any true anti-poverty volunteer corps to inform people living in Appalachian communities that their struggles were larger than they could see, the result of exploitation and absentee ownership, and to, as Caudill put it, set in motion a revolutionary change of thought. But many were also constantly wary of the charge of being labeled outside agitators (as has already happened in several counties in Kentucky and West Virginia) which weighed heavily on their minds. One AV/VISTA staff coordinator called the position an obvious paradox of trying to end poverty without disturbing the present situation.
There are so many problems were not the solution to, wrote the same doubting VISTA in 1966. We by-passed the big problems . . . and threw a lot of time, money and effort into little things that dont amount to no more than memories of good times spent together.
I do have a lot of memories of good times spent together in Pocahontas County and that may be the point. Serving as a VISTA in Pocahontas County rewired my brain and remapped the path of my life. I was radicalized there, pushed from my modest intellectual ambitions into the intense contradictions of living under late stage capitalism in a place America prefers to forget exists. It was in Pocahontas County as a VISTA member that I began to see how one form of oppression connects to another, the ways that poor white people and poor black people are pitted against each other in an environment of unnecessary scarcity, the way the same thing happens between poor women and poor men, poor straight people and poor queer people, and the ways that it is in the best interests of those in power to try to keep us all on alcohol or pills, sick or depressed, so we stay numb to these truths.
Hamlet of Beard, WV, in 2016.
Courtesy of Emma Copley Eisenberg.
We are told this is true: service only works if we all look alike when we do it, if we are bound by certain rules. If we are selfless; that is, if we have no self. But what if it could be the opposite?
Its a tricky thing, this word, service. It covers all manner of sins. It is a slippery, adult thing to live and work and play in a community of people who you care about both in idea and in practice, to be an authentically good member of community that is not your own, to fall down as a person and grow yourself up in front of people at the same time as it is your actual job to help those people get stronger.
In the real story of service, there is no telling who gave what to whom or why or if it was proper or right to give it. In the real story of service, sometimes what you can give is nothing and what you can get is your life. Sometimes the needy onein fact, not platitudeis you.
I served best, I think, when I served truest, when I drank and played Bluegrass music with a group of twenty-something local men who worked construction which lead to some poor choices on my part but a lot of conversations about work and god and queerness and violence and the past and when I drove teenaged girls around and around those switchbacks blasting Rihanna and getting a flat tire we all had to figure out how to fix.
But was it for them or was it for me? It may be that national service programs like VISTA are not effectively for the communities they purport to help, but rather that they are for those who serve: to employ us, to radicalize us, to wake us up. We had basketball games in the elementary school gym in Nellis, wrote John D. Rockefeller IV, who after being raised in New York City served as a VISTA in Emmons, West Virginia in his twenties. I was on the team because I was still young enough then to play. We had baseball games. We never won a single game in two yearsIt was exhilarating. I was rebornlike I had finally found my soul.
This may be alright, necessary even, as an investment America is making in educating and equipping young people and educating us in the meaning of service. But a single VISTA costs the government about $22,000; at around eight thousand active annual VISTA members, thats about $176 million per year, money that could be spent on changing systemic policies that affect the rural poor or creating opportunities for those central Appalachians impacted and then discarded by the coal, timber, and fracking industries.
But then, always, what if its bothwhat if it was for me and it was for others. According to the CNCS, in 2017, VISTA members generated $158 million in cash donations and an additional $49 million in in-kind services for their organizations.
What if we could have a government program that acknowledged that it is both ways, a program that made possible sufficient funding for national service opportunities and for poverty alleviation initiatives with proven results? Thats a corps Id like to serve in.
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Posted: at 7:05 am
Sixty years ago on 3 February 1960, three months before the Sharpeville massacre, the UK Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, after spending a month travelling through Africa, delivered the famous Winds of Change speech in Cape Town. Back then, we were still the Union of South Africa and not a republic as yet.
Macmillan said that it was quite significant that he was visiting the Union in its 50th year, its golden anniversary the Union having been formed in 1910. He remarked that: In the 50 years of their nationhood, the people of South Africa have built a strong economy founded upon a healthy agriculture and thriving, and resilient industries. During my visit, I have been able to see something of your mining industry, on which the prosperity of the country is so firmly based. I have seen your Iron and Steel Corporation and the skyscrapers of Johannesburg, standing where 70 years ago there was nothing but the open veld. I have seen, too, the fine cities of Pretoria and Bloemfontein.
Nowhere does he mention seeing the poverty-stricken locations in which the great majority lived. Nowhere does he mention that the progress he noted was gained through the severe oppression of a majority by a minority. He does, however, hint that Britain does not approve of apartheid South Africas policies.
However, at the core of Macmillans speech is his observation of a greater phenomenon occurring throughout Africa. He states that we have seen the awakening of national consciousness in peoples who have for centuries lived in dependence upon some other Power the most striking of all the impressions I have formed since I left London a month ago is of the strength of this African national consciousness. In different places it takes different forms, but it is happening everywhere. The wind of change is blowing through this continent and, whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact.
More poignantly, Macmillan states: What is now on trial is much more than our military strength or our diplomatic and administrative skill. It is our way of life. In recognition of the differences Macmillan perceives between South Africa and the UK , with many in the UK calling for a boycott of South Africa, he concludes his speech by saying: I hope indeed, I am confident that in another 50 years we shall look back on the differences that exist between us now as matters of historical interest, for as time passes and one generation yields to another, human problems change and fade. Let us remember these truths.
However, more than three decades after Macmillans speech showed that one generation did not yield to another, if yielding means giving way to demands and pressure. The apartheid government did not yield in the aftermath of the Sharpeville massacre. Instead, it doubled down by banning liberation political parties and banishing its leaders. It did not yield after children as young as 12 years old, inspired by the independence of Mozambique in 1975, in the next year demanded equal education and the end to apartheid instead, they again responded to peaceful protest with bullets. Hundreds died.
They tightened the screws of apartheid until the very end; even after the release of Nelson Mandela, many in their ranks were found to be sowing seeds of civil war among the people.
The apartheid government did not yield to change as Macmillan had invited them to do. They had instead been overwhelmed by the undeniable force of the great majority of the people of South Africa and their supporters from all over the world who formed the anti-apartheid movement. Despite the apartheid governments efforts to hold on to power, the winds of change overturned the wagons of the racist laager and on 10 December 1996, a new country with a new Constitution defined by the values of human dignity, equality and freedom, was signed into life at Sharpeville.
1960 was a decisive turning point in South African history. Shortly after the Winds of Change speech came the Sharpeville massacre which led to the launching of the armed struggle against apartheid. It would take another 36 years, with countless deaths and years in prison, and in exile, before South Africa rid itself of apartheid. And the battle to end the practices and thought patterns of apartheid, and to make the Constitution live for all our people, still continues.
Today, our country and the world finds itself at yet another decisive turning point. The winds of change are blowing from Cape to Copenhagen. We are all facing another wind of unmitigated destruction that gives us the opportunity to bring about abundant change for the better.
A pervasive virus infiltrates all our lives across racial, gender, sexual orientation and class lines. From peasants to kings. Its a problem that poses such a threat to the world that we finally understand how interconnected we are. What happens in a home in Sandton affects what happens in a shack in Alex. What happens in China affects the income of a taxi driver in South Africa who will have fewer customers because of the lockdown that has been imposed in an effort to contain Covid-19.
What is on trial is our way of life. The inequality in the world is on trial. Covid-19 has fundamentally shifted the world during its brief presence in our lives. Author Kenan Malik writes for The Guardian that: the severity of our current crisis is indicated by the extreme uncertainty as to how or when it will end It is now inevitable that we will enter a deep global recession, a breakdown of labour markets and the evaporation of consumer spending. Small businesses are shedding employees at a frightening speed.
We are spending our days tracking infection and death rates rising at a concerning speed. But it is worth remembering that in this darkness we can find regeneration as we have before. South Africa will not be spared the hardships that will follow in the aftermath of this virus, but what we have been seemingly spared is an unreliable, fickle and corrupt president.
For the first time in a long time, we are fighting the issue and not fighting our president a battle we have unfortunately grown only too accustomed to. It is refreshing to have decisive, thorough and vigorous leadership. In a crisis, a country needs a Czar, a person that will be the source of reliable information and which the other branches of government can support and not fight.
The unity in government is a welcome break from the in-fighting that was becoming the status-quo and I hope it holds for the sake of the people because in the end, we all want a country.
Covid-19 is testing our democracy and our way of life. It is testing our unequal society. At this moment, our country is haemorrhaging and to stop the bleeding we need to act collectively otherwise we will not have a country. At this moment, some of us who are better off in this moment bear more responsibility to help those who are most vulnerable. The realisation of an equal society costs. It costs courage and sacrifice. It costs unwavering commitment and conviction much like it did in 1960. If it was not hard, there would be no need for heroes.
The turbulent winds of change are indeed blowing throughout the world. Our global consciousness is awakening. If we do not use this moment as a springboard or a bridge to elevate to a better place, then our democracy will ossify.
It would be the ultimate tragedy if humanity does not once again prevail, if we do not change for the better after all that has been revealed to us and if we do not sustain our sense of unity beyond this crisis. Our country has myriad problems that need our urgent attention, but first, lets deal with this immediate threat so that we can live to fight another day. DM
Lwando Xaso is an attorney and a writer exploring the interaction between race, gender, history and popular culture.@including_society
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