Thursday, March 04, 2010

The spectre of eugenics raises its insidious face in New Zealand...

John Maynard Keynes {{ru|Джон Мейнард Кейнс}} ...Image via Wikipedia

Chris Ford writes: The pronouncement by Act NZ MP David Garrett that he would like to see abusive mothers paid an incentive to sterilise themselves has exposed the New Right's hidden agenda towards the poorest sections of our society.

While the Act Party have publicly distanced themselves from Garrett's comments, I would go so far as to say that this exposes the real eugenics agenda on the part of some prominent individuals on the New Right. Indeed it was during the Industrial Revolution in the nineteenth century that eugenics caught on as a means of exerting control over the ability of so-called 'undesirable' people, namely, the poor, disabled people, people with mental illness, sex workers and those experiencing drug and alcohol addiction, etc, to reproduce children.

The first person to espouse eugenic theories at great length was the British scientist Sir Francis Galton who drew on the work of his half-cousin Charles Darwin (the father of modern evolutionary theory). Eugenic theories caught the attention of both neo-classical theorists on the right and (sadly) some early socialists on the left. Therefore, eugenics attracted the support of people across the ideological spectrum during that period including Sydney and Beatrice Webb (early Fabian socialists), Peter Fraser (Labour Prime Minister of New Zealand), John Maynard Keynes (liberal economist), Marie Stopes (one of the world's first family planning advocates) and most notoriously Adolf Hitler (Nazi German dictator).

Each of these individuals believed in the application of eugenic theories to contain certain 'undesirable' sectors of the population. For example, the Nazi German programme of genocide against the Jewish, ethnic minority, disabled and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered communities in Germany and Occupied Europe was one of the most well known eugenics programmes of its kind. However, those otherwise great exponents of social democracy, the Swedes, continued with their own eugenics programme until 1975. Other countries (including New Zealand, Australia, the United States and Canada) through the promotion of low level policies of social control over indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities and disabled and mentally ill people continued to apply eugenic theories, albeit, on a smaller scale until the mid-1970s.

But back to covering the real reasons behind the emergence of eugenics. Nascent capitalist societies in the pre-Welfare State era, such as Britain, New Zealand and Australia, saw a burgeoning in the numbers of poor and unemployed people. This was due to the inherently fickle, cyclical nature of capitalism and the introduction of new mass production techniques which saw many groups considered to be previously economically valuable in the pre-industrial age such as, for example, disabled people, cast out into the margins of society due to the rise of unemployment and underemployment. In those times as well, the notion grew up of the need to classify the poor into two convenient categories, the so-called 'deserving' and 'un-deserving' poor. The bourgeois (wealthy) and petty bourgeois (middle class) were encouraged to dispense charitable aid to the 'deserving poor' who were seen as people with the ability to motivate themselves back into lowly paid work. The 'undeserving poor' who constituted people within the abovenamed groups were left to fend for themselves as best they could and through, for example, the near mass institutionalisation of disabled people and those with mental illness, they were sometimes completely excluded from society altogether. The ultimate hope was that many would die as a result and no longer be a burden upon the bourgeoisie and many sadly did.

The modern broad left has largely discarded eugenics and has placed greater emphasis on improving the social and economic status of marginalised groups such as single parents, disabled people, people with mental illness and those living in extreme poverty. On the other hand, the New Right and some of their supporters continue to cling onto some notions of eugenics in order to scapegoat unpopular minority groups who are viewed on the right as the new 'undeserving' poor. These include indigenous groups ( for example, Maori and Aboriginal peoples), ethnic minorities (who mostly hail from immigrant backgrounds) and single parents, amongst others. With the emergence of the New Right and their neoclassical agenda of shrinking the size of the state, there has been a need to scapegoat these and other groups. This has been done in order to popularly advance free market economic and social agendas which have seen the rise of social inequality. Therefore, it's a pretty easy shot to call for the sterilisation of criminals, drug users and violent single mothers. It gets the talkback lines humming, it gets the letter writers clicking pen and clacking keyboard, it gets the bloggers (like me) debating the issues in cyberspace.

But the 'dog whistle' code is there for those who are most receptive to it. With David Garrett's call think Maori. Think Pacific Island. Think state house. Think 'poor white/brown trash'. Think welfare bludger. Think social parasite. Garrett and his right wing ilk (who include such luminaries as Paul Henry, Michael Laws, etc, who have all been known to make similar comments) find it easy to plant these ideas into the popular subconsciousness.

Therefore, eugenics hasn't completely died off in the 21st century. It is alive and well. To exploit a terrible and real issue like intergenerational child abuse in this way is wrong. What is really needed to address this issue are anti-poverty programmes; social support for all parents across the socio-economic spectrum that recognises the value of raising children; violence prevention, drug and alcohol counselling and parenting courses for those deemed most at risk of perpetrating intergenerational abuse; and ongoing support from adequately funded state and community agencies for this at-risk group.

The reality though is is that Garrett and other right wingers of their ilk don't want to pay more taxes to do this. They are more interested in propagating seemingly easy fix solutions like offering one-off bribes to the poor to control their reproductive ability. They would, therefore, deny the right of people to seek help in order to become better parents. After all, we want a violence free world for all our kids - and it isn't going to be achieved by what is, on the face of it, a highly racially discriminatory solution.

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Acknowledgements: Chris Ford: Read here

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

More than a thousand activists and experts attended this week's Fourth World Congress...

Gas ChamberImage by Cowtools via Flickr

GENEVA, Feb 25 (IPS) - More than 1,000 activists and experts attending this week's Fourth World Congress Against the Death Penalty in this Swiss city are building a network of cooperation to support local organisations campaigning for human rights in countries that retain capital punishment.

One-third of the world's countries still apply the death sentence, and 1,290 persons were executed in 2008, according to Amnesty International (AI).

Nevertheless, there was marked global progress towards abolition of the death penalty in 2008, said the London-based rights watchdog.

In fact a real change in the history of the death penalty has occurred over the last 30 years, said Mario Marazziti, spokesman for the Community of Sant'Egidio, a Rome-based organisation that promotes international relations founded on human rights and North-South interdependence.

Back in the 1970s, only 23 countries had abolished the death penalty, by removing it from the statute books or ceasing to practice it, whereas today United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reports that 141 nations have taken this step, or 139 countries according to AI, said Marazziti.

The discrepancy arises because "specialist organisations may have access to confidential information that one or two executions have been carried out in a couple of countries, without any publicity," so there is doubt about the status of one or two countries, the Italian expert said.

So "we have around 140 countries without the death penalty, out of 192 in the world," said Marazziti, who added that the figures "indicate a real acceleration in at least the past 20 years."

As well as strengthening an international support network for those campaigning against court-ordered executions, the World Congress, which ends Friday, is planning a common strategy for the U.N. General Assembly session in December that is due to discuss a resolution for a moratorium on the death penalty.

An appropriate strategy must include simultaneous action in every region of the world, Marazziti told IPS. The Community of Sant'Egidio is calling on South Africa, Russia and Brazil to commit themselves to this effort, and help bring in other players like Mexico and Chile, he said.

That way, it cannot be argued that this is a European initiative, or the product of a single school of thought. It will be a demand made by the whole world, the expert said.

Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero of Spain, which currently holds the EU rotating presidency, confirmed that he will push for approval of the death penalty moratorium resolution at the U.N. General Assembly.

Opening the World Congress on Wednesday, Zapatero said his government wishes to establish an International Commission Against the Death Penalty. Such a body would be a great help in securing universal application of an effective moratorium by 2015, as a step towards total abolition, he said.

The year 2015 was not chosen at random: it coincides with the deadline approved in 2000 by U.N. member countries for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which set targets for slashing hunger, poverty and disease and improving education, health, equality and preservation of the environment.

"As well as slavery and torture, the death penalty must be consigned to history. It's a barbaric and old-fashioned way of interpreting justice," said Marazziti.

"I think the MDGs mean that life must be respected under any circumstances, even when there is suspicion of a crime," he said. "I want that to be respected, because not all the MDGs are respected."

The countries where the most executions took place in 2008 included China (1,718), Iran (346), Saudi Arabia (102), the United States (37), Pakistan (36), Iraq (34), Vietnam (19), Afghanistan (17), and North Korea and Japan (15 each).

Changes are happening in the United States, Marazziti said. Even in the state of Texas, where there is a high level of support for the death penalty, "only eight new death sentences were handed down in 2009 whereas the previous annual average was 48. And (the states of) New Jersey and New Mexico have abolished the death penalty within the last two years," he added.

In China, two things have happened. "The Supreme Court removed the power to pass death sentences from the local courts two years ago, and observers said that this should bring about a reduction of up to 30 percent in new death sentences," he said.

And a few days ago, "the Supreme Court published official guidelines instructing tribunals not to give the death penalty except for very heinous crimes or crimes against the state. So, this is another good sign," Marazziti said.

Last month, Mongolia abolished the death penalty. Uzbekistan had already done so, and Kazakhstan has eliminated it for ordinary crimes.

Marazziti highlighted the cases of Cambodia, Rwanda and Burundi, "three countries that have really suffered the last three big genocides in contemporary history, yet feel that only without the death penalty can a reconciliation process be started in their societies. Otherwise revenge, and the thirst for revenge, will never end."

These countries' abolition of capital punishment is "a very symbolic and meaningful step that can be an answer to those countries that say: 'We have a high level of violence, we need the death penalty'," he stressed.

"I think that we are experiencing a positive trend to eradicate the death penalty in the world," said the Italian expert.

Originally many African societies did not have the death penalty. It arrived hand in hand with colonialism, because African nations copied European constitutions and many other customs, he pointed out.

But on this issue, Africa is now changing faster than the other continents, he concluded.

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Monday, March 01, 2010

Chile earthquake toll expected to surpass 1,000...

Global plate tectonic movementImage via Wikipedia

News | International2 Mar 2010 17:06| ho

Chile quake toll expected to pass 1,000:

The official quake death toll in Chile is over 700, but that is expected to soon pass 1,000 as more bodies are discovered

A World Vision worker in Chile is predicting a dramatic rise in the earthquake's death toll.

The official count is just over 700, but rescuers are making grim discoveries by the hour and say the toll could hit 1,000 soon.

Michael Black from the aid agency in the capital Santiago says it is still difficult to communicate with the worst hit town of Concepcion, with telecommunications down and roads torn up.

"The Pan-American Highway that connects Chile from north to south is cut down in several places. Both the airports, in Santiago and the main airport in Concepcion, are severely damaged and down."

World Vision works with between 25,000 and 30,000 children in the region, and the only way to find out what is happening to them in the worst hit city of Concepcion is to fly in by helicopter. Mr Black says looting has become a very serious issue.

"Last night the Government decided to call for a curfew. As of 9pm there were 1,500 military forces in the city of Concepcion guarding especially supermarkets."

Residents have no electricity, no water and no food. Even if they have money, there is nowhere to buy food. Mr Black says World Vision hopes it can start getting food and water in by tomorrow.

New Zealand businessman and motorcycle adventurer Gareth Morgan has arrived in the Chilean capital of Santiago. He says despite the city being quite away from the epicentre, it has suffered a lot of damage, with infrastructure hit hard, particularly water supplies.

"Pedestrian walkways across the motorways have all collapsed. So they're all lying on their side. You see four storey retail buildings with the whole front just fallen off."

Mr Morgan is now heading to Concepcion, but says the roads are so badly damaged it may not be possible.

Officials are now trying to contact 20 New Zealanders thought to be in Chile and not heard from since the earthquake. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has contacted around around 250 others to confirm they are safe. It says communication networks in Chile remain disrupted but are improving.

Acknowledgements: 2010 NZCity, NewsTalkZB

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