28 May 2015

A drug war made in Mexico?

Al Jazeera English

In February 2013, the New York Times' Thomas Friedman made a curious prediction: that Mexico would beat out India and China as "the more dominant economic power in the 21st century".

Descending briefly upon the city of Monterrey, "Mexico's industrial/innovation centre", Friedman determined that, despite prevailing problems involving "drug cartels, crime syndicates, government corruption and weak rule of law", something remarkable had happened: "It's as if Mexicans subconsciously decided that their drug-related violence is a condition to be lived with and combated but not something to define them any longer."

According to Friedman's unique access to the Mexican psyche, the new national self-identity involved free trade agreements (Mexico had signed "more than any country in the world"!) and attendant phenomena such as dismally low wages (phrased more euphemistically, of course).
Never mind that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which came into effect in 1994, has played a crucial role in fuelling not one but all of the problems listed by Friedman - which would seem to hint that his fit of neoliberal ecstasy was perhaps a tad out of place.
'Free trade'
In a new book called A Narco History: How the United States and Mexico Jointly Created the "Mexican Drug War", Mexican novelist Carmen Boullosa and Pulitzer-Prize winning historian Mike Wallace document NAFTA's passage as an essential godsend for the drug trade, the lucrativeness of which has greatly exacerbated official corruption. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

22 May 2015

Turning a south Lebanese village into Israel's next target

Middle East Eye

As we approach 25 May - the 15th anniversary of Israel’s forced withdrawal from Lebanon following a nasty 22-year occupation - it seems the Israelis are itching for another showdown.
This, at least, is the hunch one gets after perusing Isabel Kershner’s recent New York Times dispatch, datelined Tel Aviv: “Israel Says Hezbollah Positions Put Lebanese at Risk.”
An example of militarised journalism par excellence, it reads a bit like a press release for the Israel Defense Forces, in which Israeli army officials and experts sound off on Hezbollah’s alleged activities in south Lebanon.
Kershner makes a half-hearted attempt to glaze her report with a veneer of impartiality by continually casting the allegations as what “Israel says”  (e.g. “Israel says the situation is similar in the Gaza Strip, where, it says, Hamas is using the same tactic of hiding its forces among civilians”).
But the fact of the matter is that Israel is given so much space in which to say things that one begins to wonder why the Times doesn’t give up trying to make a buck off of subscriptions and instead start invoicing the IDF for PR services. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.


15 May 2015

The New York Times Goes to War, Again

Jacobin

Say you’re a prominent US newspaper with a bureau in Beirut. You decide to run an article based on Israeli army claims that Hezbollah is wantonly militarizing villages in south Lebanon — to the extent that a single village of 4,000 people is said to contain “about 400 military sites and facilities.”
Do you: (a) Take their word for it, and allow Israeli officials to jabber on for eleven paragraphs before tacking on the disclaimer that “the Israeli claims could not be independently verified,” or (b) Send someone to take a look at one or two of the villages in question? (Or at least give Google Earth a whirl.)
If you’re today’s New York Times, the first option is the preferred one.
On May 12, the newspaper’s website ran the following article by Isabel Kershner in Tel Aviv: “Israel Says Hezbollah Positions Put Lebanese at Risk.” Specified at the end of the piece is that “Anne Barnard contributed reporting from Beirut, Lebanon.” Not specified is why Barnard or some lesser colleague couldn’t make the two-hour drive from Beirut to southern Lebanon to assess whether civilian areas are in fact suddenly teeming with military sites.
Of course, even if the Times had undertaken this simple reconnaissance mission, they would still presumably need the Israel Defense Forces to explain to them what they were seeing. READ MORE AT JACOBIN.

14 May 2015

Lebanon's landscape of Palestinian oppression

Middle East Eye


One evening shortly after the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war in 1975, my good friend’s mother - a Palestinian from Gaza then studying at the American University of Beirut (AUB) - was walking with a companion on Beirut’s seaside promenade.
The pair was spotted by a group of fellow students, who, given the tenseness of the situation, encouraged them to jump the fence separating the promenade from a parcel of AUB-owned land abutting the sea. There, in what was perceived to be relative safety, they struck up a conversation.
It was soon revealed that the students were adherents to the right-wing Phalange party, founded by Pierre Gemayel following an inspirational trip to the 1936 Berlin Olympics, during which he was wowed by Nazi discipline. Unaware of my friend’s mother’s provenance, the group began expressing its thoughts on Palestinians.
The consensus was that the Palestinians had brought nothing but trouble to Lebanon, and that the Israelis should have simply killed them all.
Seven years later, Phalangist militiamen would do their part to assist the Israelis in such genocidal fantasies. Over a period of three days in September of 1982, up to several thousand refugees were massacred in the Beirut refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. READ  MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

Public space is disappearing in Beirut

Al Jazeera America

The city of Beirut is not going to win any awards for public space anytime soon. A densely populated metropolis dominated by vehicles and exhaust, it boasts only a smattering of euphemistically designated parks and gardens.
The William Hawi garden in the Geitawi neighborhood, for instance, is not much bigger than the fountain it contains. Also, it’s named after a right-wing Christian militia leader from the Lebanese civil war, marking it as more of a sectarian space than a public one.
Horsh Beirut, a pine forest amid Beirut’s concrete jungle, is closed to the public — although Europeans and other trusted foreigners are allowed in, as are Lebanese with the proper political or social connections. According to the self-colonizing logic underpinning the park rules, local hordes would sully the place and create unsustainable maintenance costs.
Meanwhile, not even the streets of the capital are consistently open to the public. Out for a walk the other day, I was stopped by police from accessing a city road that had apparently been appropriated as the personal fief of National Assembly Speaker Nabih Berri, one of the permanent fixtures of Lebanese politics. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA AMERICA

12 May 2015

Honduras' latest coup

Al Jazeera English

Last month, the Honduran Supreme Court ruled that Article 239 of the national constitution was no longer applicable.
The article prohibited the re-election of presidents, who were limited to a single four-year term, and furthermore stipulated that any president "directly or indirectly" supporting a modification of said article would be immediately removed from his post and banned from public office for 10 years.
Regarding 239's demise, you might therefore say: Big deal. It's a ridiculous prohibition anyway.
But it happens to be the very same article that was invoked to justify the overthrow of President Manuel Zelaya in 2009, who was accused of endeavouring to rewrite the constitution to retain his hold on power.

At the time, you would have thought Article 239 was the universe's most sacred item. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH. 


10 May 2015

Analysis: The many truths about the Syrian conflict

Al Jazeera English

Al Jazeera Roundtable: Analysts discuss propaganda employed by the Syrian regime and opponents, as the war for international support rages on.

Each side in the Syrian conflict portrays the struggle as black and white, which inevitably leaves no room for human reality.

The Syrian uprising didn't start out as a terror operation, and there are plenty of non-terroristic reasons to oppose Bashar al-Assad, but the armed opposition is now dominated by self-proclaimed jihadists - a fact that won't disappear no matter how many billions of times the West swears by "moderate" rebels.

Of course, the black-and-white approach is nothing new in propaganda wars. Take other contemporary nemeses of our self-appointed civilisation, like the Soviet Union and Saddam Hussein, cast as unmitigated evils in Western discourse.

The reductionism makes sense: If you're seeking to rally the public to a cause, better not to make it too complex. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

06 May 2015

Lebanon’s long march toward migrant worker rights

Middle East Eye

On Sunday, 3 May, a Workers’ Day parade and festival were held here in Beirut. The events were led by the newly inaugurated Domestic Workers’ Union that seeks, among other things, to represent the interests of more than a quarter of a million female migrant domestic workers in Lebanon. The union’s formation earlier this year wasrejected by the Lebanese Labour Ministry.
The ostensible reason for holding the celebration on a Sunday rather than on 1 May, International Workers’ Day, was to maximise the number of participants. The problem, however, is that many household employees in Lebanon don’t get a single day off - hence the utility of a union dedicated to fighting for this and other rights.
The Lebanese government has declined to ratify the International Labour Organisation’s Domestic Workers Convention, which specifies some basic elements of “decent work” for domestic workers. These include not only the right to collective bargaining and 24 consecutive hours of weekly rest, but also protections from other common phenomena in Lebanon, such as the confiscation of passports by employers. Article 15 of the convention states that workers “recruited or placed by private employment agencies” should be protected “against abusive practises”.
Luckily for abusers, the ILO’s recommendations appear to be anathema to the state, with the Labour Ministry lambasting the domestic workers’ union as “illegal”. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

04 May 2015

Israel’s “Selective Compassion”

Jacobin

Metaphorical aftershocks from the earthquake that recently devastated Nepal, killing thousands, continue to be felt in the state of Israel — nearly 5,000 kilometers away.
How come?
For starters, Nepal is a common destination for Israeli tourists, including ones who have just completed their military service; apparently, the country’s natural landscape and cheap prices make it an ideal spot to unwind after prolonged engagement in Palestinian oppression.
According to the Times of Israel, the country far outshone others in terms of rescuing stranded citizens. In a matter of four days, nearly all of the approximately two thousand Israelis affected by the quake had been rescued, with just one Israeli unaccounted for. (France, it was noted, had still failed to account for about half of its citizens in Nepal.)
The Times describes the rescue operation:
Four planes were sent to airlift Israelis out, along with helicopters and jeeps rented for the effort, while a combination of IDF, insurance company-sponsored rescue teams and various volunteer groups helped reach nearly all the Israelis stranded in remote parts of the mountainous country.
Run-of-the-mill Israeli tourists were not the only ones on the receiving end of relief efforts. Quickly stealing the spotlight were babies born to surrogate mothers in Nepal on behalf of same-sex Israeli couples. READ MORE AT JACOBIN.

01 May 2015

Baltimore: On the domestic frontlines

Al Jazeera English

On April 19, 25-year-old Baltimore resident Freddie Gray became the latest casualty of police violence in the United States.
Exactly one week earlier, he was apprehended for fleeing unprovoked from cops in a "high-crime area". A stint in the back of a police van left him with afatal spinal injury, although the precise details of the affair have thus far been shrouded in secrecy.
According to the Gray family lawyer, the young man was detained for "running while black, and that's not a crime".
But as I recently noted in a blog post for The London Review of Books, a handy US Supreme Court ruling has made it possible to conduct arrests without probable cause in "high-crime areas".

One of the many problems with the arrangement is that the court has not managed to define what, precisely, these areas are - and the ambiguousness offers an excellent alibi for police crimes. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.