The Illusion of Equality: Democracy vs dictatorship

On Quora the question: “Is American democracy really so much better than Chinese dictatorship?” was asked. In my opinion, the following answer by Emmanuel-Francis Nwaolisa Ogomegbunam on 27 Oct 2015, was one of the best.

I’m Nigerian, but I’m weirdly qualified to answer this because in 1979 the leaders of my country copied the American system in its entirety, after 8 years of the British system ended in utter chaos!

The American system here already seems on its last legs, what with the North-East burning, the South-East in pseudo revolt and the South-South controlled by pirates. From my viewpoint, its not the system that matters, its the leaders! We’ve tried democracies and dictatorships and all have been generally terrible leaders, with that said, the dictators have been by far effective and its not even close. Lets go back to the Nigerian past.

In the beginning of the 19th century, there were no African countries save Egypt(which was much larger) and Ethiopia, the area presently known as Nigeria could be roughly divided into three power spheres. Most of present day Northern Nigeria+Parts of Chad+Parts of Niger and Parts of Cameroon was the Sokoto Caliphate, the South West of the country+ Togo were dominated by the Yoruba States of Ibadan and Abeokuta, the South-East+ the South South were trading states who understood the problems war brought to trade, however the Aro state were the trading hegemon in the area(think of them as the Nigerian version of Goldie’s Royal Niger Company or the Dutch VOC). This was Nigeria at its most powerful, the closest thing to a democracy in my list, the Aro would be called a “flawed democracy” these days.

The British who eventually controlled the entirety of Nigeria by 1914 were obviously not a democracy and yet most of the systems they introduced; e.g the laws(in parts of Nigeria, things like the Sales of Goods Act and the Criminal Code are still those the British pronounced), the policing system, the lingua-franca, the rail network and old roads are still in use today.

Finally in 1960, we got our taste of democracy and it was a disaster, elections were widely rigged, riots were the order of the day, there wasn’t an agreeable census(still isn’t, we’re probably the only country in the world that estimates our population), corruption became institutionalised and it all culminated in 30 month civil war.

We returned back to the dictatorships and they despite being massively corrupt managed to; centralise power at the Federal centre which on one hand reduced the ability of the constituent units to start another civil war but is also the excuse some use for our underdevelopment, one bloody coup+ civil war later, General Gowon settled down to rule and introduced the driving system we currently use, the currency we currently use, introduced the NYSC. General Obasanjo, hosted the FESTAC, started Operation feed the nation and handed power over to the civilians.

This was the point where we adopted the American system, which gave us the government widely agreed to be either the most or the second most corrupt government in my nation’s history, which considering they have all been corrupt is no mean feat. Fun-Fact, the democracies are all ranked as the top four. I’ll get to why later.

We returned back to the dictatorships, and they managed to change the colour of our currency to the one currently in use, introduce the queuing culture into the country(this was the famous queue or be whipped stance of our current President in his dictator days), completed our Federal Capital, electrified the majority of the country, built the third-mainland bridge in Lagos, built the majority of our airports and express-ways. Also in my country under the dictators, I’m told electricity was better and the government provided water.

We’ve been a democracy now for 16 years and you’re forced to deal with stuff like this:

Those are obviously extremes, but in 16 years of democracy, American style democracy to be specific; our leaders can not point to one single infrastructural or societal achievement. They either take credit for things like “introducing mobile phone-networks into the country” or “renovating existing roads” as great achievements.

In my view, American style democracy has its flaws, and my country’s leaders have exposed it:

  • American style democracy is highly divisive, frankly America itself is a wonder to watch, divided across many issues and yet all loyal to the country. However here, its different, you see in Nigeria there is no such thing as a government safety net, in your times of trouble it is inevitably your family who rally around you and what is the tribe but an extension of family. It is why campaigns here are simply not voting for the “other”, it gets worse the further North you head with the horrific literacy levels. This of-course works when “your Brother” has the development of the country at heart and not wanting to loot state funds for a house at Hyde park, but so far all leaders have all preferred to loot the country blind.
  • American style democracy simply cannot work in a country with the illiteracy levels mine has, the illiteracy turns voting into “client-talism”, where you have people voting not for the ideals espoused by the candidate, but for things ranging from Bags of Rice, N10,000 in cash to Smart-phones. I always find it hilarious when Americans complain about money in their politics; first-world problems. In between the cash for vote and the tribal politics, its simply impossible to vote in the right leader.
  • American style democracy is expensive!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! so expensive in fact that my country currently spends 70% of its budget on recurrent expenditures i.e allowing our useless politicians to leave in style and paying our frankly useless civil service, with debts still having to be paid, this leaves very little for capital expenditures, which is why here we’re grateful for 10 hours of power, lecturers skip classes to handle private businesses, public hospitals are literally hell!!!, basically everything is messed up.
  • Finally, full democracy itself has so far had a poor record in transforming a country, the countries having the fastest rises from poverty have so far been either dictatorships or “flawed” democracies; flawed democracies are a term which I’ve never understood.

To conclude, many of the respondents to your question don’t know what its like to live in a poor country, the last time the world was poor(the great depression), democracy was nearly wiped out, to them democracy being the obvious best seems a no-brainer. Personally, I’m concerned that we’ve all seemed to settle on this one system and condemned the rest, throughout humanity’s history, it has been a constant experimentation with what forms of leadership is best for that particular area, Athens didn’t impose democracy on Sparta, the European monarchies didn’t impose monarchy on America; somewhere along the line that changed and the world has suffered for it. In my opinion to each their system.

The Chinese dictatorship has been good for China, one only need compare the reception Xi Jinping got from your country to the one my President got where he sneaked into 10 Downing, was kept waiting and went to beg(it was humiliating, personally). American democracy has obviously been good for America, though one could argue it has crossed the line into “flawed” democracy and dictatorships many times in its history.

Igbo democracy was good for the Igbo republics; Constitutional/Absolute monarchy was good for the Oyo; Military republicanism was good for Ibadan, a Theocracy was good for the Sokoto Caliphate.

American and British democracy has however been bad for Nigeria.

Understanding equality

In 1948 member states of the United Nations met and 48 of them ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Its signatories hoped that:

“… every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.”

The UDHR is a declaration of intent and not legally binding. Its purpose is to try to define what fundamental freedoms and human rights are. Far from all nations have agreed on those definitions or even the need for a declaration of human rights. Even the countries who ratified it often do poorly in ensuring their national state upholds its principles if those principles go against tradition, beliefs or current regulations. When signatory member states are as varied as the People’s Republic of China, Norway and Syria, it is no wonder that the road traveled has been filled with potholes.

Originally, the UDHR was written in English but has later been translated into 500 languages. Language is a powerful tool. Definitions matter. Nations need to know what is meant by a concept or they risk endangering relationships with other nations. The UN created the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights to help nations and individuals understand the UDHR. The first article of the UDHR states:

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

What do concepts such as “free”, “equal”, “dignity”, “reason”, “conscience” and “spirit of brotherhood” mean? A common thread seems to apply regarding the implementation of Article 1. We have a long way to go.

Declaration of Principles on Equality

3-5 April 2008 a group of experts got together at a conference in London arranged by The Equal Rights Trust. At this conference titled Principles on Equality and the Development of Legal Standards on Equality, they put together a document called Declaration of Principles on Equality, consisting of 27 principles that aim towards understanding equality better.

People are discriminated against for such characteristics as age, disability, race, belief/no-belief, gender, sexual orientation, marital status and maternity. Discrimination may be direct or indirect. In Mississippi and North-Carolina, USA, a bathroom law was passed forcing men and women to use a bathroom/locker-room that matched their birth-sex instead of their gender. People with disabilities may be accused of faking it or using their disability to get attention (gas-lighting). The following 27 principles, hopefully, enable law-makers, businesses, health-personnel and others become aware of steps they need to take to make their society more equal. Whether people really want others to be equal to themselves, is a question I fear has a depressing answer.

  1. The right to equality
  2. Equal treatment
  3. Positive action
  4. The right to non-discrimination
  5. Definition of discrimination
  6. Relationship between the grounds of discrimination
  7. Discrimination and violence
  8. Scope of Application
  9. Right-holders
  10. Duty-bearers
  11. Giving Effect to the Right to Equality
  12. Obligations Regarding Multiple Discrimination
  13. Accommodating Difference
  14. Measures Against Poverty
  15. Specificity of Equality Legislation
  16. Participation
  17. Education on Equality
  18. Access to Justice
  19. Victimisation
  20. Standing
  21. Evidence and Proof
  22. Remedies and Sanctions
  23. Specialised Bodies
  24. Duty to Gather Information
  25. Dissemination of Information
  26. Prohibition of Regressive Interpretation
  27. Derogations and Reservations

1 The Right to Equality

The right to equality is the right of all human beings to be equal in dignity, to be treated with respect and consideration and to participate on an equal basis with others in any area of economic, social, political, cultural or civil life. All human beings are equal before the law and have the right to equal protection and benefit of the law.

2 Equal Treatment

Equal treatment, as an aspect of equality, is not equivalent to identical treatment. To realise full and effective equality it is necessary to treat people differently according to their different circumstances, to assert their equal worth and to enhance their capabilities to participate in society as equals.

3 Positive Action

To be effective, the right to equality requires positive action.

Positive action, which includes a range of legislative, administrative and policy measures to overcome past disadvantage and to accelerate progress towards equality of particular groups, is a necessary element within the right to equality.

4 The Right to Non-discrimination

The right to non-discrimination is a free-standing, fundamental right, subsumed in the right to equality.

5 Definition of Discrimination

Discrimination must be prohibited where it is on grounds of race, colour, ethnicity, descent, sex, pregnancy, maternity, civil, family or carer status, language, religion or belief, political or other opinion, birth, national or social origin, nationality, economic status, association with a national minority, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, disability, health status, genetic or other predisposition toward illness or a combination of any of these grounds, or on the basis of characteristics associated with any of these grounds.

Discrimination based on any other ground must be prohibited where such discrimination (i) causes or perpetuates systemic disadvantage; (ii) undermines human dignity; or (iii) adversely affects the equal enjoyment of a person’s rights and freedoms in a serious manner that is comparable to discrimination on the prohibited grounds stated above.

Discrimination must also be prohibited when it is on the ground of the association of a person with other persons to whom a prohibited ground applies or the perception, whether accurate or otherwise, of a person as having a characteristic associated with a prohibited ground.

Discrimination may be direct or indirect.

Direct discrimination occurs when for a reason related to one or more prohibited grounds a person or group of persons is treated less favourably than another person or another group of persons is, has been, or would be treated in a comparable situation; or when for a reason related to one or more prohibited grounds a person or group of persons is subjected to a detriment. Direct discrimination may be permitted only very exceptionally, when it can be justified against strictly defined criteria.

Indirect discrimination occurs when a provision, criterion or practice would put persons having a status or a characteristic associated with one or more prohibited grounds at a particular disadvantage compared with other persons, unless that provision, criterion or practice is objectively justified by a legitimate aim, and the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary.

Harassment constitutes discrimination when unwanted conduct related to any prohibited ground takes place with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person or of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

An act of discrimination may be committed intentionally or unintentionally.

6 Relationship between the Grounds of Discrimination

Legislation must provide for equal protection from discrimination regardless of the ground or combination of grounds concerned.

7 Discrimination and Violence

Any act of violence or incitement to violence that is motivated wholly or in part by the victim having a characteristic or status associated with a prohibited ground constitutes a serious denial of the right to equality. Such motivation must be treated as an aggravating factor in the commission of offences of violence and incitement to violence, and States must take all appropriate action to penalise, prevent and deter such acts.

8 Scope of Application

The right to equality applies in all areas of activity regulated by law.

9 Right-holders

The right to equality is inherent to all human beings and may be asserted by any person or a group of persons who have a common interest in asserting this right.

The right to equality is to be freely exercised by all persons present in or subject to the jurisdiction of a State.

Legal persons must be able to assert a right to protection against discrimination when such discrimination is, has been or would be based on their members, employees or other persons associated with a legal person having a status or characteristic associated with a prohibited

10 Duty-bearers

States have a duty to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the right to equality for all persons present within their territory or subject to their jurisdiction. Non-state actors, including transnational corporations and other non-national legal entities, should respect the right to equality in all areas of activity regulated by law.

11 Giving Effect to the Right to Equality

States must take the steps that are necessary to give full effect to the right to equality in all activities of the State both domestically and in its external or international role. In particular States must

(a) Adopt all appropriate constitutional, legislative, administrative and other measures for the implementation of the right to equality;

(b) Take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices that conflict or are incompatible with the right to equality;

(c) Promote equality in all relevant policies and programmes;

(d) Review all proposed legislation for its compatibility with the right to equality;

(e) Refrain from adopting any policies or engaging in any act or practice that is inconsistent with the right to equality;

(f) Take all appropriate measures to ensure that all public authorities and institutions act in conformity with the right to equality;

(g) Take all appropriate measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination by any person, or any public or private sector organisation.

12 Obligations Regarding Multiple Discrimination

Laws and policies must provide effective protection against multiple discrimination, that is, discrimination on more than one ground. Particular positive action measures, as defined in Principle 3, may be required to overcome past disadvantage related to the combination of two or more prohibited grounds.

13 Accommodating Difference

To achieve full and effective equality it may be necessary to require public and private sector organisations to provide reasonable accommodation for different capabilities of individuals related to one or more prohibited grounds.

Accommodation means the necessary and appropriate modifications and adjustments, including anticipatory measures, to facilitate the ability of every individual to participate in any area of economic, social, political, cultural or civil life on an equal basis with others. It should not be an obligation to accommodate difference where this would impose a disproportionate or undue burden on the provider.

14 Measures against Poverty

As poverty may be both a cause and a consequence of discrimination, measures to alleviate poverty should be coordinated with measures to combat discrimination, in the pursuit of full and effective equality.

15 Specificity of Equality Legislation

The realisation of the right to equality requires the adoption of equality laws and policies that are comprehensive and sufficiently detailed and specific to encompass the different forms and manifestations of discrimination and disadvantage.

16 Participation

All persons, particularly those who have experienced or who are vulnerable to discrimination, should be consulted and involved in the development and implementation of laws and policies implementing the right to equality.

17 Education on Equality

States have a duty to raise public awareness about equality, and to ensure that all educational establishments, including private, religious and military schools, provide suitable education on equality as a fundamental right.

18 Access to Justice

Persons who have been subjected to discrimination have a right to seek legal redress and an effective remedy. They must have effective access to judicial and/or administrative procedures, and appropriate legal aid for this purpose. States must not create or permit undue obstacles, including financial obstacles or restrictions on the representation of victims, to the effective enforcement of the right to equality.

19 Victimisation

States must introduce into their national legal systems such measures as are necessary to protect individuals from any adverse treatment or adverse consequence as a reaction to a complaint or to proceedings aimed at enforcing compliance with equality provisions.

20 Standing

States should ensure that associations, organisations or other legal entities, which have a legitimate interest in the realisation of the right to equality, may engage, either on behalf or in support of the persons seeking redress, with their approval, or on their own behalf, in any judicial and/or administrative procedure provided for the enforcement of the right to equality.

21 Evidence and Proof

Legal rules related to evidence and proof must be adapted to ensure that victims of discrimination are not unduly inhibited in obtaining redress. In particular, the rules on proof in civil proceedings should be adapted to ensure that when persons who allege that they have been subjected to discrimination establish, before a court or other competent authority, facts from which it may be presumed that there has been discrimination (prima facie case), it shall be for the respondent to prove that there has been no breach of the right to equality.

22 Remedies and Sanctions

Sanctions for breach of the right to equality must be effective, proportionate and dissuasive. Sanctions must provide for appropriate remedies for those whose right to equality has been breached including reparations for material and non-material damages; sanctions may also require the elimination of discriminatory practices and the implementation of structural, institutional, organisational, or policy change that is necessary for the realisation of the right to equality.

23 Specialised Bodies

States must establish and maintain a body or a system of coordinated bodies for the protection and promotion of the right to equality. States must ensure the independent status and competences of such bodies in line with the UN Paris Principles, as well as adequate funding and transparent procedures for the appointment and removal of their members.

24 Duty to Gather Information

To give full effect to the right to equality States must collect and publicise information, including relevant statistical data, in order to identify inequalities, discriminatory practices and patterns of disadvantage, and to analyse the effectiveness of measures to promote equality. States must not use such information in a manner that violates human rights.

25 Dissemination of Information

Laws and policies adopted to give effect to the right to equality must be accessible to all persons. States must take steps to ensure that all such laws and policies are brought to the attention of all persons who may be concerned by all appropriate means.

26 Prohibition of Regressive Interpretation

In adopting and implementing laws and policies to promote equality, there shall be no regression from the level of protection against discrimination that has already been achieved.

27 Derogations and Reservations

No derogation from the right to equality shall be permitted. Any reservation to a treaty or other international instrument, which would derogate from the right to equality, shall be null and void.

Assigning gender and “experts”

From Hverdagstoy
From Hverdagstoy

My daughter is a woman, yet was assigned male at birth. She has given permission to tell this part of her life.

Here in Norway, even now, anything that does not involve penis-hatred, makes you a person who is not a true transgender. Until the law is changed (in the works) a person cannot legally change their gender without a full surgical change of every single gender identifying body-part. That also goes for intersex people. (This law was changed July 2016 and you no longer need a physical transition for change of legal gender) In addition, hormone treatment cannot start at the onset of puberty – even to delay puberty. Unless, you get the diagnose “F.64.0 transseksualisme” at Rikshospitalet, you will be referred to psychological services instead. So people lie about how much they abhor their bodies. Without dysphoria, no treatment.

Through most of her life my daughter has presented as female. From she was about five years old she grew her hair out. It stayed long until a hair-dresser took it into her hands to cut it off. Never went back there again. When she was about ten years old, she came to me and very clearly told me she no longer wanted to be a boy. We sat down, talked about it and figured out exactly what she meant. I said I would see what information I could find and if there was a place we could turn for help.

I called around and said something like, “I have a daughter who is experiencing …… Is there any person there who can help her.” Norway is a small country (5 mill) and our access to specialists on gender in children is small. One place that is supposed to provide such expertise is Institutt for klinisk sexologi og terapi. Its founder is considered one of Norway’s foremost experts on sexuality. His name is Thore Langfeldt. This is the person we went to, and we thought we were in safe hands.

The short and simple of this acquaintance was that Sophia needed to work through her bullying and all would be well. By “well” it was understood that Sophia would be comfortable being a boy. I am Aspergers. Eleven years ago I was leaving Mormonism and had no clue about what gender really was. I’d always (and still do) presented as non-conformative as female. The idea of gender has confused me for as far back as I can remember. Some people call that gender queer. Me, I call it me. All three factors led me to accept Langfeldt’s verdict, and Sophia’s went through many years of unnecessary identity-struggles.

How life would have been for her, if Langfeldt had listened better and been a bit wiser is impossible to say. Perhaps better. Perhaps worse. Prejudice exists everywhere. What we can know is what did happen. Because Sophia was female in all but clothing (we aren’t exactly very fashion/gender-conscious) the boys would not accept her. But neither would the girls. All because of an initial. Things got dark in periods. Suicide was often thought of and planned by Sophia. During a two-year period she even tried presenting as male. All of the symptoms of depression were there.

Finally, the autumn of 2014, Norwegian TV2 showed a documentary series called “Født i feil kropp“. She once again went to Langfeldt who claimed she was “just gay” and to not tell us. Sophia knew she was very much into women. Thankfully, she found a better shrink. One who claimed that she was one of the most obvious cases of trans-woman that he had met. She told us. No problem. Here she is, one year after starting hormone treatment, and her hormone levels are well within female levels. She looks, sounds and behaves more like the world views women than I do.

Investigative journalism threatened by commercialization

I have noticed a greater tendency toward what I call copy-journalism. Facts aren’t checked, and people are taken at their word. Some time ago I wrote a post on another blog about a person whose self-presentation did not fit the facts. Yet her narrative was the one media used. Even though the case was small, it mattered a great deal to all parties involved. For the first time a post of mine was shared in large numbers.

This article is about freedom of the press and how commercialization and the powers that be are threatening it in the US. The US is not the only country where that is the case. Norwegian press is being influenced by the demands of clicks. We need a free press, a press that is willing and able to investigate and dig for information. If not, our future looks bleak.

‘If we can’t have faith in press, we’ve lost’: Snowden on failing journalism

Published time: 11 May, 2016 18:24

Former US intelligence contractor and whistle blower Edward Snowden. © Lotta Hardelin / Dagens Nyheter
Former US intelligence contractor and whistle blower Edward Snowden. © Lotta Hardelin / Dagens Nyheter / AFP

Journalism as a weapon has never been stronger, but has never been less willing to serve the public good, says whistleblower Edward Snowden. The former NSA contractor has called for a reassessment of the public’s relationship to the media.

Journalism as a weapon has never been stronger, but has never been less willing to serve the public good, says whistleblower Edward Snowden. The former NSA contractor has called for a reassessment of the public’s relationship to the media.

He outlines his views on the present state of journalism and the increasing role that those in power play in controlling it in an interview he gave to the Columbia Journalism Review.

One of the most challenging things about the changing nature of the public’s relationship to media and the government’s relationship to media is that media has never been stronger than it is now,” Snowden says. “At the same time, the press is less willing to use that sort of power and influence because of its increasing commercialization.

Part of the reason is capitalistic greed and the 24-hour news cycle, according to Snowden. There is a conveyor belt of information that is aimed more at competition and staying afloat than at questioning the official line or writing a story that would set a source apart from competing outlets.

One example of this is writing counter-narratives to somebody’s exclusive coverage instead of spreading a good story. When the reporting of facts takes a back seat, the media isn’t doing its only job.

Snowden specifically calls out the New York Times as an offender.The Intercept recently published The Drone Papers, which was an extraordinary act of public service on the part of a whistleblower within the government to get the public information that’s absolutely vital about things that we should have known more than a decade ago,” Snowden remembers. But the majors – specifically The New York Times – don’t actually run the story, they ignore it completely.

The former intelligence contractor now living in exile in Russia believes that in the post-9/11 world the media has increasingly drifted away from its primary purpose as a public service to becoming an instrument for the promotion of the government line and the strengthening of its elites.

If it involved the word ‘terrorism,’ these were facts that wouldn’t be challenged. If the government said, ‘Look, this is secret for a reason, this is classified for a reason,’ journalists would leave it at that,” Snowden said, referring to major US news outlets.

However, he also believes there’s no better time to strike back at this monopoly over information, especially with all the new technological tools we have at our disposal. Revelations such as the ones relating to NSA’s blanket-spying PRISM program deal a strong blow to the establishment.

When the government is shown in a most public way, particularly for a president who campaigned on the idea of curtailing this sort of activity, to have continued those policies, in many cases expanded them in ways contrary to what the public would expect, they have to come up with some defense, Snowden says.

The exiled whistleblower talks about media as both a threat to the hegemony of the surveillance state and as its strongest weapon.

The public’s relationship to it changed in the post-9/11 world. New models of journalistic delivery emerged, including the proliferation of social media as a formidable reporting instrument.

This is actually one of the ways that you’ve seen new media actors, and actually malicious actors, exploit what are perceived as new vulnerabilities in media control of the narrative, for example Donald Trump, Snowden warns.

An added danger of social media, according to Snowden, lies in people’s inherent trust that they’re getting a better deal than with established corporate media. And a further drawback shared by both social and corporate media is that he who has the loudest voice and the biggest viewership always has a bigger chance. Even a good, honest investigation can get smothered if only one source dares to report it.

The director of the FBI can make a false statement, or some kind of misleading claim in congressional testimony. I can fact-check and I can say this is inaccurate. Unless some entity with a larger audience, for example, an established institution of journalism, sees that themselves, the value of these sorts of statements is still fairly minimal, Snowden explains.

This has a flipside in the form of a large interplay and valuable interactions that are emerging from these new media self-publication Twitter-type services and the generation of stories and the journalist user base of Twitter, Snowden believes.

So, what has changed in the information sphere since the 2013 NSA leaks and was there really a loss of innocence for the public? Why was there such surprise at the revelations that the NSA was running a blanket-spying program? Snowden remembers past revelations, but sees a key difference. If before there was reasonable anger that specific far-reaching government capabilities existed, the NSA leaks of 2013 took that to the next level by claiming that this technology was actually being used.

…What happened in 2013 is we transformed the public debate from allegation to fact. The distance between allegation and fact, at times, makes all the difference in the world, Snowden says.

One markedly different thing now was that the US government had to start using lawfulness as a concept. If before it was protected by a veil of secrecy and could carry on with its activities unabated, [it] suddenly needed to make a case for lawfulness, and that meant the government had to disclose court orders that the journalists themselves did not have access to, that I did not have access to, that no one in the NSA at all had access to, because they were bounded in a completely different agency, in the Department of Justice, Snowden explains. …

You may read the rest of the article at RT Question More

How We Talk About Women And Sex

As I said in a previous post, I have been raised Mormon. Their ideas surrounding women and sexuality are, as most conservative religions, are detrimental to sexual well-being. Sex before marriage is a no-no. If that rule is broken, and a leader finds out, a person loses privileges. It is a girl’s/woman’s responsibility that boys/men are not tempted. Language in the Mormon faith is patriarchal and male privilege laded.

Christene’s article about linguistic patterns specific to women’s roles in sex and relationships exemplifies how we, both men and women, nurture these patterns and speaks of how we might learn to listen and read more carefully. Once a person becomes aware of just how patriarchal English (and Norwegian) is, that genie is out of its bottle forever.

5151276537_7c33fd41dd_b
Lead image: Flickr.com/José Manuel Ríos Valiente

April 16, 2016 | by Christene

In February, I wrote a piece on having been raised by a sex-positive mother. It was a topic that had been stirring in the back of my mind for a while, as my mom’s parenting style largely cemented my belief that open communication about sex, relationships, and reproductive health is crucial among families and in schools.

One of the many reasons I’m glad I was brought up with a sex-positive outlook is that I developed a clear sense of sexual agency and bodily autonomy. Or, as Emily Heist Moss worded it, I grew up with the understanding that “expressing sexuality is not the same as being sexualized.” As the male gaze continues to pervade everything from music to advertising, we must reframe the choices that girls and women make as their own and not “for” their male counterparts.

Much of this, in my view, has to do with the language we use to reference women’s sexuality. Linguistic patterns hold over time with repeated and widespread use, contributing to our culture in ways that often fly under the radar. For example, our common use of the “male default” when referring to creatures of unknown gender (animals, deities) or groups of both men and women (“mankind,” “policemen,” and the insidious “you guys”) enforces a standard with myriad far-reaching effects. Women are not only categorized as “less” or “other”—they are defined relationally.

Here are a few linguistic patterns specific to women’s roles in sex and relationships that, as part of our modern vernacular, rob women of their agency. ……

The rest of the article may be read at Role Reboot

2015 Aug 5: AFrogInTheFjord: Morals in Politics: What if French DSK had been Norwegian?

Sometimes I despair over Norwegian politics because of the path it seems to be travelling down. I see attitudes that seem to indicate a sense of self-importance in more of them that simply do not fit with the job they do. In earlier times there was no bridge between rich and poor, elite and commoner. 1905 brought about a gradual coming together that is now, once again, disappearing. We are ever so slowly entering the game of excusing our “betters” (who are anything but) their flaws that the rest of the world seems to embrace. This post by Frog in The Fjord illustrates what I see as our future if we aren’t able to pull out before we, the commoners, have become pregnant with the flaws of the “shitelite”.

Illustration: Ole Johnny Hansen for afroginthefjord.com. All rights reserved
Illustration: Ole Johnny Hansen for afroginthefjord.com. All rights reserved

Do you remember Dominique Strauss Kahn? Or DSK like we call him in France? He was a high profile French politician, once the Head of the International Monetary Fund, French Ministry of Finance, and one press release away from becoming a serious candidate to become France’s President in 2012.

He was basically one of the most powerful men in the world, until this day of May 2011 when he was taken on a “perp walk” in New York City, handcuffed, his eyes blitzed away by hundreds of journalists witnessing a fall like we only see in Hollywood movies. That year DSK was accused of attempted rape and sexual assault by a room cleaner in the Sofitel hotel he was occupying, Nafissatou Diallo. The Sofitel trial was reported on international media, and ended with a settlement where DSK gave 1,5 million dollars to Diallo. Although he settled and therefore escaped a final decision of the judge, potentially a conviction, if DSK had been a Norwegian politician this would be a good example of what Norwegian journalists call a political suicide. But in France he was still called a “seductor”.

In Norway a non registered stabbur will get you out of a job. In France aggravated pimping will make you a potential President of the Republic.

It doesn’t stop there. Between 2013 and 2015 he was in another trial, accused this time of aggravated pimping in a prostitution network in North of France and Belgium. Acquitted again. He admitted having orgies but also said he did not know the 40 women laying with him were prostitutes. The prosecutor found that he had benefited from prostitution that others had paid for. So he is not guilty, legally. What about morally? But imagine you read in the newspapers the painful testimony of a woman at the bar explaining the sadism in the man’s eyes when he forced them to perform sexual acts (never named) she were uncomfortable with. Would you vote for this man if he wanted to exist again in the political arena of your country? Even if he begged for forgiveness? (DSK didn’t, in case you were wondering).

If you are Norwegian your answer to this question is certainly “no”. Although this man was never found guilty, there are so many stains on his CV that he lost all the trust of the people he is supposed to represent. In his carrier he was also accused twice of corruption (also acquitted or settled out of court). Plus he doesn’t seem to respect women very much, not a good sign for Norwegians.

But if you are French the spectrum of answers is much wider. Believe it or not, recent polls show DSK in the top 5 of the politicians French voters see as good candidates for the 2017 presidential elections. And he recently wrote two opinion pieces on the way Germany and the EU deal with the Greek crisis that show that he does not see himself as politically dead at all. Not only does he see himself as back in the game, so do French voters.

In Norway on the other hand, one does not need to be accused of aggravated pimping to become a political outcast. You don’t even need to do something criminal, and you don’t even need to be convicted. You rent a storehouse without the right authorizations and you lose all credibility as a politician (Åslaug Hage). That was not even a crime, it was a mistake, and wrong, but still. There are many other examples of Norwegian politicians who had to resign or at the very least apologize for a scandal of this scale: Fabian Stang and his under the table work in his house, Åslaug Haga and her storehouse, Trude Drevland and her free ticket to Venice (for work), or Bård Hoksrud and his Latvian prostitutes to name a few (naming a few politicians, not prostitutes). In France such stories would hardly raise an eyebrow. Maybe create a little laughter.

Norwegians apologize, French accuse others of their crimes

In Norway the first move of a politician is to apologize and ask for the forgiveness of its voters. Politicians don’t apologize in France, that just shows you are weak. Even worse, when a scandal comes out in the news, the classic defence for a French politician is to look outraged. “I am a victim!” is what they scream in the media. Nicolas Sarkozy, Alain Juppé, Jean Francois Copé all said they were victims of a conspiracy when they were accused of all sorts of crimes. And the French public tends to believe them especially in the case of DSK’s Sofitel case. ………………………

http://afroginthefjord.com/2015/08/05/morals-in-politics-what-if-french-dsk-had-been-norwegian/

Seeing reality (or third thoughts)

First Sight and Second Thoughts, that’s what a witch had to rely on: First Sight to see what’s really there, and Second Thoughts to watch the First Thoughts to check that they were thinking right. Then there were the Third Thoughts, which Tiffany had never heard discussed and therefore kept quiet about; they were odd, seemed to think for themselves, and didn’t turn up very often. (Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett)

In 1999 I started on what would end up being a BA in culture and society = 2 years of psychology and 1 year of sociology. Until that time I had lived uncomfortably with my worldviews and life. Throughout the study-years I learned about the processes that interfere with being able to see reality. Cognitive dissonance and the mob effect are the ones I am best able to recognize in my own lives.

Cognitive dissonance

Dilbert - Cognitive dissonance
Creator: Scott Adams

Mob effect

Creator: Mike Keefe
Creator: Mike Keefe

From what I can see the world, in general, is ruled through mob rule. Very few of us sit back and take time/have time to reflect on how our neighborhoods, cities, countries or the world have come to be the way they have. Social influences are ignored because our lives run smoother that way. Our own choices are rationalized with whatever thought-exercise we need to justify whatever it is we have done/are doing/are about to do. Myself included.

Becoming handicapped in a manner that leaves much time for thought and reflection has brought with it a lowering of my personal physical quality of life. In many ways it has forced a heightening of my mental quality of life (although my emotional one often takes a hit). Now I find myself having to ask both second and third thought questions.

Sometimes when we ask questions, the answers we find are neither pleasant nor pretty. People in general, myself included, do not seem to want to understand just how greatly our own values undermine the existence of mammals (humans included) on Earth. My own country is very much part of this destructiveness.

This is the world as I see it:

Realizing, accepting and internalizing that humans make up a tiny fragment of the world is one of my permanent goals. It is in seeing myself as part of the in-group “residents on Tellus”, rather than human/mammal/animal, that motivates me to work harder for continued life on earth, even if that life ends up being without humans.

Løten kommune aksepterer tilsynelatende mishandling av barn i kommunalt avlastningshjem

Jeg er en mor til en herlig datter på snart 12 år, hun har tre diagnoser : Lettere psykisk utviklingshemmet, autisme og AD HD. Vi kom flyttende til Løten Kommune i slutten av 2013. Jeg valgte denne Kommunen fordi boligprisene er lavere enn i nabokommunene samt at det stod på hjemmesiden til Løten Kommune at de hadde et veletablert avlastningshjem for barn med funksjonsnedsettelse.
Etter at jeg hadde kjøpt leilighet i Løten Kommune fikk jeg vite at det ikke stemte at det var kommunalt avlastningshjem her. Fikk også beskjed om fra saksbehandler i Helse og familietjenesten i Løten Kommune at jeg burde bli boende i den Kommunen jeg da skulle flytte ifra, pga at jeg ikke ville få den samme mengde avlastning her. Dette havnet i Kommunestyret, som gjorde at dette ble det avisoppslag i HA og Østlendingen av i oktober 2014.
Helse og familietjenesten klarte imidlertid å skaffe den samme mengde avlastning her i Kommunen januar 2014.
Jeg merket etter en liten stund at min datter ble mere utagerende, fikk angst og mere heng ups hjemme, dette ble tatt opp på samarbeidsmøter. Fikk til svar at alt var bra. 9 mars 2014 ble det rapportert til meg og ledelsen at en ansatt i avlastningsboligen hadde fysisk og psykisk mishandlet min datter. I etterkant av politiavhør og protokollføring fra avlastningen, så ser en hvilken fysisk og psykisk mishandling min datter er blitt utsatt for.
Etter hendelsen i mars 2014, forlangte jeg muntlig og skriftlig å få den ansatte fjernet. Men ledelsen, den ansattes arbeidsgiver mente at hun var egnet til oppgaven å ivareta min datter når hun var på avlastning. Kampen om å få den ansatte fjernet, samt mangel på vedtak om 14 dagers ferieavlastning 2014 var igang, noe som i tillegg til å ha min datter som var mere krevende enn noen gang, gjorde selvfølgelig meg veldig sliten.
Da fikk jeg to bekymringsmeldinger sendt til barnevernet i Løten. Den ene fra Helse og Familietjenesten, den andre fra avlastningen med den voldelige ansatte i spissen. Etter tre mnd undersøkelse så ble selvfølgelig saken henlagt.
Den voldelige ansatte ble ikke fjernet fra sin stilig føre juli 2014, det etter at jeg var heller villig til å ha min datter hjemme 100 %.

Jeg engasjerte en advokat mot Løten Kommune, noe som gjorde at jeg pga økonomiske grunner måtte selge leiligheten vår i desember 2014.
Den lovpålagte ferieavlastningen jeg hadde krav på i 2014, fikk jeg ikke. Men ble i desember tilbudt et pengebeløp på 14000 kr for at de ikke fikk gjennomført ferieavlastning i 2014. Kan nevne at hovedgrunnen til bekymringsmelding til barnevernet var at jeg var sliten, at de var redd for at jeg ikke så min datters store omsorgsbehov.
Nå er vi i juli 2015, ferieavlastning for 2014 og 2015 har jeg ikke fått. Jeg har sendt så mange klager til Helse og familietjenesten og Fylkesmannen på Hamar. Min advokat har sendt mange brev / purringer ang dette.
Helse og familietjenesten har flere ganger skyldt på at klager eller brev har blitt borte, skyldt på internposten sin etc.
Grunnet store omsorgsbehov hos min datter samt denne kampen mot Løten Kommune som jeg mener er helt inkompetente, så fikk jeg i mai 2015 er illebefinnende. Det er påvist at jeg er sliten utbrent og moderat depresjon. Det har ført til at jeg har måttet søke om 100 % barnebolig for min datter. Dette ble anbefalt av Habiliteringstjenesten som støtter meg i at jeg ikke klarer denne belastningen.

Datteren min som jeg elsker over alt på jord, som jeg er for sliten og ødelagt til å ta vare på. Det er resultatet til å flytte til denne Kommunen. Dere har ødelagt datteren min, dere har ødelagt meg, håper dere nå er fornøyd . Dere tenker bare på å spare penger, ikke menneskeverd og omsorg.

Jeg velger etter lang taushet å legge ut dette offentlig. Viktig at allmenheten får se virkeligheten…

Toril Ous.

The Illusion of Equality: Is water a human “right”?

This video from 2005 showing clips from a film called Bottled Life contains three statements from Nestlé Chairman Peter Brabeck.

All three statements by Mr. Brabeck deal with issues that affect Nestlé’s economic status and they all come together to create an extremely negative impression of Mr. Brabeck. Part of one of his comments about water contains this sentence:

“The one opinion, which I think is extreme, is represented by the NGOs, who bang on about declaring water a public right. That means as a human being you should have a right to water. That’s an extreme solution.”:

I reacted strongly and felt the need to post the video. Several things became apparent as I started looking into the matter. On Wikipedia I counted 74 brands of water. But water bottles are far from being the only thing Nestlé produces. Its over 2000 brands include several that use water as a main ingredient and in their production. However, Nestlé is not alone in using water in this manner. When I discovered Huffington Post’s background story on the 2005 video, I worried that I had been unfair to Néstle. So I dug a bit more into the issue of water in the world. One of the things that came up was a film that was published in January 2007 by DokLab called Bottled Life.

Bottled life was challenged by Nestlé and they made up a list of questions that they answered (on their website). DokLab created its own page showing these questions/answers and DokLab commented on each of Nestlé’s questions. This is an example of what that “debate” looks like:

“8. Is it true that Nestlé is responsible for the drop in the groundwater level around the village of Bhati Dilwan in Pakistan, which has caused many springs in the area to dry up?

Nestlé: No. Nestlé Waters is committed to managing the water resources we operate around the world in a responsible manner.  For example, the Sheikhupura factory in Pakistan close to the village of Bhati Dilwan operates two deep wells for its bottling activity. Both wells are equipped with the instrumentation necessary to monitor the key hydrodynamic parameters (including flow rate and water level) on a continuous basis.  This extensive monitoring allows us to identify any risks and to take immediate action to mitigate them to avoid negatively impacting the local aquifer system.

DokLab: In Sheikupura, Nestlé is extracting water from two deep wells and selling it at a high profit. The population there has no means to draw its own drinking water from wells of this kind. In the past years, receding groundwater levels have become a fact of alarming magnitude. The extent, to which Nestlé with its two deep wells is contributing to this decline, is known only to the corporation itself. In order to expand its production of bottled water in Sheikupura, Nestlé was subject to an Environmental Impact Assessment in 2007. The report required subsequent amendments. However, Nestlé never published the amended document. Why not?

My interest rose another notch. In Norway we pay taxes to have clean water reach our taps. Beyond that we can choose to buy or not buy bottled drinking products. Fresh water is over-abundant in Norway and we, and our farmers, sometimes wish the distribution of it was a bit fairer. Other areas of the world are not so lucky and their need can make a tempting target for corporations who are looking mainly to line their shareholders’ pockets with even more money.

According to Shuval (1992) the Minimum Water Requirement for vital human consumption in arid areas like the Middle East is about 125 m3 per person per year (Shuval & Dweik, 2007). Nestlé and its peers, corporations in other fields (like oil companies, especially using the drilling method called “fracking“) and various countries seem to use this basic need for water to push products and/or create problems. The below examples illustrate what incredible power lies in controlling fresh-water access around the world. NOT A SINGLE ONE of these cases show the altruism on the side of corporations. If they appear altruistic, it seems as if they use that appearance to earn more money.

2006 Bechtel Corporation vs. Bolivia

In 1998 IMF (International Monetary Fund) lent Boliva $ 128 million on the condition that they “sell off “all remaining public enterprises,” including national oil refineries and Cochabamba’s local water agency, SEMAPA” (Frontline). The buyer was a subsidiary of the Bechtel Corporation, Aguas del Tunari. This purchase led to such a steep increase in the rates people had to pay for their water that strikes arose. Eventually, Aguas del Tunari was forced to let SEMAPA return to the hands of the Bolivian government. In 2001 Aguas del Tunari started their fight to get the Bolivan government to pay damages.(Frontline) January 2006 saw the settlement of this case. Bolivia would not pay Bechtel or Aguas del Tunary any money. In return they had to absolve both of any possible blame in the matter. (Vis-Dunbar & Peterson)

2008: Vital Water Graphics: An Overview of the State of the World’s Fresh and Marine Waters

«Economists can highlight and quantify the benefits flowing from water, like hydroelectricity, and help build what we call a baskets of benefits. It is generally easier and more equitable to allocate the benefits than the water itself. Economists also remind us of the need to recover the cost of water delivery, treatment, storage and so on. But we’re often pushed to think in terms of water markets — buying and selling water as a commodity even though this has never happened internationally in a practical sense. As someone who is committed to water emotionally, aesthetically, religiously and for ecosystems, I am reluctant to think of water as just another economic good.» (Aaron Wolf, geographer, University of Oregon, United-States)

2009 May: CODE VIOLATIONS in times of emergencies

“Many Code violations in emergencies have been perpetrated by baby food companies, international and national NGOs, governments, the military and individuals. This typically reflects poor awareness of Code provisions and takes the form of PR campaigns, general distribution to health care facilities and households, failure to monitor breastmilk substitute use and inappropriate labelling.” Nestlè and Danone run neck-to-neck to control the world market. (UNHCR)

2012 Aug 12: Oregon at the Forefront of Battle Against Nestle Water Grab

“Oregon is at the forefront of the Nestlé battle. Members of the Keep Nestlé out of the Gorge Coalition are fighting to prevent the construction of a water bottling facility in the Columbia River Gorge city of Cascade Locks. The diverse coalition, representing consumer advocacy, labor, religious, environmental, and public health groups, has been defending Oregon’s public water resources for over three years in the campaign against Nestlé.”

2012 Aug 28: Water-Shortage Crisis Escalating in the Tigris-Euphrates Basin

“The Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, originating in Turkey and cutting through both Syria and Iraq, have experienced drastic reductions in water flows in recent years due, primarily, to Turkish hydro-engineering and regional droughts. This is of significance for Iraq, which has historically prospered because of the rich agricultural harvests based on water supplies sourced from these waterways. Turkish initiatives aimed at massively expanding their exploitation of the water from the two rivers have coincided with severe droughts in the region and resulted in a burgeoning water-shortage crisis in Iraq. This problem threatens an environmental catastrophe. Political negotiations between the three countries have so far fallen short of reaching agreement on providing the necessary increases in flow rates to address the deteriorating situation in Iraq.” (Bolded by ed)

2013 Nov: States Focusing on Water Right Issues

“…controversy arises because water impacts are localized, and hydraulic fracturing operations occur (and are expanding) in some of the country’s most arid and drought-stricken regions, including states such as North Dakota, Colorado, California and portions of Texas. In some areas, the impacts of fracturing on already scare water resources is cited as a potential reason for delaying permitting or approval of new wells, conducting further study of the impacts, or even banning fracturing altogether.”

2014 Feb 6: Egypt and Ethiopia spar over the Nile

“… the rhetoric of water wars over the Nile misses the crucial voice of marginalized indigenous populations — whose lives are altered by these state-sponsored megaprojects. While the construction of the Aswan Dam in Egypt and a smaller one in Sudan have enabled the two countries to develop thriving agro-industries, they caused wanton destruction to the Nubian people’s ancient way of life.  As a result of the secrecy surrounding the Nile discussions and the lack of tolerance for political dissent in all three countries, there is little discussion of the dam’s impact on indigenous communities and the horrendous environmental consequences.” (Hassen Hussein)

2014 Mar 3: Water: Conflict and Cooperation in Israel’s Jordan River Valley (ILLUSTRATED)

“In more recent maps drawn for subsequent iterations of U.S. and internationally-brokered peace talks between Israel and the PA, most of the mountainous Samaria and Judea regions, along with the Jordan River Valley, are drawn as a Palestinian state, plus today’s Hamas-controlled Gaza, all the way to the Egyptian border.”

2015 Mar 05: Danone, Nestlé and Lactalis fined for roles in alleged Spanish raw milk cartel

“Eleven dairies, including Danone, Nestlé and Lactalis, have been fined nearly €90m for allegedly colluding on the price paid to Spanish farmers for raw milk.”

2015 Jan 12: Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Water Compact

“Minimum Reservoir Pool Elevations. Minimum Reservoir Pool Elevations attached hereto as Appendix 3.1 shall be enforceable according to the schedule specified in Appendix 3.4.  Enforceability of Minimum Reservoir Pool Elevations is subject to Article IV.E, Appendix 3.5, and superseding Federal law allowing for regulation of reservoir elevations.” (Proposed Water Rights Contract)

2015 Mar 20: Nestle Continues Stealing World’s Water During Drought:

“Nestlé is draining California aquifers, from Sacramento alone taking 80 million gallons annually. Nestlé then sells the people’s water back to them at great profit under many dozen brand names.”

2015 Apr 10-12: Health and Environment Laws Swept Away: Trans-Pacific Partnership Says if a Corporation Claims it’s True, it Must be True

“…a judge ruled in favor of Vivendi Universal against Argentina in a failed water-privatization scheme, and her ruling was allowed to stand even though the judge served on the board of a bank that was a major investor in Vivendi. The TPP is completely silent on conflicts of interest. The leaked TPP chapter reveals for the first time that ICSID would hear disputes brought under TPP.”

2015 May 05: The Economist: Water, water everywhere (Maori Rights in New Zealand)

“The Maori claim a special relationship with New Zealand’s fresh water, based on their historical use of its rivers for drinking water, spiritual beliefs, fishing and shellfish harvest, transport and trade, among other things.”

2016 November 04: Daily Mail UK: Food, water fears remain year after Brazil mine dam disaster

“Upward of 10 billion gallons of mud filled with mining waste buried towns in the Nov. 5 dam break that has been described as the worst environmental disaster in Latin America’s largest country …

… A judge has ordered Samarco— a venture between giants Vale of Brazil and BHP Billiton of Australia— to pay for independent studies, but it’s unclear when results will be released.”