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Aleppo's hospitals ravaged by Russian bombs: what can you do?

Russian bombs targeting hospitals in Aleppo is disturbing, shocking, and yet sharing another Facebook status isn’t going to do anything about it.

As recent world events have shown, frustration is rife. It’s time to ask, what can we DO?

The Syrian Peace Action Centre has created a five-point plan for workable action to stop the bombing.

The good news: it’s all doable from home. But it’s far more effective than a grumpy Facebook status.

Here are the steps:

FIRST – Send a letter to your MP:
Call and write to your representatives in the parliament and ask them to stop the bombs on Aleppo in whichever way they can. Ask them to #StopPutinsBombs and denounce Russia’s grave human rights violations because #NeverAgainIsNow. Use and adapt the text available here:
http://actnow.space-org.no/mp

SECOND – Facebook check-in:
Check in on Russian embassy’s Facebook page in your country and post a picture from Aleppo. Find the Facebook page of the Russian embassy in your country and pictures to use here:
http://actnow.space-org.no/check-in

THIRD – Contact the Russian Embassy:
Call and write to the Russian embassy in your country and ask them to stop the bombing. Find the phone number and email of the Russian embassy in your country here:
http://actnow.space-org.no/call

FOURTH – Tweet to politicians:
Tweet to politicians around the world. All you need to do is click on „TWEET NOW“ next to the politician’s name on this page:
http://actnow.space-org.no/tweet

FINALLY: share this call for action with your friends and family, invite everyone you know to this event:
https://www.facebook.com/events/554406311411786/

Using the political instruments to which we have access – local politicians, ambassadors – is a sure-fire way to draw attention to the cause.

And contacting ambassadors can initiate dialogue: last week Russia’s ambassador to the UK, Alexander Yakovenko explained that Russia’s bombing was meants to prevent Isis from entering the area from Mosul, Iraq.

The UK’s special representative for Syria, Gareth Bayley, responded: “How is that geographically sensible … that’s 400km from the border with Iraq?”

Getting politicans in dialogue is better than badmouthing Putin, talking vaguely about situations on which we have plenty of detailed information (Trump on Putin: “We have to end that craziness that’s going on in Syria,”) or ‚liking‘ updates and then getting back to our Netflix binges.

This is the time for action. Join the movement.

Black Out Friday

In the last few years we have bared witnessed to shocking incidents of manic and out of control behaviour from the onslaught of stampeding shoppers as the shutters are pulled up in the early morning of Black Friday. Imported from the US and now a time-honoured tradition across Europe, thousands go to the extremes by queuing overnight or even for days sheltering roadside in tents determined to be the first through the doors to grab the deals and discounts on offer.

Black Friday encapsulates modern rush for profit, but these darker scenes reveal the damaging behaviour by the dominant firms. As well as forcing out smaller independent competitors, the major maker players have been criticised for their questionable record on working conditions, contributing to climate change and giving fuel to the global fire of inequality.      

So, if you are also shocked with this phenomenon, there’s something you can do; take part in Buy Nothing Day. Born in Canada 23 years ago from a movement fighting the growth of consumerism, it has now spread to over 60 countries worldwide. Rather than hurrying to the closest shopping centre, participants of the movement keep their wallets firmly in their pockets on Black Friday, in protest against mass consumerism, waste and debt.

Buy Nothing Day grows each year raising our awareness of ethical shopping, through initiatives that guarantee fair prices to the producers and adequate working conditions for the manufacturers, as well as projects that encourage buying locally-sourced products. And don’t forget: that goes for the rest of the 364 days of the year!

Kanye West's rant takes political discourse south

I like Kanye West. I think his music is some of the most interesting and adventurous commercial hip-hop and rap available, anywhere. Yeezus alone is enough to cement his position in pop-culture’s (very fluid) canon; Not just for its innovative sound (which Lou Reed praised), but also because of the complex meshing of sincere black-American-history with the current image of black-American-rapper-debauchery.

 

The fact that West often acts like a complete moron, therefore, is a source of some disappointment to me. I admit it may not be important that I feel this disappointment (after all, in the context of pop culture, what is one consumer’s disappointment? And what, indeed, have I got to be disappointed by?), however, it probably is indicative of a desire for public figures to be recognized as being ‘good’ – liking or admiring a foolish person would mean that one is also foolish, after all.

 

West walked out on a gig on Saturday, following a 15 minute rant that rambled about music, radio, Beyonce, Frank Ocean and a lot else besides. It follows another rant in a gig last week where he demanded America stopped focussing on racism, and stated that he would have voted for Donald Trump.

 

The greater issue is however how this ranting, raving celebrity nonsense relates to the wider context of ranting, raving political nonsense. It might be a useful way to characterise Trump’s ascendency and political agenda as one long rant against human rights, climate change and civil decency: Stop with your liberal wavering and prevaricating, stop with all that rounded answer nonsense, listen to what I have to say. Furthermore, it might also be interesting to think about what we expect from our popular culture, which seems more and more to be full of demands that our attention be taken to the subject speaking, for no other reason than they are speaking. Finally, it might be worthwhile to ask, seriously, what is going wrong in our society when when a ranter has been elected to the most powerful office in the world, and where our failure lies in communicating the value of rights and justice, not merely in instances of aggression, trespass or violence, to people who basically just get annoyed that these things are topics of discussion in the first place, and therefore become things to rant about, without understanding their inherent value.

 

The rant against human rights is real. It has force. It is powerful. So are the challenges thrown down to climate change (curiously, ranted that it does not exist). The points I am making are twofold: We have to seriously reconsider what we mean when we discuss rights, so that we are able to understand collectively what a human right is, and its value in a historical sense; And that to fight for the things we believe in – to save civil rights and to fight climate change, we have to see, really, what we are up against: Irrational anger. While there may be strong seams of rational thought propping up the challenges to civil rights, equality and so on, the energy behind this global tide of nativism if certainly without reason and rhyme. A little like Kanye West was at his gig.

Pakistan’s Children of a Lesser God!

The social media in Pakistan has been gripped by a rather disturbing video of a man flogging mercilessly a transgender woman. The video showed a man pinning the transgender woman face down on a bed with his foot and beating her bare buttocks with a belt as a number of other men and transgender women looked on.

This brazen and inhuman act that failed to attract the attention of the high ranking officials in the country has once again exposed how unwanted this segment of the society is here. The incident took place in the country’s biggest Punjab province where a large population of the transgender community lives.

Transgender community in Pakistan has long been confined to two professions, sex work and begging.

Few weeks before this latest incident, another transgender woman in neighbouring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province was critically injured after being shot multiple times for allegedly resisting sexual advances of a group of armed men who barged in to her house. Also this year, a young transgender Ali Shah succumbed to injuries in a hospital as doctors wasted the critical time pondering over whether to treat Ali Shah in the male or female ward.

Shah was shot eight bullets by a man. Her friends at the Trans Action Alliance recall that while Ali Shah was heavily bleeding and fighting for survival, the medical staff were asking her questions like how much she charged for dance and ‘other services’.

In the latest case of flogging, Julia; the victim claimed there are group of men in almost every city in Pakistan who target this persecuted minority of transgender people, force them to pay extortion and sex slavery. In a video message on the facebook, Julia can be seen visibly shaken while asking for help. “Are we children of a lesser God?“ she asks.

Now, this goes without saying that if Pakistan wants to improve its image and make a mark globally as a nation of dignity, it needs to safeguard the basic rights of every segment of its society without any discrimination. Islamabad government has taken some encouraging steps in this regard for example granting transgender people with the identity  cards after decades of denial, and some legislations at the provincial level for the welfare of this marginalized community, but tolerating such inhuman acts would only aggravate their plight.

A glimmer of hope in the face of mansplaining

It’s easy to feel like the rights of marginalised people were flushed down the toilet with last week’s election of you-know-who.

So I’m pleased to present a piece of good news from Sweden where a union has put in place a fantastic service for female workers that could easily be replicated elsewhere.

Mansplaining: you’ll know it if you’ve experienced it. A man over-explaining something to a woman who already knows perfectly well what he’s talking about.

A study by the American Psychological Association found that men „tend to overestimate their intelligence to a much greater extent than women“, and this regularly plays out in the workplace where men – already more likely to hold positions of power – lord their presumed intelligence over their often equally-intelligent female counterparts.

In some cases, a man will explain a concept to a woman who is already an expert in the field. Ignorance will not stand in the way of a dedicated mansplainer. Here, arrogance prevails.

The most brilliant example of mansplaining may have been a Twitter exchange in August between Dr. Katherine Mack and self-described “Texan conservative activist” Gary P. Jackson.

When Mack tweeted: „Honestly climate change scares the heck out of me and it makes me so sad to see what we’re losing because of it,“ mansplainer Jackson responded with an incredibly ill-advised attempt to explain science to a scientist:

“Maybe you should learn some actual SCIENCE then, and stop listening to the criminals pushing the #GlobalWarming SCAM!”

Mack’s dry response was what mansplainers everywhere need to hear: „I dunno, man, I already went and got a PhD in astrophysics. Seems like more than that would be overkill at this point.”

At moments like this we can laugh right along with Dr. Mack. But in situations where the mansplainer is also the employer, female staff can feel obliged to go along with the explanation, smiling away politely and gritting their teeth as they’re told about something they already know plenty about.

But help is on the way: a Swedish union has launched a hotline for female workers to report cases of incessant mansplaining in the workplace.

Unionen, which represents 600,000 Swedish workers, has invited female politicians, comedians and scientists to work the hotline, offering support to callers reporting incidents of condescension. People of any gender are welcome to call in with concerns.

The decision has already faced plenty of backlash online since it launched on Friday, with critics calling the hotline sexist and polarising.

But surely drawing attention to the issue is exactly what the union wanted. Whether you think a mansplaining hotline is sexist or not, it’s certainly got people talking about gender equality and oppression.

No further explanation required.

The catastrophe knocking on Europe’s door

Another catastrophe must be prevented”, said European commissioner of Economic Affairs, Pierre Moscovici, after Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential elections.

The French representative’s statement shows the concern transcending the upper echelons of European politics, fearful of the possibility of the Trump phenomena reaching the old continent.

Facing an intense year of general elections in Europe, the triumph of the American magnate has rung many alarm bells. The first to congratulate the president-elect was Marine Le Pen, who continues to lead the polls for the upcoming French elections that take place next April. Germany, Austria and the Netherlands are other countries that will soon go to the polling booths, where far right parties threaten to achieve unprecedented results.

Nevertheless, Moscovici is part of the political European Establishment, which has managed to push plenty of voters towards right-wing radicalism. To avoid such parties gaining power across Europe, the EU should implement policy change. Often unfavourable to the majority of their populations, current austerity measures forced on member states serve corporate interests and contribute to raising anger levels which populist politicians feed off.

Having failed to produce a comprehensive post-Brexit strategy in response to the recent shock referendum, the EU must be more responsive to the Trumps victory, preventing the spread of authoritarian populism throughout Europe.

Do not go about your daily business

Agreed. Hitler/ Nazi comparisons ruin arguments. Godwin’s law asserts that at some point, a comparison to the Third Reich and its leadership will arise in any discussion, signalling its conclusion. Sure. But, this isn’t a conclusion – it’s the beginning. Do we need to take into account all the racist, sexist, anti-disability, anti-solidarity stuff he said, again? Do we need to be reminded that this guy, who will be in charge of the world’s most powerful nation and the world’s most developed weapons arsenal, has behaved 100% erratically? Yes. Yes we do.

But for Hitler comparisons, you just need to look at the acceptance speech. ‚We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none. And we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it. We will also finally take care of our great veterans. They’ve been so loyal, and I’ve gotten to know so many over this 18-month journey. The time I’ve spent with them during this campaign has been among my greatest honors. Our veterans are incredible people. We will embark upon a project of national growth and renewal. I will harness the creative talents of our people and we will call upon the best and brightest to leverage their tremendous talent for the benefit of all. It’s going to happen. We have a great economic plan. We will double our growth and have the strongest economy anywhere in the world. At the same time, we will get along with all other nations willing to get along with us.‘

Tell me who that sounds like.

And if that wasn’t enough, Trump has appointed the far-right Steve Bannon to be his special advisor, with the same authority as his chief of staff, Reince Priebus. Priebus is pretty reckless, but his views are limited to economic stability and he does, sometimes, acknowledge the bounds of political norms. Steve Bannon, however, is a 100% out-and-out conspiracy theorist. He hates Jews. He hates Muslims. He hates people of colour. He is convinced there is a world conspiracy aiming to rid the globe of its white inhabitants. He thinks that the media is left-leaning (ha!) Steve Bannon is a dangerous, dangerous man. He is the executive chairman of Breitbart.com – America’s foremost crackpot Nazi website for your everyday racist.

He wants to expand media output of Breitbart to Paris and Berlin, and therefore help the far-right in Europe take power, and potentially dismantle the EU and thereby end the so-called left-leaning project of multiculturalism. Part of me is excited these guys are in daylight – it’s the place where vampires die, and I hope they fumble about and mess it all up so people can see what ridiculous ideologues they are. But hope is not enough anymore – they need to be resisted. They need to be fought. Obama said he wished for Trump’s success. Absurd. I wish for Trump’s complete and utter ruin. I wish that Bannon will fail just like Hitler did. Do not normalize this.

This isn’t normal. Do not think Trump a comical buffoon any longer. The man has appointed one of the most radical racists in the country to one of the most senior positions in global politics. I repeat: This isn’t normal. Resist.

Journalism’s raison d'être under threat in Pakistan

A government fact finding commission in Pakistan has charged a correspondent of the country’s leading newspaper of fabricating a report that was widely seen as a ‘leak’ of a high-level security meeting revealing deep strains between the civil and military leadership.

This move means the journalist could face persecution while the rest of the journalist community feel threatened against attempting to expose the government and other powerful quarters.

Cyril Almeida of the daily Dawn made headlines nationwide last month when he exposed that the civilian government has informed the military leadership of a growing international isolation. It is worth noticing that the military has been calling the shots in major affairs in Pakistan for decades while the civilians made to follow.

In his report titled “Act against militants or face international isolation, civilians tell military”, Cyril quoted individuals present in a crucial national security meeting saying that the participants were informed that Pakistan faces diplomatic isolation and that the government’s talking points have been met with indifference in major world capitals.

In this South Asian country, the militant-army nexus is an open secret with a number of extremist outfits operating from here to wage terror in Pakistan itself and the region. Cyril Almeida’s name was added to the Exit Control List preventing travel abroad after the report was published by the paper.

In this case, particularly, the revelation about civilian government’s anger about military coming for the rescue of militants nabbed by the civilian government sent shock-waves across Islamabad. The news was immediately

[thrice] rejected by the Prime Minister house and the army pronounced it as “breach of national security.”

In defiance of all these pressure tactics, the Press Council of Pakistan has come for the rescue of working journalists. A group of senior journalists in this group has urged the government not to proceed against the newspaper or its staff. “Not surprisingly, governments and power centres in many parts of the world are tempted to erode what is known as the reporter’s privilege, through both subtle and strong-arm tactics. Journalists here believe in countries with inadequate right to information laws such as Pakistan, sources are doubly important, particularly to uncover situations where public trust has been betrayed. And, if Cyril is persecuted for his profession, sources and potential whistleblowers would shy away, and media practitioners themselves would be wary of reporting on any ‘controversial’ topic.

Climate according to Trump

During his campaign, Donald Trump pitched his vision for an American future – one in which fossil fuel production explodes across public lands and Americans. The intended  end result: lower taxes, fewer energy regulations and a rush of new funding for infrastructure projects.

Apparently he will stick to that. According to the Scientific American, Trump has selected one of the best-known so-called climate skeptics. Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute is spearheading Trump’s transition plans for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In fact, you can’t be really skeptical about climate change – it’s happening –, you can just deny it or lie about the man-made rise in temperature and its consequences. 

Who is Ebell? 

The Scientific American provides a record: Greenpeace featured him in the “Field Guide to Climate Criminals,” Rolling Stone called him a “misleader” on global warming by Rolling Stone and was the subject of a motion to censure in the British House of Commons after Ebell criticized the United Kingdom’s chief scientific adviser for his views on global warming. Also, Ebell has called the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan for greenhouse gases illegal and said that Obama joining the Paris climate treaty “is clearly an unconstitutional usurpation of the Senate’s authority.” Wow. 

Also, he told Vanity Fair in 2007, “There has been a little bit of warming … but it’s been very modest and well within the range for natural variability, and whether it’s caused by human beings or not, it’s nothing to worry about.”

And Trump? He has called global warming literally bullshit.

While the international community is working at COP22 in Marrakesh on the implementation of the goals from Paris Climate Summit 2015 (COP21), he has said he would “cancel” the Paris global warming accord and roll back President Obama’s executive actions on climate change. 

Nearly 400 top scientists warned in an open letter against Trump’s pullout at Responsiblescientists.org. 

Also United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) warned that emissions reductions must be ramped up before 2020 or the world will miss its chance to keep global warming below 1.5°C, the all important figure to avoid the worst ravages on our environment.