The US government shutdown is over, the spectre of the US defaulting on its debts is overthrown, and today hundreds of thousands of federal government employees can go back to work.
For most people, this is unqualified good news. But now it’s over, what was it all about?
Some people had been anticipating a government shutdown ever since the Republican Party won a majority in Congress in 2010 by massively redefining Congress districts in the Census to ensure that Republican representatives could be voted into Congress without any centrist opposition. (At a national level, there are no left-wing parties in US politics.) At the Senate level, a Senator must win a majority in a state-wide vote. At the House of Congress level, a representative only needs to win a majority in a gerrymandered district.
- Forty years ago on September 11, 1973, the Chilean military led by General Augusto Pinochet, crushed the democratically elected Unidad Popular government of Salvador Allende.
Thousands of people were tortured and killed, others ‘disappeared’ at the hands of the authorities, the secret police and more were illegally detained. Men, women and children were rounded up by the military and taken from their homes. Most were never seen alive by their families again. 1 million people were forced into exile. – Chile 40 Years On network
In the UK, widespread public support against the coup was not welcomed by the Conservative government in 1973:
The shipbuilders’ union urged the government not to sell warships to Pinochet, even though losing these contracts could threaten their own jobs. The government’s response? To send spies to shipyards across Britain to check workers were not sabotaging vessels destined for Chile.
When Labour came to power in 1974, it cut off arms sales, aid and credit to Pinochet and, in 1977, withdrew the British ambassador. But existing arms contracts were to be honoured, so trade unionists took matters into their own hands. Employees at East Kilbride engineering yard in Scotland refused to fix bomber-plane engines destined for Chile, forcing Rolls Royce to break its contract with the Chilean air force. This forgotten history of solidarity will be celebrated across Britain today, the 40th anniversary of the coup.
Unsurprisingly, when Pinochet’s most prominent defender, Margaret Thatcher came to office in 1979, diplomatic relations were soon restored and arms sales resumed. Declassified papers reveal that, by June 1982, her government had sold the dictatorship: two warships, 60 blowpipe missiles, 10 Hunter Hawker bomber planes, naval pyrotechnics, communications equipment, gun sights, machine guns and ammunition. A unique attempt at a British “ethical foreign policy” had ended.
- On 11th January, 2002, the first 20 illegally-detained prisoners were delivered to cages at Guantanamo Bay: over 11 years later, the US is still holding 164 prisoners in extrajudicial detainment illegal under international law.
- Since 12th July 2005, it has been publicly known that the US government authorised US soldiers to torture Guantanamo Bay prisoners: US soldiers also tortured prisoners in Iraq and in Afghanistan and the US military is also linked to the use of torture in Iraqi-run prisons.
The US justiciary has, for twenty-plus years in the “war on drugs”, selectively locked up far more black people than white people or Hispanic, and the US prison system is huge: the US has 2% of the world’s population but 25% of the world’s prisoners. America’s police are becoming more and more like soldiers making war on a conquered-but-not-subdued population. (via)
Police exist primarily to protect property arrangements. The war on drugs has paramilitarized police, with a heavy emphasis on overwhelming force. While police have always considered themselves above the common herd, and have always looked after themselves first and civilians second, it’s very clear that police today are much worse in this regard than they were 10 years ago, and 10 years before that, and 10 years before that. Police are well aware that they have near full immunity: they can beat people, kill people, plant evidence on people and they will, in most cases, get away with it. Even if caught on tape, the worst punishment is likely to be paid suspension.
Prisons are expensive to run? Yes, but prisoners can work long hours for a few pence per hour:
“The private contracting of prisoners for work fosters incentives to lock people up. Prisons depend on this income. Corporate stockholders who make money off prisoners’ work lobby for longer sentences, in order to expand their workforce. The system feeds itself,” says a study by the Progressive Labor Party, which accuses the prison industry of being “an imitation of Nazi Germany with respect to forced slave labor and concentration camps.”
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
In 1787, when the 55 members of the Constitutional Convention signed the United States Constitution in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, good guns that could be held and used by a single fighter were still handmade, expensively-crafted things: a soldier could (perhaps) load and fire his musket three times a minute, but rifling (which allows more accurate aim) was known but not practical for army use. The “right to keep and bear arms” would as likely have referred to a sword or a pike as a gun. If the US had remained a string of small countries along the east coast of North America, it would certainly have made sense for them to do as the Swiss have done, and require every able-bodied adult man to be a soldier.
Switzerland allows any citizen (or indeed law-abiding resident) to have a gun if they want one: but the gun must be licensed. Further applications for gun licenses may be granted on request, each for a specific gun. Virtually every adult man attends regular annual training sessions, and holds a military rifle and ammunition under seal – which he is not allowed to use without specific orders and must keep in a safe place so that no one else can use it. If the US resembled Switzerland, insistance that the Second Amendment mattered terribly much would make sense.
There are a lot of differences between the US and Switzerland. Switzerland has four official languages: the US has none. The Swiss Confederation was founded on 1st August 1291, making it nearly 480 years older than the US. The US shares land borders now only with Mexico and Canada: Switzerland shares land borders with France, Germany, Italy, Austria, and Liechtenstein. Switzerland has fought no wars of aggression in its over-800 years: the US has fought more wars of aggression in the past century than any other nation in the world. Switzerland founded the Red Cross: the US founded Guantanamo Bay. Neither the US nor Switzerland are members of the EU. And they both like guns.
But whereas Switzerland likes guns if controlled, licenced, and regulated, in the US for decades political lobbyists have been getting the Second Amendment redefined not to mean “every citizen has the right to bear arms in a well-regulated militia”, which is its common-sense interpretation, but to mean “Everyone should
buy own as many guns as possible!”
A few years ago, when I was on holiday in Belgium, I spent hours in churches. (The friend I travelled with, who hadn’t voluntarily been in a church in decades, and who knew I am an atheist, was worried I would catch Christianity.) What I wanted to see was the paintings. The invention of oil paint meant Lowlands painters could create pictures so finely detailed it is possible to see the weave in the carpet and the stitches in the embroidered clothing: pictures from five or six hundred years ago that glow from the canvas.
And over and over again, pictures of Mary. Mary as a baby, with Anna her mother: Anna and Joachim, Mary’s father, together: Mary saying “Fiat” to the angel: Mary as a young woman, as a mother with a preposterously large infant on her knee, Mary being carried into heaven by a troop of angels on her death. Mary is supposed to have been conceived on 8th December, and on that date in 2009, The US Senate rejected by a narrow margin an amendment proposed by Senators Ben Nelson, D-Nebraska, and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, that was intended to modify “Obamacare” so that any private insurance company that got federal funding for Obamacare insurance, couldn’t offer health insurance plans that included abortion.
Women Under Siege is an independent initiative documenting how rape and other forms of sexualized violence are used as tools in genocide and conflict throughout the 20th century and into the 21st.
20 children have been killed in Connecticut, and six of their teachers, all women. All of the heroes are women: the school secretary who warned the other teachers and was shot, the principal who tried to disarm the shooter and was shot, the teacher who was shot when she put herself between the shooter and her students.
[The heroes of Sandy Hook Elementary School: Rachel Davino, Dawn Hocksprung, Anne Marie Murphy, Lauren Russeau, Mary Sherlach, Victoria Soto.]
Mother Jones – A Guide to Mass Shootings in America:
Since 1982, there have been at least 62 mass murders* carried out with firearms across the country, with the killings unfolding in 30 states from Massachusetts to Hawaii. … Just under half of the cases involved school or workplace shootings (11 and 19, respectively); the other 31 cases took place in locations including shopping malls, restaurants, government buildings, and military bases. Forty three of the killers were white males. Only one of them was a woman.
In 2007, Wikileaks published the protocol manual for the US army at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp, Standard Operating Procedures for Camp Delta. The manual included a designated list of prisoners to be off-limits to the International Committee of the Red Cross – while the US government and military had claimed all along that all prisoners held in Gitmo could be visited by Red Cross representatives: and in April 2011, Wikileaks published the US military’s secret files on 779 detainees. President Obama promised to close Guantanamo Bay, and never has.
In 2010, Wikileaks made available to selected media outlets a huge log of every Iraqi death recorded by the coalition forces (Multi-National Forces Iraq) in Iraq between January 2004 and December 2009. As Jacob Shapiro, Assistant Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University, pointed out: the deaths over five years is still an undercount.
- The database records 109,032 deaths in total for the period
- The database records the following death counts: 66,081 civilians, 23,984 insurgents and 15,196 Iraqi security forces
Nearly a year ago the last convoy of US soldiers pulled out of Iraq, and now President Obama uses drones to kill people with even less oversight than in Iraq.
Sylvia Rivera, a trans woman who was part of the Stonewall riot that began the modern LGBT rights movement in 1969:
In 1969, the night of the Stonewall riot, was a very hot, muggy night. We were in the Stonewall [bar] and the lights came on. We all stopped dancing. The police came in.
They had gotten their payoff earlier in the week. But Inspector Pine came in-him and his morals squad-to spend more of the government’s money.
We were led out of the bar and they cattled us all up against the police vans. The cops pushed us up against the grates and the fences. People started throwing pennies, nickels, and quarters at the cops.
And then the bottles started. And then we finally had the morals squad barricaded in the Stonewall building, because they were actually afraid of us at that time. They didn’t know we were going to react that way.
We were not taking any more of this shit. We had done so much for other movements. It was time.
As far as I can see, there are two prolife trends in response to Savita Halappanavar’s death in hospital, denied an abortion.
One reaction is to argue that she would have died anyway, so an abortion wasn’t necessary as it never is no matter what.
For example, SPUC dehumanises Savita as the foetus’s “protection” and argues that the hospital were right not to perform an abortion:
“It is not ethical to induce delivery of an unborn child if there is no prospect of the child surviving outside the womb. At 17 weeks’ pregnancy Mrs Halappanavar’s child was clearly not viable outside the womb, as there is no scientific evidence that unborn children are capable of surviving outside the womb at such a young age. Rather than removing the protection of the womb from unborn children, the ethical response to emergency situations in pregnancy is medical treatment of the mother for the conditions causing the emergency. In the case of infection, this is usually timely administration of antibiotics. It is also not ethical to end the life of an unborn child, via induction or any other means, where the child is terminally-ill.”
The other is to argue that there was medical incompetence because of course she could have received “all necessary medical treatment” to save her life: the familiar prolife distinction that makes some abortions, in their mind, not really abortions.
(Meantime, the prochoice majority is simply outraged. But that’s the human response.)
It is worth noting that had Savita Halappanavar got an abortion on 21st October and been home in time to celebrate Diwali with her husband, if similar publicity had been given to her getting an abortion in an Irish hospital as has been given to her death as a result of being denied an abortion, we would now be seeing from both sets of prolifers a universal outcry against her having been “allowed” to have an abortion: and any Catholics who performed or who assisted in her abortion would be excommunicated.
Well, I called it correctly six months ago when Barack Obama came out in support of same-sex marriage.
Yesterday Maryland and Maine made history: the first two US states to authorise equal marriage by referendum vote.