Friday, October 28, 2011
Thursday, October 27, 2011
"Dear Comrade, The situation is moving in a revolutionary direction more swiftly, but of course we are far away yet. The prices of necessaries are rising, but the cost of living is not totally supposed to have risen this month. Unemployment is now acute, and the unemployed are restive. One of Lansbury's meetings was broken up by members of my party because he advised peaceful methods, and the crowd supported the young dockers, seamen, and others of my party who opposed him. Unemployed march to factories, enter them, make speeches, and speak of using them. Ex-soldiers arm and drill. Do not exaggerate these things—they are not formidable yet.
"Unemployed smashed windows and stole jewels last Monday, when the London Mayors led them to Westminster. The Communist parties alone are neither big enough nor bold enough to rise to the occasion . . .
"In Coventry a member of our party, Emery, leads a campaign for setting aside a factory to work for Soviet Russia, the factory to be controlled by the workers. In 'The Dreadnought' I tried to set a bolder policy and should be discussing it with my executive this afternoon, but I was arrested last Thursday and am under £2,000 bail not to meet, or communicate with any of our people responsible for publishing the paper till my trial on Thursday, so I can only communicate indirectly.
"I expect six months' imprisonment. I considered a hunger strike, but I am afraid that weapon is destroyed now since the Government is letting the Irish hunger-strikers die.
"I find all the Communist parties, except Gallagher's Scottish Communist Labour party, disinclined for unity. Parliamentarism and the tameness of the B.S.P. crowd are sore points with our party, and I would have had a hard struggle to bring them round. Now I shall not be there, it seems.
"I have done less than I should in seeing people, because I have had a most terrible struggle since I returned home. Our press where our paper is printed was suffering because 'The Dreadnought' owed money. Whilst I was away an account ran too long, and a creditor got a writ of payment against us in the court. Then all the creditors took fright. On my return the brokers were in twice in one week, and I have been fighting the situation ever since.
"The Third International in Moscow heard my plea when I was there, and promised relief. It does not come. This week the South Wales mining comrades sent for 6,000 extra copies of 'The Dreadnought'. I borrowed paper from the 'Herald'. At present I have no paper for next week. It is not pleasant to go to prison so!
"With Communist greetings.
Saturday, October 22, 2011
Friday, October 07, 2011
Thursday, October 06, 2011
Rapayet Pushaina thinks he is about 80 years old; he is pretty sure he was not born on 31 December, and he is absolutely certain his name is not Iron Scraper.
But that is the information that appeared on his Colombian national ID card for more than 50 years.
Pushaina, an elder of his clan of Wayúu Native Americans, who live in the deserts of the north-western Guajira peninsula, chafes at the mockery of a name that was given to him by an official of the national registry office who went to his remote village 50 years ago.
"I don't want to be Raspahierro [Iron Scraper], I am Rapayet," he said through his Spanish-speaking granddaughter.
He is one of thousands of Wayúu Indians who were given derisive names, according to Estercilia Simanca, a Wayúu lawyer.
"In some cases there may have been a misunderstanding but in others it was clearly intentional," she said.
Wayúu ID cards show names such as Arrancamuelas (Tooth Puller), Bolsillo (Pocket), Cabezón (Big Head), Chichí (Piss), Coito (Coitus), Gorila (Gorilla), Monja (Nun), Payaso (Clown) and Teléfono (Telephone).
Others are Alka-Seltzer, Land Rover, Marilyn Monroe and Tarzan.
Most neither speak nor read Spanish so were unaware of the mockery. The Wayúu native tongue is an Arawak language.
They do not use the Gregorian calendar either, but rather mark dates with knots on a yarn. Because of this, registry officials opted to give everyone the same birth date: 31 December.
"Since I was little, I thought it was strange that all my family had the same birthday," Simanca said.
She has conducted an investigation into the apparently widespread practice of making up names and birth dates and estimates about 70% of Pushaina's generation were given humiliating names by visiting registry officials, and nearly all were listed as having been born on 31 December.
Pushaina only became aware of his "official" name when he began to attend meetings with NGO and government officials about 10 years ago as a representative of his community.
"At first I thought they were pronouncing my name wrong," he said. Then he realised that what was on his ID card was a twisted joke.
Film-maker Priscilla Padilla has documented the abuses in a documentary called Born on 31 December, which was screened last month in Bogotá.
The Colombian registry office has said it does not know how or why the changes to names and birth dates – the bulk of which happened in the 1960s and 70s – were made, and has promised an investigation.
The director of the office, Carlos Ariel Sanchez, vowed to "correct the names that make people uncomfortable or that are ridiculous".
Simanca said she was encouraged by the official statement but that name changes were too costly for most Wayúu, who live in remote rural areas and can hardly afford travel and legal costs which can add up to more than 200,000 pesos (£67).
"Just like they have ID card drives where they go from village to village registering people, they should send out officials to rectify the names," she said.
Pushaina is now privileged among his clan. With the help of Simanca and Padilla, he was able to reclaim his true name.
He says he is happy with his new card. "Now no one can make fun of me any more."
Tuesday, October 04, 2011
When the three men squeeze into their little car, they can activate a video camera and microphone in case of trouble and push a small red button on their dashboard to transmit sound directly to their main office 900 miles away.
“It’s an internal rule,” said Vladislav Sadykov, 46, a lawyer who leads the group. “We always travel together. If you are alone, it is easier to kidnap and torture you. The pictures are for protection, and also in case they kill us it will be recorded.”
The three men make up the current shift in a rotation of visiting human rights investigators called the Joint Mobile Group, which has taken on kidnapping and torture cases in this Russian republic that it considers too dangerous for resident human rights workers to handle.
“All local human rights people here live in danger,” said Dmitri Laptev, 24, a lawyer who has been in Grozny for 45 days on his third rotation. “Their homes can be burned. Their children can be kidnapped.”
The separatist war is mostly over in Chechnya, but kidnappings and extrajudicial killings continue in a more targeted way against people who support the rebels or speak out against the government of the Chechen leader, Ramzan A. Kadyrov, human rights groups say.
“When you talk to ordinary people, you are shocked to see how afraid they are,” Mr. Laptev said.
The human rights group Memorial said its monitors were finding it more difficult to do their work, partly because victims and their relatives have become more frightened than in the past about reporting abuses.
“The kidnapping goes on without fear,” said Mr. Sadykov, who is here on his fourth tour. “They do it openly. They show that they are with law enforcement, and law enforcement leaves them alone.”
He added: “It’s simple work, no investigation, no documents, no legal steps. Just seize someone and take him away.”
The Joint Mobile Group, with its main office in Nizhny Novgorod, recruits lawyers and investigators from human rights organizations around the country to work in teams of three in Chechnya for a month or more.
In May, the group was recognized with the annual Front Line Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk, awarded in Dublin by the Mary Robinson Foundation — Climate Justice, for its work in bringing human rights abuses to light.
“We work like investigators, looking at pictures, talking to witnesses,” Mr. Sadykov said. “We do all this the way it should be done, though we have no official standing. We get evidence and then we ask official organs to make their own investigation.”
The team’s work sometimes bears fruit, he said, and charges have been brought against some law enforcement officers.
The Joint Mobile Group was founded in 2009 after the abduction and killing of Natalya Estemirova, a local researcher for Memorial who was one of the most persistent and best-known activists in Chechnya.
Two of Ms. Estemirova’s colleagues at Memorial were evacuated and one who worked closely with her moved to Norway.
Since Ms. Estemirova’s death, human rights advocates here have mostly stepped back from confronting the authorities directly with reports of abuses, Mr. Sadykov said. Memorial has at times withdrawn its monitors from Chechnya for periods of several weeks or several months.
In a way, the Joint Mobile Group is carrying on Ms. Estemirova’s work.
“They had the idea that she was causing problems and without her there would be fewer problems,” Mr. Sadykov said. “But who am I? We rotate. They know there are people behind us and that if they kill me someone else will come.”
Among the half-dozen cases the group is currently pursuing is one of Ms. Estemirova’s final ones, the disappearance of a former rebel named Apti Zainalov, 23 at the time, who had turned himself in and served a year in prison. After his release, he disappeared in 2009, reappeared briefly under armed guard in a hospital and then vanished again.
In the days before she was killed, Ms. Estemirova had been demanding information about him from the hospital and the police, and the Joint Mobile Group has continued the pressure.
But Mr. Zainalov’s mother, Aima Makayeva, said she was weary of the pursuit and was ready to abandon the legal case if the authorities would just hand back her son.
“The only thing left is to go to Kadyrov,” she said. It is a view that is often expressed in Chechnya, where Mr. Kadyrov is in firm control of both the government and the security forces.
The tactic might work, Mr. Sadykov said. It would relieve the authorities of the constant pressure being brought by the investigators, and of the possibility that someone might actually be arrested and charged.
But, Mr. Sadykov said, it would run counter to the aim of the advocates to foster the rule of law and would instead demonstrate that it is still the men with guns who have the power to seize and release.
“The system is like a swamp,” Mr. Laptev said. “You throw in a stone and you make some ripples, and then it quiets down and the stone sinks to the bottom.”
Mr. Sadykov had an inside look at the system last year when he was part of a three-person team held overnight in a police station while investigating a report of a human rights violation. The group was released unharmed and has filed its own case charging illegal detention.
In a late-night discussion, he said, the police defended their methods, saying a harsh environment demands harsh tactics. “You have to torture,” he said one officer told him. “Without torture how can you fight terrorism?”
But Mr. Sadykov also observed that the work of human rights monitors seemed at least to be making an impression. When the three were released, he said, an officer asked him to sign a statement confirming that they had not been mistreated.
“Otherwise,” the officer said, “you will say we tortured you.”
About 400 people are preparing to gather for a conference in Hartford, Connecticut, to promote the end of religion in the US and their vision of a secular future for the country.
Those travelling to the meeting will pass two huge roadside billboards displaying quotes from two of the country's most famous non-believers: Katharine Hepburn and Mark Twain. "Faith is believing what you know ain't so," reads the one featuring Twain. "I'm an atheist and that's it," says the one quoting Hepburn.
At the meeting, members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) will hear speakers celebrate successes they have had in removing religion from US public life and see awards being presented to noted secularist activists.
The US is increasingly portrayed as a hotbed of religious fervour. Yet in the homeland of ostentatiously religious politicians such as Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, agnostics and atheists are actually part of one of the fastest-growing demographics in the US: the godless. Far from being in thrall to its religious leaders, the US is in fact becoming a more secular country, some experts say. "It has never been better to be a free-thinker or an agnostic in America," says Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the FFRF.
The exact number of faithless is unclear. One study by the Pew Research Centre puts them at about 12% of the population, but another by the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College in Hartford puts that figure at around 20%.
Most experts agree that the number of secular Americans has probably doubled in the past three decades – growing especially fast among the young. It is thought to be the fastest-growing major "religious" demographic in the country.
Professor Barry Kosmin of Trinity College, who conducts the national Religious Identification Survey, believes up to a quarter of young people in the US now have no specific faith, and scoffs at the idea, prevalent in so much US media and culture, that the country is highly religious or becoming more so. "The trending in American history is towards secularisation," Kosmin said.
He cites the example of the changing face of Sunday in the country. It was not too long ago when many sporting events were banned on Sundays and most shops were closed too. Now the opposite is largely true.
As in Britain, Sunday in the US has become a normal shopping day for many, or a day to watch big football or baseball games. "The great secular holiday in America is Super Bowl Sunday. Even in the deep south, the biggest mega-church changes its schedule to suit the Super Bowl," Kosmin said.
He also pointed to social trends – greater divorce rates, gay marriage and much higher percentages of people having children out of wedlock – as other signs that the religious grip on society has loosened.
There are other indications, too. For a long time studies have shown that about 40% of US adults attend a church service weekly. However, other studies that actually counted those at church – rather than just asking people if they went – have shown the true number to be about half to two-thirds of that figure.
More Americans are now choosing to get married or be buried without any form of religious ceremony. At universities, departments devoted to the study of secularism are starting to appear. Books by atheist authors are bestsellers. National groups, such as the Secular Coalition of America (SCA), have opened branches across the country.
Herb Silverman, president of the Washington-based SCA, lives in Charleston, South Carolina. His local secularist group was founded in 1994 with 10 people, but now has 150 members. "I've been living here in the buckle of the Bible belt since 1976 and things are getting a lot better," Silverman said.
Yet there is little doubt that religious groups still wield enormous influence in US politics and public life, especially through the rightwing of the Republican party. Groups such as Focus on the Family are well-funded and skilful lobbyists.
Kosmin said the attention paid by politicians and the media to religious groups was not necessarily a sign of strength. "When religion was doing well, it did not need to go into politics. Secularity of our population and culture is obviously growing and so religion is on the defensive," he said.
However, it is still a brave US politician who openly declares a lack of faith. So far just one member of Congress, Californian Democrat Pete Stark, has admitted that he does not believe in God.
"Privately, we know that there are 27 other members of Congress that have no belief in God. But we don't 'out' people," said Silverman.
Others think that one day it will become politically mainstream to confess to a lack of faith as US political life lags behind the society that it represents. "Politicians have not yet caught up with the changing demographics of our society," said Gaylor.
What happens when angels of mercy go walkabout, leaving patients bereft? Why, the boss of the Royal College of Nursing weighs straight in. If his angels are too busy, Dr Peter Carter wants patients' families on the ward and on the job as well, looking after lonely grannies in distress. "Somehow we have sleepwalked, in some parts of society, into assuming this is someone else's responsibility." Cue predictable outrage over this NHS betrayal, plus even more predictable warnings about lowered standards. It's a hospital's job to care and tend, we're told. It's what nurses are for. And the last thing we want is upmarket union leaders passing the buck. But pause: let's take a short trip.
Three times in the last 12 years I've seen what happens in Spanish hospitals when my grandchildren are born. What's that at the side near my daughter's bed? It's a bunk. Her husband isn't merely there for the birth; he's on the spot night and day, bringing this, fetching that, always on hand while she recovers. That's normal, totally expected. Active paternity service, not paternity leave. And now my Spanish grandson has broken his arm rather badly in two places. He's in pain. And, in quite another hospital, the bunk is there again. His mother spends two nights with him, comforting, reassuring, nipping out to buy food, a stabilising presence in an unsettling world.
Which means I too remember how, a few years back, I was in trouble myself, bleeding internally and causing manifest alarm. A Spanish ambulance shrieks through the night. Another hospital to the collection. I'm dosed and monitored non-stop behind curtains in A&E. And there's an airline-type seat beside the bed there. My wife can try to sleep close by. The next morning I'm wheeled upstairs to a small ward – and of course there's another recliner seat close by. The guy to my left, just recovering from open heart surgery, has visitors almost 24/7. They're a bit noisy; they come and go constantly – but hey, join the party. What's the point lying around feeling sorry for yourself? The gang's all here.
And the deeper point, revealed time and again, has absolutely nothing to do with cost-saving – or with graduate angels too proud to plump a pillow. The Spanish experience is instinctive and positive. It doesn't make family involvement a passed parcel of sneaky budget savings. It says, simply, that this is what family life is all about. Hospitals aren't carved up between them and us. Hospitals are more joint community centres in a society used to doing the right thing.
Long ago, as a child, I was in a faraway Nottinghamshire hospital for well over a year: visiting hours, on Saturday and Sunday, 2.30pm to 5pm. My mother, a widow without any hope of a car, had to travel 20 miles via three separate bus journeys to see me. Get there for two-thirty. Get out at five. That's your lot. In retrospect it seems cruel and pointless – but still somehow natural. The mystique of medicine says life is a waiting room. Doctor knows best. Nurses have duties: please keep out of their way.
Of course you can produce due justifications as required. But in fact there's a more fundamental chasm opened here. We pay for and bang on about the NHS because it has almost god-like status. Leave your flowers on the altar and go. Family care ends at the hospital door. Busy professionals are taking over now. Thank you, and good night.
That's a generalisation, of course: it can't wrap millions of cases in a single bundle of blame. But how does any society go truly big on compassion or cohesion when families are deemed a nuisance, a fact without a function? And what does it say about families when they not only accept that divide – but bristle at the thought of bridging it?