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Tuesday, 30 April 2013

The Guardian's 'Avatar' view of Aboriginal people

Simplistic and out of touch could be one recent impression of The Guardian's publishing on Aboriginal people.

Take two current examples from the left presenting angry white, male and Western enviromentalist/socialist perspectives.

On the face of it, if you know nothing of the subject matter, Martin Lukacs 'View from the North' on land rights and mining/drilling in Canada is an odd bit of writing.

He describes a meeting with a Master of The Universe (MOTU) on Wall Street, accompanied by (natch) rape apologist Naomi Klein Wolf. The meeting's aim being to push indigenous land rights as having legal force and hence that they should be counted in consideration of a countries credit rating.

The MOTU, shock, agrees. Legally they may be right but "you and whose army" are going to enforce them.

Lukacs' subsequent argument (it's not really reporting) seems to be predicated on the idea that the battle over land rights in Canada will result in the end of mining/drilling. Literally, he seems to be arguing, Canada's First Nations (as they are known) will 'SAVE THE EARTH' from climate change because, y'know, Aboriginal people, like the inhabitants of Pandora, don't want 'land rape' ...

Not all 'Earth Warriors'

The other day I was watching 'Mabo', the ABC drama about the Murray Islander whose long legal battle ended the concept of 'Terra Nullius' -- empty land -- which meant that he had no legal claim to ancestral land.

Eddie Mabo had all sorts of issues to deal with and one of them was his own people. In one of the first scenes in the drama the elders police his behavior on behalf of the white 'protector'. Later fellows drop out of his legal claim and he is left alone.

The Aboriginal experience in Australia is not one experience and is not solely one of oppression by whites, the communities have their own internal problems, often ones experienced by lots of other communities and which come down to being human. Writers like Lukacs ignore all this grey.

Lukacs' hope for humanity's salvation via Aboriginal land rights is predicated on Aboriginal people not wanting any of that nasty mining/drilling. Now I don't follow First Nations' issues closely but a quick Google brings up negotiated settlements between nations and mining companies, here's one signed a few days ago by a community on Vancouver Island:
Elliott called the potential deal "huge" for his people."

"It's going to create jobs," he said.

Details on exactly how revenue would be shared between the company and the First nation have not been worked out yet, Elliot noted.

"I think any percentage is going to be significant," he said.

"We're going to have a big hand in how the whole project works."

Elliott pointed to an agreement his council signed with Fortis B.C. worth $6 million. The First Nation also has stakes in forestry, aquaculture, petroleum and commercial construction.

"This (new) partnership is going to be 10 times, 20 times larger in the sense of creating opportunities for our members," he said.
Now Canada may be having issues with such deals but clearly they exist and they sound, in terms of what Aboriginal leaders say, just like Aboriginal leaders elsewhere, just like those in Australia. They demand to be part of economic development.

Green/left Kryptonite

An Australia elder, Professor Marcia Langton, has caused consternation on the Green Left through her arguing that mining has been a massive economic plus for Aboriginal people:
When W.E.H. Stanner delivered the Boyer Lectures in 1968, After the Dreaming: Black and White Australians - An Anthropologist's View, he gave credence, perhaps inadvertently, to the widely held assumption at that time that Aboriginal life was incompatible with modern economic life. Today, the expectation is quite the reverse.

The policies of federal governments for the past decade have made explicit the expectation that educational achievement and employability will be the key outcomes of spending in indigenous affairs portfolios. This is a view shared by most ordinary Australians.

But on the left, and among those opinion leaders who hang on to the idea of the new ''noble savage'', Aboriginal poverty is invisible, masked by their ''wilderness'' ideology. Their unspoken expectation is that no Aboriginal group should become engaged in any economic development.
In her Boyer lecture Langton goes further, asking whether legendary environmental campaigner Tim Flannery had written something he intended to be "provocative and racist". Langton has caused mass outrage of course as environmentalists and the left struggles to deal with her arguments (or resorts to claims that she must be in the pay of the mining companies). I've embedded Langton speaking at last year's Indigenous Business Enterprise and Corporations Conference after the jump.

It is of a pattern. Another Aboriginal elder, Noel Pearson, has faced similar exasperation from the left as he has worked on alternatives to welfare dependency.

So how does the Guardian, which is trying to expand its reach to Australia, deal with this issue of mining and Aboriginal people? It publishes an 'woe-is-us' essay by John Pilger which is entirely about mining and Aboriginal people and which ignores Langton, even though the area he focuses in on -- the Pilbara in Western Australia -- is her focus too.

Pilger silences the major Aboriginal voice contradicting him and ignores the huge debate in his supposed country that her Aboriginal elder's voice has caused. What would you call that if it was not Pilger, the great white exposer of Australia's historic sins, who was doing it? Dare I say racist?

Writes Russell Skelton in The Age:
The attacks on Langton could be filed away as nothing more than a monumental storm in a tiny teacup. But I believe there is something far more profound going on - given the level of vitriol, she has touched some exposed nerves.

What Langton is saying sits uncomfortably with the way the Aboriginal industry - activists, NGOs, Amnesty and anti-intervention groups - have stereotyped Aboriginal Australians as a powerless, downtrodden, oppressed minority living in a world of disadvantage fuelled by government neglect.

It's a view that has its roots in our shocking colonial history and in the landmark battles fought in the 1970s when Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser led the charge on land rights, native title, equal pay, access to welfare and unemployment benefits against a coalition of belligerent miners, ruthless pastoralists and recalcitrant state and territory governments. An essential part of Langton's thesis is that times have changed, old ways of seeing are no longer useful.
Skelton says something which is like Green Left Kryptonite:
[The mining corporation] Rio Tinto has a far superior track record when it comes to creating skills and jobs than any government or NGO.
Australia 'Closing the Gap'

What Pilger fails to tell the Guardian's left/liberal British audience is that there has been an incredible development in Australia over the past decade. As I reported when comparing it to Australia's sickening treatment of asylum seekers arriving by boat, there is now near universal and definitely bipartisan commitment to both Aboriginal development and facing up to history.

Pilger is flat out wrong when he claims that Australia is still trying to bury the past.

All political parties are committed to changing the constitution. Australian TV, as I have also reported, now features Aboriginal stories written, produced and directed by Aboriginal people in prime time and getting hit ratings and awards.

When Kevin Rudd apologised to the Stolen Generations in 2007 he also launched the bipartisan 'Closing The Gap' strategy of systematically meeting targets in education, housing and health. Five years on and one has been met, by the end of 2013 all Indigenous four-year-olds in remote communities will have access to early childhood education.

Australians are well aware of the problems -- the 'gap' -- which Pilger writes exclusively about. He is not telling any of them, that's any Australians, urban/rural, right or left wing, anything they are not both knowledgeable about or concerned about.

Pilger comes with no solutions, none. That is something Australians are sick of and if The Guardian is going to get any traction in Australia it had better start publishing some thinkers coming with solutions, ideas to end the horrors Pilger describes, and not just old white lefties that Brits still think are relevant whilst Australia has moved on.

Edited to add: Just noticed that for the Guardian's audio edition which features the Pilger article that they've picked a traditional, apparently stock, touristy image (pictured right) to illustrate rather than looked a bit harder for one of your average Aboriginal person.

Edited to add: I missed this excellent video report (not embeddable) via The Age about the Aboriginal run multimillion dollar businesses proving themselves in the Pilbara. It interviews some of the owners and I'm left wondering if a photo of one of them could best illustrate a 'typical Aboriginal person' rather than a stock traditional one, eh Guardian? Also wondering if any of these businesses will make it into Pilger's film, supposedly about their area, for ITV?

Listen to Marcia Langton at the 2012 Indigenous Business Enterprise and Corporations Conference after the jump:

Postscript: America's shame in one photo

After suggesting that the world shun America over guns and their lack of control I see that The Daily Show has a better idea: Mockery.

They sent John Oliver Down Under to investigate Australia's 1990s conservative-led tightening of gun control laws. Americans are even aware of Australia's example probably because former Prime Minister John Howard published a New York Times Op-Ed post-Sandy Hook, titled 'I Went After Guns. Obama Can, Too'.

Oliver speaks with him, drops the "Whoopty-f—ing do" bomb on him even (word is Howard approved), as well as opponents from then who have changed their mind now and an obligatory deranged American. Oh, and there's a man in a kangaroo suit. Oh, and ...
(Song plays throughout: Land Down Under – Men At Work)

JOHN OLIVER: Mr Prime Minister, let's begin in the formal Australian way. G'day.


JOHN OLIVER: Obviously gun control doesn't work, it can't work, it will never work. So how was your scheme a failure?

JOHN HOWARD: Well my scheme was not a failure. We had a massacre at a place called Port Arthur 17 years ago and there have been none since.

JOHN OLIVER (Voiceover): Zero gun massacres? Hold on... did gun control actually work?

PHIILIP VAN CLEAVE, AMERICAN GUN LOBBYIST: It stopped one thing, that could also be a statistical anomaly.

JOHN OLIVER: Yeah. It was just their mass shootings disappeared.

PHIILIP VAN CLEAVE: But there were so few of them. Woopty-doo.

JOHN OLIVER: Woopty-doo?


JOHN OLIVER: Woopty-doo?

PHIILIP VAN CLEAVE: Yes. Mass shootings were rare anyhow.

JOHN OLIVER (Voiceover): Exactly.

JOHN HOWARD: There were about 13 in the previous 18 years.

JOHN OLIVER (Voiceover): But perhaps there were other non-woopty-doo side effects.

JOHN HOWARD: The homicide rate involving the use of guns has declined significantly by factors of up to 50 and 60 per cent.

JOHN OLIVER: Woopty-f*****g-doo.
Pleased to see Comedy Central has loosened the strings on geoblocks and, even better, Youtube clip uploads so enjoy, in three parts, after the jump:

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Music · Earth, Wind + Fire · Shining Star

Shining Star (Earth, Wind & Fire song)
A moment last week caused me to send this to a friend, as an uplift.
You're a shining star
No matter who you are
Shining bright to see
What you could truly be
This is the live version from the 'Gratitude' album, which was one of the first LPs I ever brought, played to death and still love today.

'Shining Star' was one of Earth, Wind and Fire's biggest hits, though not in the UK, where their fame came a bit later. You may recognise it from samples though, or even from 'Seinfeld'!

Listen, after the jump plus bonus 'Africano' also from 'Gratitude'.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Postscript: Boston and the media fail on asylum seekers

Dead ChechensCitation needed in a mass grave.
Dead Chechens in a mass grave. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the beginning of the week I wrote about how the media was failing in associating asylum seekers, which the Boston bombers' family were, and immigration, which works in a completely different way. This is especially relevant distinction for the media to make because the terrorist attack has been associated with the proposed reform of the American immigration system by those opposed to any reform.

Checking my email I noticed several recent bits of information which underline just how different asylum is to immigration as well as one reason why Chechens would be granted asylum.

Via Ecre:
Chechen refugee threatened with assassination in the UK

British Intelligence Agency MI5 and the UK Home Secretary, Theresa May, are involved in a legal battle to deport a Russian suspect, known as E1, who is allegedly involved in a conspiracy to murder Akhmed Zakayev, the exiled Prime Minister of the unrecognized secessionist government of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.

Zakayev is a British-based Chechen separatist who came to the UK in 2002 and received asylum a year later. MI5 issued a warning to the judges stating thatRamzan Kadyrov, the Chechen president, “who had been responsible for the assassination of a number of his opponents, has a blacklist of individuals, some of whom he wished to have assassinated, and […] Akhmed Zakayev, a refugee living in the UK, was believed to be on this list." Kadyrov’s spokesperson denied any allegations.

E1 has been based in the UK since 2003 and was granted indefinite leave to remain. His wife and six children were granted asylum and are now British citizens. The UK Home Secretary wants to deport E1 and labeled him as a “danger to national security”, but despite the public nature of the case and the MI5 warnings, his appeal to remain in the UK was eventually granted.

This case illustrates thefear and insecurity felt by many Chechen refugees living in Europe. A large number of refugees from Chechnya have serious concerns for their personal safety and refer to operations of supporters of Kadyrov, the so-called “Kadyrovtsy”, in Europe. A number of Kadyrov’s political opponents have been killed in Dubai, Istanbul, Moscow, London and Vienna. Moreover, according to the UK Home Office the suspect, E1, is known to have “played a significant role” in the murder of Umar Israilov, who escaped to Poland in 2004 and received asylum in Austria in 2007. Israilov filed an application with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in 2006 and was a key witness of the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) complaint against Kadyrov. In 2008, Israilov noticed that he was being watched and requested protection, which was refused. In 2009 Israilov was shot dead in broad daylight in Vienna.
Via John O:
Removal of Chechen from Austria to Russia would Violate Article 3

In today's Chamber judgment in the case of I.K. v. Austria (application no. 2964/12), which is not final, the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously: that there would be a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of torture and of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights if Mr K. was removed to Russia.

The case concerned the complaint by a Russian national of Chechen origin that his removal from Austria to Russia would expose him to the risk of ill-treatment, as his family had been persecuted in Chechnya.

The Court held in particular that there was no indication that Mr K. would be at a lesser risk of persecution upon return to Russia than his mother, who had been granted asylum in Austria, the Austrian courts having found her account convincing. Furthermore, there were recent reports documenting the practice of collective punishment of relatives and suspected supporters of alleged insurgents.
Via Ecre:
CPT: Torture in detention and impunity for perpetrators persist in the North Caucasus

For the first time since 2003, the Russian authorities have authorised the publication of a report by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) on the findings from its visit to the North-Caucasus region.

The CPT reports grave concerns over the lack of progress made since its first visit to the region over a decade ago. The Committee collected evidence of the use of torture and ill-treatment in detention centres in all three republics visited, Dagestan, Chechnya and North Ossetia-Alania, and of high rates of impunity for perpetrators.

The report concludes that public officials, investigators and judges do not take the necessary action when they are made aware of potential cases of abuse. In the majority of cases, investigations into allegations of torture are dropped after a preliminary enquiry. When criminal proceedings are initiated, the accused is usually charged with lesser offenses than torture, such as abuse of power.

The Committee noted that despite general cooperation on the part of Russian officials, several displayed an attitude of denial, refusing to acknowledge the possibility of instances of torture. Instances were also recorded of intimidation of detainees by authorities, and the provision of inaccurate information.

The CPT has reiterated recommendations including ensuring access to legal and medical care to detainees.
The report, based on a visit in April and May 2011, has been published in tandem with the response of the Russian government.

The Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland, has welcomed Russia’s authorisation of the publication of the report, and expressed hope that this openness will continue.
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Thursday, 25 April 2013

Smoking: shunning, banning, fining - what's next?

Remember when Michael Bloomberg tried to ban large cups of soft drinks (a judge blocked it) and it became a thing, a meme? Not just a local ordinance but a symbol of something else? 'Big Brother' vs 'save-the-obsese-children'?

What to say of the new University of California 'educational' ordinance banning smoking everywhere: outside dorms, in the middle of lawns - everywhere, even chewing it is banned. It's unclear but marijuana cookies with a doctor's certificate seem to be OK.

According to student newspaper the Daily Bruin, how they plan to police persistent 'offenders' is opaque:
The policy, which aims to educate people about the effects of tobacco, bans the use of tobacco through the use of pipes, water-based pipes, electronic cigarettes and cigars….
Students who keep using tobacco on campus after repeatedly being told to stop would technically be violating school policy and the student code of conduct, Sarna said. She added that students could receive a warning, which means that the dean will give the student a notice stating the student’s behavior may have violated university policy or regulations. If the behavior is repeated, the student may be subject to further discipline, according to the UCLA student code of conduct.
Faculty and staff could be written up by their superiors for using tobacco on campus.
However, it is unlikely they would be fired for the violations, said Timothy Fong, associate professor of psychiatry and member of the Tobacco-Free Steering Committee.
Sarna said she hopes that group pressure to not use tobacco on campus will help to enforce the policy.
"Group pressure"? That's a bit loaded don't you think?

Shun the unbelievers

If you bought some cigarettes in Australia today you'd be looking at a packet which is one big, graphic health warning. Packaging for brands there is banned, a world first.

Now the actual banning of cigarette sales is being considered, to those born after the year 2000.

The state of Tasmania is first off the blocks. The plan, introduced last year into the state's parliament, would be introduced in 2018. No one now 12 years old or younger would ever be allowed to buy cigarettes. South Australia is considering similar action.

Australia has led world efforts on demonising smoking and now a policy of ending it altogether is the New Normal.

Supporting the Tasmanian proposal, Cameron Nolan wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald that the profits of tobacco companies are "ill-gotten gains" and compares them to the criminal drug gangs. He claims that "most" Australians "demand that our government prohibit the creation of such unscrupulous markets." Writing that Tasmania's plan will protect future generations he says that "it is time for the government to pick up a knife and cut the problem in half."

English: Cartoon showing a mourner in front of...

A conformist, illiberal society

Critics charge that what they call a ""nanny state" would create a 'slippery slope' that could lead to similar action on alcohol and fatty foods. Proposals have been made in Australia to license smokers and to only allow them to purchase so many cigarettes per day. Various places ban welfare recipients from buying cigarettes, including Los Angeles as of last month.

Other critics have called it a return to the prohibition era of bans on alcohol and a reflection of the failed 'War on Drugs'. Writing for the Australian news site Crikey, Martyn Goddard points out that existing Australian policy is working. The numbers of people smoking, especially amongst the young, has plummeted. Goddard points out that cigarettes contain an addictive substance, like currently illegal drugs, and a similar ban on cigarettes would just fuel a criminal industry illicitly supplying 'addicts'.
The patterns of cannabis use show how powerfully attractive a drug --  even a relatively non-addictive one -- can become, particularly to the young, if the allure of mild outlawry is bestowed upon it. Naughty is nice, even when it isn’t really nice at all.

It is a fantasy to say that this ban will result in a smoke-free generation. It won’t. It will lead instead to the criminalization of an entire generation of law-abiding people.
Similar bans to Tasmania's are being considered in Sweden and Singapore. In Scotland the plan is for the country to be 'smoke free' within two decades. Reports of policy under consideration there include a ban on all tobacco commerce, much more tobacco tax and laws against children ever being exposed to the sight of someone smoking.

Writes Simon Clark for of Scotland's plan:
Things have got out of hand. There is now a degree of bullying involved that is unacceptable in a tolerant society. People are no longer educated to cut down or quit. Instead they are insulted and coerced and made to feel like lepers.

As long as we don't harm other people we should be allowed to take risks. If we try to eliminate every risk through draconian legislation we create a bland, conformist, illiberal society.
Sounds about right.
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The heroine of French marriage equality

French lesbians and gays have a new heroine and her name is Christiane Taubira.

The French Minister for Justice is widely regarded as the person most responsible for pushing marriage equality through its fiery passage through the French parliament.

Her work has won her wider accolades too but it wasn't always thus, once she was regarded as a joke, if not a traitor to the left.

Taubira is that rarest of things, a black French politician. She has represented French Guiana, part of South America best known as the location for Europe's space launches and actually a department, part of metropolitan France, since 1993.

From a poor family and from the left she stood as a Presidential candidate for the Radical Party in 2003 to ensuing boos when the Socialist Party candidate came third, behind the National Front's Jean-Marie Le Pen. Her tiny vote was looked at as creating a national French embarrassment. Left wing allies have also called her a bully and authoritarian.

Made a Minister by Francois Hollande she has come back into favour, pushing forward a law last year that categorises the slave trade and slavery as crimes against humanity.

But it is her full-throated and eloquent push for marriage equality in the face of not just fierce, sometimes violent, opposition but also as well as tepid support of her own President and party, that has turned her into a modern day Marianne, the symbol of 'Liberté, égalité, fraternité'.

Her January 29 parliamentary speech, delivered without notes, was described as "fiery and lyrical". She laid into the right wing, who have used their opposition to marriage equality, a cynical coalition between the conservatives and the far-right National Front, as a way to bash the unpopular socialist President. She said:
What are gay couples’ marriages going to do to heterosexual couples’ marriages? Nothing. We are talking about the hypocrisy of those who to refuse to recognise homosexual families and the selfishness of those who believe that an institution of the Republic should be reserved for one type of citizen.

Your children and grandchildren already recognise these couples and families, and will do so more and more. You will be very uncomfortable when, out of curiosity, they read the transcripts of these debates.
In that speech she cited Guyanese writer Léon-Gontran Damas:
The act we will accomplish [in passing this law] is ‘as beautiful as a rose that the Eiffel Tower, at last, can see blooming.’ It is ‘as great as our need for fresh air.’ It is ‘as strong as a piercing cry in a long, long night’.
Throughout she has quoted literary heroes. In her final speech yesterday it was Nietzsche: Les vérités tuent, celles que l'on tait deviennent vénéneuses / Truth kills. And if you repress it, it will kill you.

Even her chief opponent, the conservative MP Jean-Frédéric Poisson, told Libération that he had "respect for [Taubira] as a fighter … and for her talent." Many ordinary French people have been won over by her ‘fou rire’ (crazy laugh), heard when she broke into uncontrollable laughter following yet another anti-gay statement in parliament by a right-wing MP during the often interminable and all-night manoeuvrings to delay passage of the law.

She is being compared to two previous symbols of the fight for social justice in France: Simone Veil, who, as minister of health, fought to legalise abortion in 1975, and Robert Badinter, a former justice minister who led the effort to abolish the death penalty in 1981.

In the absence of celebrity endorsement for marriage equality, a French curiosity compared to the US, Taubira has become the star for France's LGBT community.

Yannick Barbe, of news site Yagg, told France24:
You could call it Taubiramania. We were missing a charismatic figure in our fight for equal rights. Now we have one.
Yagg have been selling #TeamTaubira T-shirts.

There are a couple of constitutional hurdles but according to a promise from the Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, socialist mayor of the southern city of Montpellier, Hélène Mandroux, should officiate the first gay marriage "probably in late June or early July."

Watch video and read English translation of Taubira’s Speech to the National Assembly after the passage of the bill opening marriage and adoption to same-sex couples after the jump:

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

World Bank examining LGBT poverty globally

LGBT people in the West have an image of being a comparatively well-off group. Since the early 1990s, LGBT media and marketeers have promoted dubiously sourced statistics on supposed average earnings and created the idea of the 'Pink Pound/Dollar'.

Here's a recent corporate example promoted unquestioningly by Queerty: ' SURVEY: The Gays Earn More Money, Have Less Debt Than Average Americans.'

This idea has then been used by the opponents of LGBT rights, including in court cases, to portray LGBT people as a privileged and powerful group. It has "great long term costs", wrote the great Australian activist Rodney Croome back in 1996:
One cost is the way the anti-gay movement uses our claim to consumer power to portray us as greedy whingers. The hate rhetoric, designed so well to tap into lower middle class and blue collar economic insecurity, goes something like "they've got the jobs, they own the businessess, they've got all the money and they still want more". Another cost is when funding bodies use our supposed disposables as an excuse to leave us out in the cold. One of the chief reasons given by Tasmanian Legal Aid for refusing to help fund our current High Court appeal was that the gay and lesbian community is rich enough to pay for its own litigation. But worse of all, is the way the pink dollar has obscured lesbian and gay poverty leaving economically disadvantaged gays and lesbians a hidden and voiceless minority.
Actual studies of economic well-being for LGBT people are rare. It is hard to study a group of people whose boundaries are fuzzy and where many of its members are pretty invisible and practically no one has even tried.

Croome quotes an Irish study from 1995 which found poverty rates double that of the general population. It's not hard to imagine why this might be. Studies of homeless youth in the US has found very high numbers are LGBT. 320,000 to 400,000 is a conservative estimate of the number of American gay and transgender youth facing homelessness each year. Discrimination, job segregation, and subsequent issues like higher rates of drugs and alcohol abuse might have something to do with higher poverty rates. As might other health issues.

"The majority of people with HIV and AIDS in San Francisco are living in extreme poverty," says Brian Bassinger, executive director of the San Francisco AIDS Housing Coalition:
There's this mythology that gay men are wealthy. The reality is that gay men living in poverty are twice the national average. We are poor. And poor people see marriage equality as a middle class and upper class issue.
Bassinger's clients, and those of LGBT homeless charities in cities like New York, are struggling for attention and support.

A 2009 University of California study of same-sex families -- reputedly a first -- found extremely high poverty rates in sub-groups like rural couples and African-American couples. But it also found that white urban gay couples had poverty rates similar to the general population. Perhaps this explains why certain LGBT issues have prominence and financial support and others less so?

Global LGBT poverty

As in Western countries, in the so-called 'Global South' LGBT people also suffer discrimination and marginalisation and hence higher poverty rates.

Albert Ogle reports on a new survey of almost 6,000 men who have sex with men (MSM) from 165 countries by MSM Global Forum.
20% of younger MSM surveyed had no income and 30% had no stable housing, which have both been linked to greater HIV vulnerability and reduced access to HIV services. Compared to older MSM in the 2012 GMHR sample, younger MSM experienced significantly higher levels of homophobia and violence. Among all MSM surveyed, homophobia was significantly associated with reduced access to condoms, lubricants, HIV testing and HIV treatment.

“This data shines light on our collective failure to ensure that YMSM have the resources they need to keep themselves healthy,” said Dr. George Ayala, executive director of MSM Global Forum. “Moreover, it is a powerful reminder that HIV among MSM is an international development issue, inextricably linked with housing, health, education, and security. Donors and policy makers must treat HIV among MSM of all ages with the same level of urgency afforded to other international development priorities, and they must take concrete steps to ensure that the unique needs of YMSM are accounted for.”
Ogle just attended a first, a meeting at the World Bank featuring international gay activists. It included Victor Mukasa, who founded the rights organisation Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) but has been forced to claim asylum in the US. A charity which Ogle in involved with, he writes, supports HIV testing for Ugandan gay men who are simply denied health services elsewhere -- services which are often funded by foreign governments and international bodies.

Meetings such as this one as well as the efforts of bodies such as MSM Global Forum and the pressure of activists on bodies such as USAID are beginning to change the approach of funders on discrimination such as that seen in Uganda. Writes Ogle:
Every institution from the family, the church, the World Bank and governments are failing the LGBT community right now. The presence of this panel was seen as a positive step to begin to address the appalling neglect of this community in heath, education and employment opportunities.
And Ogle reports that the World Bank is funding a ground breaking study on the 'economic impact of homophobia globally', to be published later this year.

The Bank is a controversial partner for any civil rights movement or for those promoting health, given its history. But given the paucity of basic research on LGBT poverty this study has to be welcomed.

Whether such a study can get any resonance in the international LGBT movement or the media is another matter.
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Monday, 22 April 2013

Breaking: 'Asylum seekers not immigrants' says no one

English: Jewish refugees from Czechoslovakia b...
Jewish refugees from Czechoslovakia being marched away by British police at Croydon airport in March 1939 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Seeking asylum from repression, war and horror is a basic human right which almost every country is signed up to. This right was created in the shadow of World War Two and the then recent shameful memory of the treatment of Jewish refugees before that war.

Asylum seekers are not the same group as 'immigrants'. Neither are they the same group as 'refugees'. People apply to a country to allow them to become immigrants. People are given refugee status in one country, usually next to the country they fled from, and some other countries then select them, usually many years later, to come to them.

Anyone can apply for asylum in another country once they're there, whether by plane or by boat or walking over the border, and they do for all sorts of reasons. People apply because they're being persecuted on account of their ethnicity -- like Chechens. Or their sexuality, or, in one American case, because they cannot home school their children in Germany. Americans have applied for asylum in Canada and, famously, many got it in Scandinavia during the Vietnam War.

There are some basic rules, international law, on asylum seekers but different countries regard them in different ways. In Russia they get sent to a camp in Siberia and in Australia they're all automatically detained. Also in Australia asylum applicants get security checked if they're fleeing, for example, Sri Lanka.

In the United States they get security checked too if they're from certain places. One of those places is the Caucuses -- Chechnya, Dagestan. The Boston bombers were the children of parents originally from Chechnya who were accepted as asylum seekers. They claimed asylum after arriving on tourist visas.

So Senator Rand Paul is either ignorant in calling today for something which is already happening -- security checks -- or willfully stirring slash hot button pressing.

There's more of this and they'll be more to come, from all sides.

Media #fail on asylum seekers ≠ immigration

In the Daily Beast a former Bush official bangs on, like Paul, about double checking 'immigrants' and like this doesn't already happen and, sigh, like this would have made any difference when the bombers were teens when they came to America. In the Boston Herald there's the impolitic version, this full-on anti-immigrant/refugee/whatever rant by Howie Carr.

On Twitter I exchanged with an immigrant advocate, Matthew Kolken, who is countering this nativist ranting by pointing out that one of the guys who helped save the life of the guy who identified the bombers is an immigrant (pictured right, with the big hat).

But if America is now going to have a debate on immigration reform informed by the Boston bombings then it ain't going to be very informed if the media track record thus far keeps up. Because I have now seen a series of stories in major media outlets, including ones making the liberal case, which are confusing asylum and immigration and which contain startling inaccuracies. Startling? Yes, because two seconds thought would have spotted the logical flaws.

Like in this CNN story, or this USA Today one which thinks US cities look at asylum applications, or Weigel at Slate who thinks the US accepts Chechen refugees from Kazakhstan (as does Jason Dzubow, who should know better) which short research disproves or the New York Times which repeats that the family "emigrated to the United States from Kyrgyzstan" ...

Here's The Atlantic getting it right and explaining the bombing suspects status via talking to an expert.

America is not going to un-sign the Refugee Convention, not even the looniest are suggesting that, so will continue to accept asylum applications. Thus, the status of the Boston bombers has sod all to do with immigration reform because asylum seekers ≠ immigration.

Kolken tells me this (ignorance) is normal from journalists, but as with the detailed and extensive criticism over other flaws in the media's coverage of Boston ignorance is no excuse. Basic research, heck, bothering to think it through, would produce better coverage on asylum vs immigration than I am seeing.

One other note. Advocates of immigration reform are blasting -- see this editorial 'Terrorist Enablers On The Right' -- those using the bombing and how they are using it. Why don't they point out the complete difference between asylum and immigration?!
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Monarchism reduced to this

Monarchism when it comes to the British used to be about reverential distance. At some point, probably the 1960s, that began to change and, dear g*d, it's now at the point that this video is a "tribute".

A relative passed it on, it's a meme with 2.5m+ hits in just this version. It's someone who has discovered a morphing software programme - take a series of pictures and have them dissolve one into another. They discovered the trick and thought 'owh, her maj would love this'.
This is a video tribute to Queen Elizabeth II on achieving 60 years as the constitutional monarch of the Commonwealth realms, and head of the Commonwealth of Nations, head of state of the Crown dependencies and British Overseas Territories, Supreme Governor of the Church of England and in many of her realms she carries the title Defender of the Faith.
But it's not a tribute, it's a creepy distortion of the image, a parody that sits alongside morphs of Elvis and Michael Jackson. An awkward marriage of pop culture ('Chariots of Fire'?!) with language like "in her many realms" ...

Monarchism is so reduced now that the video producer and commentators cannot see what 50 years ago would have been obvious, that it's the definition of disrespectful.

The Thais have the right idea. If you're going to have this sort of constitutional arrangement treat the -- gild the -- gilded inhabitants properly ....

Video after the jump:

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Music · Double Exposure · Everyman

Back to the disco beat, now the sun's out.

This is Philly group Double Exposure's 'Everyman (has to carry his own weight)' from '75. Mixed by the great Tom Moulton and it's Salsoul, of course.

They disappeared for thirty years but reappeared with 'Soul Recession' in 2008 (which showed them still in fine voice but wasn't that good a song and the production was awful ... ).

'Everyman' after the jump, plus bonus 'Ten Percent':

Thursday, 18 April 2013

America's shame in one photo

This photo is of some of the families of the Newtown shooting victims yesterday at the White House. This is their reaction on learning that the US Senate had rejected expanding background checks for gun purchases.

It should shame America.

Last month the BBC's Panorama showed how easily anyone could buy a gun when a British reporter got one. It's called straw purchasing and it feeds guns to criminals and that's what the vote was about.

America is so far gone that checks to stop terrorists buying guns are rejected by the gun industry lobby and thus politicians*. Anything that resembles gun control is rejected because the country is caught up in an insane culture of worship to an ancient text and a belief that a cycle of violence, guns begetting guns, is a good thing.

Yesterday I saw the former Conservative MP Louise Mensch expressing exasperation at the country. Last year the conservative former Australian Prime Minister John Howard wrote in the New York Times of how Australia united for gun control after a massacre. He did this following Newtown, to show how the rest of the world has managed to control guns and gun violence.

America's friends want to help. But how to stage an intervention with a 1000lb gorilla?

This photo shows that America wants to be different from the rest of us. It refuses to join civilisation. It will pompously talk of its culture and history so if the rest of us can show cultural relativism elsewhere, to say, 'well, actually, our way of doing things is better than yours' to other people's backwards and antidiluvian cultural practices, then we should do it to Americans as well.

This photo is not the result solely of 'gun nuts' or the 'gun industry lobby'. It's because America won't make it stop, enough won't get angry enough to make sure this never happens again. Most of America doesn't see this picture as shameful.

The liberal Ana Marie Cox writing today in The Guardian tries to explain the vote. It is because the 'NRA culture' is dominant, then she relates that culture to her own experience.

It is a bizarre read. She talks -- I am not kidding -- of a zombie apocalypse and how best to prepare for it and who she would want to be with should a 'tyrannical government' take over, like that's something which even crosses the minds of citizens of normal countries.

Cox cites her Texan upbringing and I am well aware of how this psychosis is well rooted in the US, and not just in 'flyover country'. It's all excuses. Cox and her fellow liberals needs to grow out of it. Other countries (Serbia, Germany) have done far worse and changed.

I floated shunning as something friends might do on a liberal blog I read and most thought Americans were so far gone it wouldn't work, though I do recall a time last decade when American tourists would pretend to be Canadian, so the idea does have form. But one person wrote this:
Please shun us. Try our politicians for war crimes. Issue ongoing travel advisories to our major cities. Advise tourists to our states to take out special medical insurance for acts of violence.  Caution against eating our genetically modified food.  Refuse to work alongside our election observers until we get our own in order. Really, make us feel like a pariah among Western democracies.  Nothing else has worked.
Worth a try?

Watch video from the Rose Garden yesterday after the jump:

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

When government stops outsourcing: Celebrate's design win

There have been some predictable reactions to winning a top design award, beating, amongst others, that sublime Olympic cauldron. The Daily Mail's story (pictured) is distilled essence of ignorance and stupidity: 'but it looks boring'!

Here's on why it won:
Yes, it looks more like an expired domain page than an integrated central location for government services. (We’re not the only ones to notice.) Then again, it’s a little like the DMV: you’re not going to spend any more time there than you have to. Wham, bam, thank you for registering your vehicle with us, ma’am.
Ir won because it achieved the aim of 'simpler, clearer, faster', which is not easy. The content, what it actually says and how it is tailored to the medium (which is now centrally directed and rules driven), is not mentioned by Wired, but is what struck me because 'simple' text is very hard to pull off. Wallpaper's report does notice that:
The website adheres to a strict style guide. Visitors will no longer be baffled by words such as ‘tackling’ (unless the context is about rugby), ‘deliver’ (unless it’s about pizza or post, not policies), and ‘disincentivise’.
Interestingly I have yet to see a real whinge about the win, just other versions of 'boring' or cloaked bitchiness, nothing from anyone of substance, with skin in the game, say, from a webbie, designey, background having a serious go at the site and the award committee. It will be there because this website is the product of civil servants not bleeding edge, Silicon Hub/Fen/Roundabout private enterprise. There will be teeth knashing going on privately.

This award is a slap in the face to those wanting government 'drowned in a bathtub', who see all public servants as losers, if not inherently corrupt. The sort of people who write for the Daily Mail, come to think of it.

For years government has been told that they are naturally incompetent and must outsource work like web design. It has been seen as bleeding obvious that a project such as centralising all government in one place online can only be done by a 'efficient' big company.

Big companies had proved adapt, using fair means and foul, for years and years, at seducing the actual decision makers and getting such contracts. But they failed. The websites may not have looked "boring" but they were crap and I documented some of this history on this very blog.
Here's three posts of mine on the 'Great 2009 Birmingham City Council website disaster', a product of the world's biggest outsourcing contractor Capita, or as it was dubbed 'Crapita':
Lessons from the great 2009 Birmingham City Council website disaster
Postscript -- Postscript two

Public service beats outsourcing: Hurrah!

What is so spectacular and the untold story behind this award is that the Crapitas of this world didn't, for once, fail upwards ... that some key people in government were prepared to battle them, to actually end the chicken and egg, revolving door of yet more failing contractors. To bring it back into government, to trust government, and that this evolving process wasn't cut off by Conservatives when they took over!

The winning GOV.UK design team
What this award is built from is not just the appearance of Martha Lane Fox, great though she is, but an ethos built up over many years in many parts of government of service and a user/citizen focus. Folks I've known as well as marginal idiots like me banging on about it. Lots of connections to others, like those who have built the BBC's world leading web presence on the back of that same service ethos.

Private companies have a harder time doing 'service and a user/citizen focus' precisely because of the profit motive. Their operations are bent by what will make the most money for them, and this includes what they offer government and that, yes, includes design. It is near impossible to imagine any of them creating this award winning design. When I revived this blog the first thing I wrote/ranted about was the massive bloat happening in current web design and how this was due to website needs increasingly impinging on customer needs -- the opposite of what something like has to do.

What has changed with government websites, the bit which deserves celebrating, is that the outsourcing enablers, those whose egos the companies can tweak or flirt with, who business knew how to make look hip and not "boring", are gone. For once the good guys won.

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Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Boston: If you read only one thing ...

Boston bombing victim
Boston bombing victim (Photo credit: Ninian Reid)
Something about American sports reporting seems to produce great political writers. I am struggling to think of a British equivalent.

This sprang to mind as I learned that a writer I really like, Charles P. Pierce, who never has bad copy, and who has three must-reads on the Boston bombing as of now, is a sports writer too.

This sweeping arc over the scene yesterday is rooted in his Bostonian longitude:
That is how the news spreads today, when two bombs go off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, and at least three people die and north of 100 are injured, some brutally. The shock is sudden but its ripples fade quickly as the knowledge of what happened goes out into the ether and then back through thousands of personal mobile devices. Horror has no shelf life anymore. Everybody knows already. Everybody's a newsman. Everybody's in showbiz.
First draft reporting at Leica level:
Back by the stone fountain, a woman in a silver blanket told a Providence TV station that she'd been unable to find a ladies' room after the race because all the restaurants and hotels had been locked down and she had to come all the way down to Park Square to find facilities that would deign to accommodate her. She was not happy at all, and she was telling greater Providence about it. "And I needed TO PEE!," she told some undoubtedly astounded Rhode Islanders.

There was something comfortingly mundane in how truly angry she was.
To the idiot parade -- e.g. 'Tingles' -- crowing 'but we know not if it was political!':
The cruel strife between brethren is waged daily by individuals, and by governments. We must recognize that we do not love in excess as easily as we hate in excess. In Boston, in Baghdad, in Mogadishu, all of this is political because we are all political. We are fated to be tied to each other in our politics. We are fated to kill each other for them or not to kill each other for them. It is entirely our choice, and always has been. We must decide not to slaughter each other. Or not. This is also a political choice we make.
For "the folks who dropped by from Glennbeckystanstan":
The sun came up this morning on a garrisoned city. Some people think one thing about that, and some people think another. But too many people think something completely insane, and that scares the hell out of me. In our politics, we must we must look the real monster in the eye, and not create phantoms because they are more easily killed. We have lost faith in that in which we cannot lose faith and survive. As investigators crawl over Copley Square, they might as well be looking for the democratic soul of a nation gone a bit mad.
I started reading Pierce (at Esquire of all places) during the election. Perhaps you can tell why.

Olbermann is an obvious companion great communicator to Pierce but, heck, even Bob Costas has better expressed political thoughts that any UK comparison crossing my mind. I wonder why that is?
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Senseless 'content marketing': What is Think Progress doing here?

I am looking at a Think Progress (TP) article titled 'The 8 Worst Responses To The Boston Marathon Bombings'. I scroll to the end. Instead of related internet articles (related to the content or tags) I get .. what?!
  • 5 Most Overrated Exercises You Can Stop Doing
  • 10 Best Makeovers of 2012
  • Investing For Income
What sort of crappy service comes up with this selection on that article? Why on earth would I click on one of those headlines after reaching the end of that article? And why would TP, or The Hill or DailyKos or some mainstream media news services, bother with something called 'Taboola'?
Taboola is surfacing your articles, slideshows, and videos to the right users, on the most innovative publishers in the world, and inviting them to click and ...
Oh just stop right at 'surfacing' ...
The latest from Taboola (@taboola). World leading content recommendation and monetization platform. Pubs integrate Taboola to surface interesting content ...
I'm looking at the result right now! If this is 'world leading' then the 'world' hasn't engineered its 'recommendation engine' very well, now has it?

It isn't that easy to pull off. I get it. The Guardian has one of the best CMS around and look at what can pop up (aka 'surface') at the bottom of its articles sometimes that's supposedly related.

But these options on Think Progress et al .... Frankly I think they make the users look amateurish. They look like Altavista search results. They look like desperation. They, cough, 'dilute the brand'.

Hands up. I use Zemanta. It gives me link and tag suggestions and related articles. I can add sources for those article suggestions. I choose what appears (I don't have to link to Zemanta or even mention them). It's useful. It also has a helpful newsletter and blog.

They also have a widget like Taboola which I have used elsewhere, but that allowed me to use it just for related links from the same website. And those links generally were closely related. The general web links then from Zemanta's widget were, from recollection, just as daft as Taboola's. I assume this is something to do with having too little granularity, too little segmentation and too small a vaguely related user base (to what my content was).

Another problem with Taboola, best shown when it is used like on The Hill to show related stories from the same website next to other links, is when the 'useful' or 'related' links content is actually paid advertorial but it isn't clearly marked as advertising.

For serious outlets -- like Think Progress -- that is playing with fire. See the Dish's series of posts on “Enhanced Advertorial Techniques".

And not only could it be reputationally damaging but, just as normal web advertising can be, it's scatterfire, clearly using nothing in the actual content to pick advertorial which a reader would be more likely to click on! So if the website is being paid for clicks this makes its presence even more bizarre than it already appears to be!

NB: Below are some of the 'related articles' (which included one clearly 'promoted' option) that Zemanta is letting me pick out:
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Sunday, 14 April 2013

'White Australia' lives on

Image via Senthorun Raj
Four hundred years ago boats began arriving in Northern Australia looking for sea cucumber, an animal still prized in Chinese cooking and medicine.

Fishermen from what is now Indonesia would trade with the local Yolngu people. When the British arrived in the area a hundred years later they encouraged the lucrative trade.

Four hundred years on and similar fishing boats coming to Australia's northern shores are being presented in an entirely different light.

Cynical politics has led both major parties to pretend that the country's borders are 'under siege' and 'at risk of invasion'. That is the sort of language deployed against the arrival on those fishing boats of refugees from the world's major trouble spots. Year after year, politicians vie with unworkable plan after unworkable plan to 'stop the boats', the latest being to spend over A$2b on drones to someone find boats in millions of square kilometers of ocean, when it is illegal to 'turn boats back' on the high seas.

The demonisation of desperate and frightened people was already awful -- a grub fight -- but has now reached a new low. The conservative opposition, very likely to be the next government, has taken one case of alleged rape by an asylum seeker in order to propose that all asylum seekers living outside camps (where they all used to be kept until the outcry got too loud over the conditions, particularly the impact on children):
.. are not to be housed near ''vulnerable communities'' - presumably children and, in the context of the alleged assault which sparked the debate, female college students.

They will be subject to ''behaviour protocols'', breach of which will carry ''negative sanction'', which might mean a return to detention, or perhaps criminal charges - it is unclear. The police must be notified and consulted at every instance. And, of course, the neighbourhood must be ''alerted'' to their presence.
Matthew Zagor writes:
Apart from the unavoidable equating of refugees with child sex offenders, there is a clear assumption that they are not to be trusted close to our Australian women, a classic racist trope with its undertones of the sexually threatening foreigner.

There is also a remarkable inversion and appropriation of the rhetoric of vulnerability: it turns out ''we'' are the vulnerable ones, the ones under threat and in need of protection.
Bianca Hall writes in The Age that, asylum seekers on bridging visas, released from detention, are 45 times less likely to be charged with a crime than members of the general public. Almost all these people are genuine refugees, meaning that they will be accepted as asylum seekers, though, as with the UK, there is controversy over increased removals of Tamils.

Since a third wave of 'boat people' began arriving in 1999 Australian politics has been like this, Labour and Liberal alike have played footsie with 'dog whistles' that hark back to Australia's explicitly racist policy history of stoked-up fear of Asians from the North, 'yellow peril', the 'White Australia' immigration policy written into the constitution and finally ditched by Gough Whitlam in the 1970s, with the last racist provision gone in 1978. Bahá'ís and Jews were amongst those also impacted by racist immigration policy.

When the first 'boat people' arrived from South-East Asia in the late seventies the reaction was "symptomatic of an insecure nation threatened by Asian penetration", writes Dr. Rachel Stevens. The numbers then, and in a second wave from the late eighties, were small but they remain small today.

In 2010 134 boats arrived unauthorised in Australia with a total of about 6,879 people on board (including crew). Most asylum seekers arrive by air. There are ten times as many people overstaying their visa, with the largest number of those being British.

Since the first boat with five Vietnamese men arrived in Darwin in 1976 Australia has spent countless billions and huge amounts of political focus on what, to outsiders, certainly to Europeans, is a non-issue. The numbers are tiny. In forty years there's been no 'terrorist threat'. There is no 'solution' to 'secure the border'.

Given how both elements of the media and some politicians have played up and played loose with the issue it's easy to think that Australians are merely reacting, like mushrooms in a cupboard being fed the proverbial. But this forgets the history, what is already out there.

'Atone for the hardness of heart'

It could change. A decade ago Indigenous issues divided the country with many accusing the then Prime Minister, conservative John Howard, of using division on issues like land rights and apologies for past treatment in much the same way that 'boat people' are being used now.

Now? Who said this?
One of the reasons why Aboriginal policy has been so unsuccessful, despite an abundance of official goodwill, is that few policy-makers have ever spent a night in an Aboriginal community or mixed with Aboriginal people except those who have made it into the middle class.
A hippie, liberal big city type? No, that was the extremely conservative likely next Prime Minister, Tony Abbott.

Indigenous issues now unite all the major parties, including the representatives of white and rural Australia, the Nationals. In February:
Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott put aside politics .. as the lower house passed legislation to create an Act of Recognition of indigenous people.
In a bipartisan process just like that which led up to the 1967 referendum which first recognised Aborigines in the national census the plan is to further recognise the first inhabitants in the constitution. This is difficult as most constitutional change proposed in Australia has failed.
Mr Abbott said he and Ms Gillard were partners on this matter.

He honoured her work and that of other leaders who paved the way over the years.

'Most of all I honour the millions of indigenous people, living and dead, who have loved this country yet maintained their identity, and who now ask only that their existence be recognised and their contributions be acknowledged,' he said.

Australia now had an opportunity to do what should have been done 200 or 100 years ago.

'We need to atone for the omissions and for the hardness of heart of our forebears to enable us all to embrace the future as a united people,' he said.

'We shouldn't feel guilty about our past, but we should be determined to rise above that which now makes us embarrassed,' he said.

Mr Abbott said Australia was a blessed country.

'Except for one thing - we have never fully made peace with the first Australians.'
Maybe, one day, Australia will come together to apply the same logic to their treatment of another marginalised, maligned and dehumanised minority?
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