Sustainable Agriculture: It is possible

Over the years, there have been many discussions about the  potential to  create large-scale organic  farming enterprises to  replace the disastrous  impacts of chemical farming.

A lovely article by  Tom Philpott of Mother Jones outlines  one  attempt by  some US farmers to break  the  dead-end cycle of spraying,  tilling and loss of environment caused by commercial  farming, using no-plough methods and winter “cover crops”. While this method does not completely eliminate  the toxic impacts of spraying ;  it does go  a long way  to  develop  large-scale sustainable  farming practice.

Another “new” farming concept is  is the use of charcoal  in  soil.  Native american indians used Terra preta in pre-Columbian times to  create long term sustainable gardens in  environments where high  rainfall  leaching should have made sustainable agriculture impossible.

The ShortcutGiven  that  at  least  a third of commercially produced food is wasted, it would seen perfectly feasible to  create food sources closer to  food  consumers, allowing less wastage in  transit,  and better targeting of food production to  need.

We dont need the environmental  destruction that is touted as necessary  by  agribusiness to  create sustainable  global food production. We don’t need to  keep  killing our essential  insects   with  insecticides, spraying weedicides to  control  the plants we dont want,   constantly digging up  the soil to  destroy  its structure and life, and  destroying more and more natural  environments  and the plants and animals that live there, for short-term gain. We can live a  wonderful  sustainable and more joyful life through  living instead of buying.

 

Laurent Fabius: The Little Lion of Syria

Now that  Assad’s government in Syria has agreed to hand over supervision of its chemical  weapons to the United Nations, some of the wind in the sails of the West’s determination to  attack Syria has dissipated.

Damascus in Flames1926
Damascus in flames as a result of the French air raid on 18 October 1925
http://schools-wikipedia.org/wp/d/Damascus.htm

Yet France and its Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius are determined to  ensure that  a military strike remains likely, with  France’s tabling of a UN resolution that   would require “serious consequences” if the chemical  weapons handover was not completed according to  UN  requirements  or on  time.  Currently it is unclear what  is motivating Fabius’ need to  be the leader of the dogs of war against  Syria.  It is possibly some attempt by  the Socialist  government to  regain  some political support in  France-although every French   poll is indicating that   French  involvement in  Syria would have the entirely opposite effect.  Or is it an  attempt to  revive the glories of colonial  France by re-bombing Damascus all over again , as it did in  1925-26 when those dark-skinned natives dared to  fight for their own freedom  from  their French  oppressors?

Or is it simply a matter of cash?,   as  Wayne Madsen  reports  for Iranian  Press TV, where he states that  the Saudi Arabian spy chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al  Saud has been spending large amounts of Saudi  oil  money to  “pay off” key members of the US Senate and House leadership  as well as key  ministers of the French  government.

It may  also be that   Fabius’  war-mongering,  like the UK foreign minister’s  William Hague’s foreign policy decisions,  appear  wholly  based on  unconditional support for the Israeli  state and its expansion.  Hague the UK Foreign  Minister , who , in an interview with the Israeli website YNetNews describes himself as  “a natural friend of Israel”.  Any actions that  turn Shi-ite against  Sunni in the countries surrounding Israel  have to be,  they reason, good for Israel.

Its my guess, that  Al Qaeda think  otherwise…

What is certain is that  “Western” bombing of Syrian  infrastructure will  cause  even  greater suffering than  Syrians from  both  sides  are experiencing now. The experience of Libya in the last Western  bombing campaign, is sadly  illustrative.  And what  should by  now be evident to  anyone  is that bombings or cruise missiles are not “precision targeted’  despite the hype .  They frequently make errors both in  their electronic targetting and,  as is so often  the case, the targeting coordinates are  based on  unreliable inadequate or false information.

Turkey, Saudi Arabia,Qatar, the UK, France and the US have been steadfast  that there should be no  negotiations while Assad is in  power;  in  other words,  that  Assad’s forces will have to be defeated first before there are “negotiations”!-these are not the principles of those who  espouse peace and reconciliation- what  they appear to  want is the destruction of the Syrian  state, with their pundits arguing ( as they have  done in Iraq) that  Syria must be broken up into  its constituent sectarian geographies. Such  a breakup, (largely fomented by  those outside powers themselves) will  certainly not benefit the Syrian  citizens of those enclaves,  but will  certainly benefit  Israel (in the short term) and Saudi Arabia’s salafist mercenaries.

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Links

Moon of Alabama covers many of the issues regarding how a chemical  weapons transfer might occur.

A very  French (and implausible) take on  French  jingoism  for war  in Syria

The New (Syrian) War to end a War

Once again  the United States is beating the drums for war;  just one more country it can  save by  killing its  population and destroying its infrastructure. The ludicrous nature of the arguments for war  put forward by  Obama, Kerry and  McCain  speak  volumes about the intellectual  capacity of those 3 gentlemen.

Bombing and murdering  another country’s people doesn’t stop  the bombing and murdering;  negotiations do. In  the end;  every  time,  the two parties must  come to  the table and talk.  However negotiating is, I recognise,  a  hard thing for bullies to  condescend to  do.

Perhaps wishful thinking on  my part,  but there does seem to be a growing understanding in  the world communities that these endless US wars in the Middle East  are in  fact  just pretexts for  destroying sovereign nations that might oppose US or Israeli interests in  the region.

It is instructive to listen to  Al Jazeera  attempting to whip  up  fear  that  the Assad government will do this or that if it is not stopped- the propaganda line is so obvious and implausible that  most people will  simply turn their news off.

The recent experience of what  happens when NATO and the US “liberate” another dark  skinned country ; Libya,Iraq, Yemen should be enough for anyone to  recognise that  liberation by  Western countries is not a benign  experience.  And as  Press TV notes, the US administration’s assessment  of “high  confidence” that  the Syrian  Assad regime carried out the chemical  attack  is an amazing piece of sophistry.   Since when was anyone convicted and sentenced to death  based on “high confidence”  that they had committed that offence?    Before we murder thousands  of people, and destroy  their capacity to live ordinary  lives-lets please have some evidence.  But that may be way too much to ask.

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Links

A great  article by  David Swanson  at  Washington’s Blog succinctly outlines the insanity of yet  another war.

A lovely article at  Just  World News from Helena Cobban on  the lunacy  of this war  and AIPAC’s lobbying

A   summary of the current  (9th  September 2013) state of affairs re Syria by  Lara Setrakian  at  Syria Deeply

Syrian Chemical Attack: A Summary

This post is predominantly a  compilation of   commentaries on  the gas attacks on  the  Damascus  suburb of Ghouta  on 20th  (or the 21st ) August 2013. Given  the huge implications of an aerial  attack on Syria by  the US France and the UK , using the chemical attacks as justification, it is vitally important that  the truth of the allegations by the Syrian  rebels is established.

There is no  question that  the Assad regime is brutal  enough  to have launched the attacks , but is it stupid enough  to  do  so and why  would it launch  chemical  attacks?

What is not discussed here is the likely catastrophic  fallout from  an aerial  attack   on Syrian infrastructure as we have seen  relatively recently  in Iraq and  Libya.

Russian news media  state that  the YouTube uploads by  Syrian  rebels of the chemical  attack  were uploaded a day  before the chemical  attack  was supposed to have occurred. However they appear to be back-tracking on  that issue. Russian media and state agencies also claim the previous gas attack  was  proved by  their analysis to have been primitive sarin  chemicals  manufactured by  the rebels. It should be noted that  Adnan Silu, Major General and former head of Syria’s chemical weapons programme,  defected to the rebels in July 2012.

While Western media and Western  government leaders are saying the  agreement Sunday  between the Syrian government and the UN to enter Ghouta is “too little, too late”, presumably  because evidence will have gone of  the sarin gas ,  experts note that  while sarin  evaporates in  a similar way  to  water, the residues and  impacts on  body  tissue remain  for some weeks and months:- one wonders therefore at  the  urgency  with which  France, UK and the United States are  threatening to  bomb  Syria now.

The YouTube videos show doctors and others trying to  treat the chemical  victims  without removing their clothing (which  would mean the chemical  residues retain  their impact on the victim (and rescuer) for a considerably longer period of time) ,  and the medical  teams  are not covered in  protective clothing ,  which  would be essential  for the medical teams’  safety in  such  a situation. While the videos show some of the victims’ limbs twitching  as would be expected from neurotoxin  poisoning,  in the video  seen, only the victim’s legs are spasming, which  would be somewhat unusual.

While  a number of  chemical  weapons  experts are saying the videos of the victims is consistent with sarin gas poisoning, t here are  no  signs of the dead victims having soiled themselves ,  one of several key signs of neurotoxin poisoning.

The analysis by by  Rogue Adventurer here shows the rockets the rebels allege to have been fired by  the Syrian government containing sarin. Given that the Assad regime has considerable technical  engineering skills,  the rockets appear  to be relatively unsophisticated, almost “handmade”   weapons;  this could of course be part of the attempt by  the Assad regime to implicate the rebels.  A more  in-depth analysis of the rocket  attacks can be found here.

Doctors without Borders press release here  of 24th August  states that  the three hospitals in Syria’s Damascus governorate that are supported by the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have reported to MSF that they received approximately 3,600 patients displaying neurotoxic symptoms in less than three hours on the morning of Wednesday, August 21, 2013. Of those patients, 355 reportedly died. Angry  Arab notes  “there was internal conflict within Doctors without Borders’ unprecedented political announcement about the use of chemical weapons in Syria.  There were people within the leadership of the organization that opposed the statement but the pro-US lobby prevailed.”

The timing of these attacks, coinciding with the arrival of UN  weapons inspectors in Damascus  to  investigate previous chemical  weapons attacks in  Syria   seems  an  unusual  strategy  for the Assad government- but again  – as some reporters have noted, not an impossible piece of bravado  for a dangerous and brutal regime  such  as Assad’s. And would Assad launch  a chemical  weapon attack  so  close to other areas of Damascus where support for  the regime remains, and where chemical  contamination would be highly likely,  as in  this article by Reuters?  PressTV  in  Iran  notes that its government had warned the US that  rebels were  importing sarin  gas into  Syria 8 months ago .

An in-depth  analysis by  Dan Kaszeta of Strongpoint Security here,  whose analysis suggests that  the attack  was not Sarin  or another neurotoxin, and might be the result of other chemical releases. What for instance has happened to this pharmaceutical  factory in Jaramana, Damascus on  the Ghouta plain? Note also this pharmaceutical  factory recently bombed by  either  the Syrian  regime or rebels.

The UN has previously accused Syrian  rebels of small  scale manufacture and  delivery of sarin gas, as in the Daily Telegraph  report from  6th  May  2013 here. However the Assad regime is the only agency  currently  deemed able to  manufacture and deliver such  a large quantity of sarin gas (if that is what the chemical is ) . A detailed list of alleged chemical  attacks over the past two  years is  noted  here

It should also be noted that there are very  large number of  vested interests  (ie controlled by   right wing corporate interests) American  and UK “think-tanks”  gunning for the Assad government.  One of only many examples is the  UK’s Royal  United Services Institute whose motto is ” Independent Thinking on Defence and Security”  whose Research Director, Malcolm Chalmers solemnly stated, with  presumably a straight face , that  My view is that the Syrian government’s apparent agreement to the U.N. inspection has been triggered by the growing possibility of military action, I think that is why they are doing it.” -somewhat ignoring the fact that  the  UN inspectors had been  given approval  to visit Damascus several months ago, and that the  frontline in  the Damascus suburb of Ghoutta is highly volatile as the recent sniper attacks on UN vehicles attempting to reach East Ghoutta appear to  show.

Note also  that  some (but not all) “human rights” groups, are actively involved in  mobilising  the Western  populace’s support for more gungho  adventures in  foreign lands . See this extraordinarily foolish  article by  Amnesty  UK here.

Interesting to note that  it is Israeli  security who  have provided the “information”  to US officials that the Assad government authorised the chemical  attack . And of course we know that  Israel has absolutely no  axe to  grind with  the Syrian  government and is a reliable source of dis- information! See Craig Murray’s analysis of the likelihood of the Mossad information being truthful here.

Postscript

The December 2013  article by  Seymour Hersh entitled “Whose Sarin” appears to  substantiate the claims by  the Assad regime that   Syrian rebels were responsible for the attack.

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Links

The US “Centers for Disease Control   and Prevention”   commentary on Sarin  and required  safety measures, is listed here

A very  fair and reasonable analysis (surprisingly ) by Stars and Stripes on  the situation as at  26th  August  here

A somewhat  dubious but plausible analysis of the rocketry  used in  the attack  by  Rogue Adventurer here

A vast  leap  to  assumptions of guilt by  Brown  Moses here  and used by  Peter Beaumont of the UK Guardian to  cheerlead  the US France and UK launching air attacks on  Syria.

A short sane  commentary  on chemical  weapons issues by  New Scientist here

A Syrian government  supporter view of the  attacks from  Moon of Alabama

A recent article on  the  Syrian chemical  attack at  Antiwar, by Justin Raimondo

Perhaps also  useful  to note this December 10th 2012 article in Antiwar  about US defence contractors training Syrian rebels in ‘securing chemical  weapon stockpiles”.

An old June 2013, but nevertheless very relevant piece, on  the implications of US “no-fly”  zones, by  the always reasonable  Helena Cobban at Just World News

A somewhat  US-hostile  (perhaps justified) view of the issue from Counterpunch here

Truthout’s version of events by  Gareth Porter here

Gareth  Porter’s assessment  via IPS of the US Government Intelligence report on  the chemical  weapons attack here

Some speculation from  the Strategic Culture Foundation by  Wayne Madsen on  a possible alternative source of the chemical  weapons

A further blog from  Moon of Alabama on  the  hypotheses about the origin  of the sarin  gas, as the UN team has verified the chemical  to be.

A post UN observer assessment  by  Sharmine Narwani and Radwan Mortada  of Al Akhbar

A post UN assessment by Dan Kaszeta  at  Strongpoint Security (pdf)

A Scribd critique of the UN report on chemical  weapons by  Denis R O’Brien (PhD,Esq) can be downloaded  here   (pdf)

A further Moon of Alabama report  based on analysis  by the MIT missile expert Theodore Postol which argues that  the range of  the  chemical  projectiles indicates that  the Syrian regime could not have fired them. The report by  Postol  and Lloyd entitled Possible Implications of Faulty US Technical Intelligence in the Damascus  Nerve Agent Attack of August 21, 2013 can be found here

The Red Line and the Rat  Line-Seymour Hersh

 

The Predator from the West

Everywhere you look  in  mainstream Western media you see the utter “reasonableness’ of our need to  destroy  this or that country because it is evil  and isn’t democratic or reasonable enough.

History tells us  a different story,  but for some reason,  we choose to ignore it. The recent non-revelation of the CIA and UK  ‘intelligence” community’s  overthrow of the democratically elected prime minister Mossaddegh of Iran, beginning on  19th August  1953 once again  highlights what  the Wikipedia  entry aptly describes as the ongoing “grubby” adventures by these two  states.  Foolishly, Mossaddegh’s  government had  voted to  nationalise the  UK “owned’  oil fields production in  Iran and so Mossaddegh  and Iran  had to pay the price-  a lifetime of imprisonment and the re-installation of the brutal  pretend-King of Persia -the Shah.

The UK and France’s ongoing adventure in  Syria is another such  example of history repeating itself, where the so-called socialist  president of France, Hollande is salivating at  the mouth  with the opportunity to  once again invade their old colony under the pretense of protecting its  inhabitants ( identical  story  to last time), and the evil little UK Foreign  Minister  Hague will do  absolutely anything to please his  Israeli  masters. Funding and supporting Al Qaeda is absolutely not a   problem  to  Hollande and Hague and Obama -as it was no  problem for the US in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation. Read a great  account of the French aerial bombing of Damascus  in 1925  and again  in  1926. The US has a 60  year history of conflict  with Syria, as noted by  Adam Curtis in  his wonderful  blog, “The Baby and the Baath  Water.”

In  Afghanistan,the US repeats the old adventures played out by  its now junior ally,  “Great  Britain”,  in its  nineteenth century wars of 1839-1842,  and 1878-1880 and  then 1919.

Were those wars about peace, justice and  democracy and the rights of women?  Then,  as now, protecting opium  production was one of the driving forces; protecting the  Western  interests who make  huge monies from  addicting and selling  opium  and now heroin to Chinese, Russians or any other brutalised public.

Protecting  Western  oil  interests and profits  is of course, the other game; a game that heavily relies on Israel  forming a “western”  buttress against  the Arab hordes revolting against  the ‘masters and betters’. Hence the less than subtle tacit  support for the Egyptian  Army generals and their counter-revolution,  and the West’s unconditional  support for the Wahhabi  extremist fiefdoms in  Saudi Arabia  Qatar and the UAE.

“The celebrated anthropologist Clifford Geertz has half-jokingly suggested that all  states can be parceled into four types: pluralist, in  which the state is seen by  its people as having moral  legitimacy;  populist, in  which government is viewed as an  expression of the people’s will’; “great beast” in which the ruler’s power depends on  using force to keep  the populace cowed,  and “great fraud” in  which  the elite uses smoke and mirrors to  convince the people of its inherent authority” – 1491- New Revelations of the Americas”: Charles C Mann.   I leave you to  judge  which  of those categories of statehood the UK and US fit into.

The problem with all of these Western adventures is that they benefit only a tiny minority of the UK and US populations;  the very  very  rich (or the less then ‘one-per cent’) , with the trickle-down effects to  the British  and US wider public  negligible. The process can only continue while those publics can continue to be propagandized into  believing that these wars and adventures are about peace democracy  and justice and stopping evil  terrorists blowing us all up..

The desperation of those in  power  and their mercenary backers can be seen in the massive state investment   in  knowing what  everyone is writing and saying online and on the phone  and the need to silence  any whistleblowers quickly.

Time is running out for the predators.

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Links

An  excellent analysis  of the impacts of interventionism in Libya   from  the Belfer Institute by Alan  Ku[perman

Counterpunch http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/08/23/manning-snowden-and-the-u-s-coup-in-iran/

The War on Democracy

Universal male and female adult suffrage is a relatively recent phenomenon -in a nation  state it first occurred in  1893 in New Zealand . Adult male suffrage ( regardless of property rights)  first occurred in  republican France in  1792.  Universal  suffrage  (including blacks ) was only  enforced in US Federal elections from  1965.  The above dates clearly indicate true universal  suffrage really only  becoming the accepted norm in  recent times in the Western world, let alone globally.

Democracy  in  a given geographical catchment  works most fairly where voters have similar  views and shared identities  (ie  in a nation-state composed of numerous well-defined minorities, only the majority group  will  consider its interests are represented by  ruling governments unless coalitions of minorities are formed). Where there are long-standing minorities in  a given electoral catchment,  resentment and exclusion  naturally follow .

Additionally in  the last 10 years with the advent of the internet  and the fictional  “War on  Terror”,  a new set of issues, both constraining and enabling  democracy, have arisen.

The capacity of private citizens to  find  truthful information on  government decisions and responses has markedly improved  over the last 10 years with the  rise of the internet,  justifiably causing the credibility of most Western politicians to be tarnished as their ongoing epidemic of  lying and posturing  is exposed.

In addition, Western state’s and private corporate’s attack on general elections in  the past few years  in   countries such  as Iran, the Russian Federation and the celebrated colour revolutions of Eastern Europe, have now enabled any electorally defeated opposition  party to claim   fraud and vote rigging and to “legitimately ” resort to  revolution  on the streets ; the principles of majority vote rules are now significantly undermined . This  democratic  revisionism has now also been exacerbated by the West’s recent tacit support  for the Egyptian  Army’s coup  against Egypt’s legitimately elected government .

On top of that , the US and UK security apparatuses and other “democratic ” state apparatus’  insistence on  total knowledge  of their citizens’  online and phone conversations,  is a further deliberate malign attempt to  ensure that only  those who currently have the power and money are able to  circulate their view of the world  to the voters, thereby  attempting to maintain the “status quo”;  somewhat in  opposition to  true democratic  principles.

Democracy  may or may  not be, to paraphrase Churchill, the least worst alternative method of government representation, but the cracks are surely showing…

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Links

http://katieandmartin.wordpress.com/2010/09/03/a-brief-history-of-universal-suffrage/

Another round of negotiations for peace between Israel and “Palestine”- sigh

Richard Falk in his blog article, Reviving the Israel-Palestine Negotiations: The Indyk Appointment notes one of many absurdities in  this current round of “peace negotiations” between Israel  and the Palestinian  Authority,  brokered by  the U.S., is the US appointment of the chief negotiator, Martin Indyk. Martin Indyk, Falk notes, is a “former ambassador to Israel (1995-97; 2000-01), onetime AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) employee, British born, Australian educated American diplomat, with a long list of pro-Israeli credentials.” Hardly what might be described as an independent arbiter

As www.jadaliyya.com display in their simple but effective poster on the displacement of the Palestinian peoples since 1948 by Israeli soldiers and gunmen, by 2008, more than 5.3 million Palestinians were living in enforced exile, often in extreme conditions of hardship. Those who remain in the ghettos of the West Bank and Gaza, imprisoned behind ever higher Israeli concrete walls and for Gazans, facing increasing limitations to their access to food, medicine and the basic necessities of life, by the illegal Israeli blockade. In addition, thousands of Palestinian political prisoners are imprisoned in Israel for their rightful attempts to   break a savage illegal occupation, or like the hundreds of young children imprisoned and often tortured, maybe threw a stone or two against an Israeli soldier or settler.

This is no round of equal party negotiations; this is negotiations between one all powerful  (and totally supported in  every way by  the “independent arbiter”  the U.S.) and the Palestinian  agency  which  has no  democratic legitimacy with its own people (Hamas does)  and which  has absolutely no negotiating leverage.

Falk also notes that “John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State, whose show this is, dutifully indicated when announcing the Indyk appointment, that success in the negotiations will depend on the willingness of the two sides to make ‘reasonable compromises.’” One might ask what further compromises the Palestinians may  be asked to make;  having lost almost all  their land, hundreds of thousands of lives, the loss of a  state entity and thousands of their “citizens’  in  Israeli  prisons.  All the while, Israel continues to expand with more settler housing into the occupied territories, destroying more Palestinian homes and orchards and creating more Palestinian refugees. 

Peace in Palestine, if it can be obtained, must surely require the just settlement of past wrongs and the creation of a stable, sustainable and just society for the inhabitants of that region. In my view, some elements of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission model, along with the reconciliations (and compensations) achieved via New Zealand’s Waitangi Tribunal for indigenous Maori, will achieve that goal.

This model translates, in the land of Palestine, to compensation for lands misappropriated by Israeli Jews, compensation for the deaths and torture of Palestinians and Israelis since the Nakba , and equal status for all citizens, whether Jewish, Muslim or any other religious or ethnic identity who currently inhabit those lands – in other words –  a single state solution. A peace settlement requires a just settlement.

In every way, these current negotiations, as all the previous peace negotiations have been, are both a farce and tragedy.

 OsloPalestine

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Links

Reviving the Israel/Palestine negotiations: the Indyk Appointment– Richard Falk

Choosing Martin Indyk to Lead the Israel Palestine Peace Talks is a Disaster – Policy Mic

Former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk to oversee talks with Palestinians –  The Guardian

John Kerry’s Doomed Peace Process-Foreign Policy in Focus

 Two-state IIlusion-New York Times Opinion  by Ian Lustick

 

The Magdelen Laundries

magdelene3

The Magdelen Laundries were penitentiary (interesting to note the word’s  origin from  the fact  that the  inmates were “penitents”) institutions run by  by  four Catholic nunnery congregations: (the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge, the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy, the Religious Sisters of Charity  and the Sisters of the Good Shepherd).

These 4 congregations operated  10 laundries in Ireland  between 1922 and 1996. These and other  forced labour religious institutions used well over 10,000 young women  over that period  as involuntary labour (or more technically: slaves) to launder  washing and provide an income for the convents. The women on  “referral” to the laundries  were assigned a number and their name taken from them;  they were often beaten, starved, had their heads shaved as punishment, received no  education  were kept in captivity indefinitely; sometimes til the end of their days.

Institutions known as Magdalen Laundries were not confined to Ireland, nor were they exclusively Catholic-established or operated.

Their furthest history in Europe may date back to medieval times, but the first of what could be termed a ‘Magdalen Home’ was established in England in 1758. The first in Ireland was a Protestant asylum established in 1765.

Historians estimate that by the late 1800s there were more than 300 Magdalen Institutions in England alone and at least 41 in Ireland. These early institutions –variously entitled Asylums, Refuges and Penitentiaries – included institutions of all denominations and none.

The focus and purpose of these early institutions was closely tied to women in prostitution or women regarded as in danger of falling into prostitution, including unmarried mothers. This purpose, however, appears to have changed over time and based on the records it identified, the Committee found that the Magdalen Laundries in Ireland, after 1922, was not associated in the same strong way with prostitution or unmarried mothers. From the “Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries” ;  Dr. McAleese February 2012

Made infamous by the 2002 movie the Magdelene Sisters and the subsequent heart-rending song composed by  Joni Mitchell, the government of Eire was finally moved to commission a  report in  2010  to identify  whether the government had any responsibilities for the suffering inflicted by  the Magdelen Laundries.

The reporting committee was composed of Senator Martin McAleese, eight Civil Servants and Nuala Ní Mhuircheartaigh, a civil servant who acted as the report’s “analyst and drafter”;  and then the report has five pages of acknowledgements. Bishops, Archbishops, Accountants, Doctors, Historians and Academics, Agencies of the State and named Civil Servants are name checked. Advocacy and Representative Groups administrators are thanked by name. Finally, just before the bottom of page 5 we get the last line of the acknowledgements.

“And finally a special thanks to all the women who shared the story of their time in the Magdalen Laundries with the Committee.”

The Irish convents identified in the McAleese report claimed that the Laundry’s made no profit,  despite large incomes, an unpaid workforce and tax exemption. But as Labour Party representative, Eamonn Maloney, said;

“They did make money, they made lots of money,” he said during Dáil statements on the report, adding that most commercial laundries in the 1940s and 1950s closed because of competition from the Magdalenes.

 

After the McAleese report was released, representatives of some the Magdelen Laundry survivors said: the report delivered by former Senator Martin McAleese fell short in many ways; one of the most glaring was to write of “self-referral”.

Was a destitute woman thrown on the street by her parents “willing” when her choice was between selling herself or a hell-hole of slave labour?

Was a motherless child “willing” when a Catholic priest took her from the care of her widowed father because to have her free in society left her open to “moral hazard”?

More importantly, if every woman still alive who was ever locked in one of those dark, fearful places was a prostitute; if every woman there had given birth to children “out of wedlock”, there should still be no “stigma”. They were human, that’s all: human like the rest of us. And they were ignorant of the world and its ways, the ignorance as enforced as was their incarceration.

The stigma is ours, and ours alone, to be shared by all of us except the women victimised and brutalised by Irish society as a whole. That the women could have perceived themselves as bearing a stigma for their incarceration reflects on us, not on them.

 Magdelen2

It is noteworthy that Martin McAleese found limited evidence of physical  or sexual  abuse in  the Magdelen Laundries from the interviews he  personally  undertook alone with the women,  with whom he “engaged broadly”

However, according to the Justice for Magdalenes (JFM) group, more than 800 pages of transcripts of first-hand oral evidence was offered to the McAleese inquiry, but never used. Much of that unused testimony referred to systemic abuse of all  kinds by  nuns and priests. JFM collected testimony from survivors who attested to severe psychological and physical suffering incurred during even short stays of less than a year.

Apparently only women  who would sign  a declaration of anonymity  were permitted to testify to McAleese. In addition, the Report Committee agreed a Data Protection policy with the nunnery orders consulted, under which the Committee could access records containing personal data, but could not publish the names of the residents of the laundries – even those of deceased women to whom data protection law no longer applies.

Eire Human Rights reports that: Those interviewed include a small sample of 118 survivors, of whom 58 still live in the care of religious orders. Most were introduced to the Committee via representative organisations and survivors’ groups. They were interviewed in private. There were no public hearings. Claire McGettrick of  Justice for Magdalenes describes the manner in which the Committee interviewed survivors of the Laundries here.

Initially, the committee didn’t even want to speak to women in person, but we fought for that. The women gave their testimony verbally and then we were given very little notice of a second meeting where we were to look at the format of the initial testimony. Instead, the women were brought in one by one for a meeting with the commission where they asked repeated questions.

Their overall impression was that they were being checked to ensure that their memories were correct. The women came out of those meetings very quiet and subdued. None of them, none of us, had been expecting for them to be questioned like that.

The women are allowed scant quotations in which to share their stories. (This is in contrast to, for instance, the long passages of quotation from identified benign male authority figures later in the chapter – GPs who attended the Laundries, the chaplain of the Sean McDermott Street Laundry [who appears again at length in Chapter 9 to explain, unchallenged, the famous photograph of police and women from the Laundry marching in a religious procession (shown below)

 magdelene1
McAleese however did say in his  report that “the large majority of women who engaged with the committee… spoke of the deep hurt they felt due to their loss of freedom, the fact that they were not informed why they were there, the lack of information on when they would be allowed to leave, and denial of contact with the outside world, particularly family and friends”.

The report’s Executive Summary ends with the following assessment of the first hand evidence of the women who witnessed and experienced these institutions

“Although identifying common patterns in these stories, the Committee did not make specific findings on this issue, in light of the small sample of women available.”

Simon McGarr in his article on  the McAleese report states that “In fact the Executive Summary is a shameful farrago of guesses, elisions and wilful ignorance. It proposes the most unlikely of explanations for the most serious of issues. On the lack of death certificates for women and the total failure to ever report any women’s death to a Coroner it says

“It is not possible to state definitively whether the deaths for which certificates were not found were unregistered; or whether registration occurred under a variation of the woman’s name or at her former home-place rather than the district in which the Laundry was located.

Simon McGarr a solicitor, also notes that:

A) The Committee concedes it went outside its brief to present the argument made by the Religious Orders as to the profit the laundries did (or, it is claimed, did not) make. It says it did so because it was in the public interest.

B) The Committee decided its brief did not allow it to decide who was liable for anything. It decided this also meant treating the first hand evidence of the women who had been in the Magdalene institutions as merely “input to the process.”

The only member of the Committee to meet with any women who worked in the Magdalene institutions was Martin McAleese. Paragraph 31 assures the reader he ‘engaged broadly’ with them.

It is unfortunate that Martin McAleese chose not to include anything more of the women’s accounts in this report,” said Mr McGarr.

The Eire  Human Rights website reports  that

  • At least 2,500 women were sent to the laundries by the State.
  • The State gave laundry contracts to the Magdalene Laundries, participating in a system which ran on forced unpaid labour and which did not comply with social insurance obligations.
  • The State oversaw that system of forced, unpaid labour in that it inspected the Laundries under the Factories Acts.
  • The State, in various contexts and for various purposes, funded some of the activities of the Magdalene Laundries.
  • The Gardai pursued and returned some women who had escaped from the Magdalene Laundries, often on an informal, non-statutory basis.

It should be noted that the Magdelen Laundries were just one symptom of a lack of moral  and ethical behaviour by  the government and society of Eire. In the absence of significant government welfare institutions in  an impoverished society,  responses to poverty, criminality or “immoral” behaviour were abdicated to   community and religious institutions with minimal oversight and control. Inevitably, as in every isolated  institution around the world,  such institutions became a magnet for those who  had a penchant for cruelty and abuse or simply a lust for power over others.

PaddyDoyle reports that

By 1966, Ireland was incarcerating a higher proportion of its people in mental hospitals than anywhere else in the world. It follows that very many of these people (21,000 at the height of the system) were not mentally ill but were locked up for social, political and familial reasons. Conditions were generally abysmal. Mental hospitals were not just grim places of incarceration, they were also death traps.

O’Sullivan and O’Donnell show that an astonishing 11,000 people died every decade in Irish mental hospitals – that’s 33,000 people between the 1930s and the 1950s. Many of them died because of neglect and insanitary conditions. “Around one in 20 patients died each year from a variety of ailments, such as tuberculosis, influenza and malignant tumours . . . Occasionally patients perished because they had been given the wrong medication, or tried to escape but fell into a river, or lost their lives in ways that are unexplained, but seemed to involve neglect or deliberate harm. Only in exceptional circumstances were staff called to account for such deaths.” Basic decency demands that the State should, at the very least, commission a full independent historical report on the mental hospital system.

However the McAleese report also offers one other salutory lesson; the importance of recognizing, valuing and accepting as truth, the narratives of victims.

It should be painfully obvious to all that, as in so many similar formal  analyses of wrongdoing across the world;  that the statutory  and community/religious agencies involved have reputations to keep and budgets to  hold, while the victims had their reputations to lose and their fears re-generated in  telling their stories. What is comforting however, is that in the end, the victims’ and survivors’ stories always win out.

_______________________________________________________________

Links to Magdelen Laundry Research

Testimony from Magdalen survivors is located here

https://www.facebook.com/groups/justiceformagdalenes/?ref=ts&fref=ts

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magdalene_asylum

http://www.broadsheet.ie/2013/02/06/the-magdalene-report-a-conclusion/

http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2013/02/25/the-magdalen-laundries-were-used-as-reformatories-where-girls-were-sent-without-due-process-but-they-were-not-brutal-anti-catholics-have-lied-about-them/

http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/woman/real_life/4812617/For-three-years-I-was-a-child-slave-in-the-Magdalene-Laundries.html

http://www.magdalenelaundries.com/

http://www.irishcentral.com/news/Magdalene-Laundry-nuns-defend-their-actions-in-new-Irish-radio-documentary-196311881.html

http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/the_truth_of_the_magdalene_laundries_emerges

http://www.mcgarrsolicitors.ie/2013/02/06/how-to-read-the-mcaleese-report-into-the-magdalen-laundries/

http://www.independent.ie/opinion/analysis/bruce-arnold-mcaleese-report-flies-in-the-face-of-painful-evidence-of-laundry-victims-29077086.html

http://clericalwhispers.blogspot.co.nz/2013/02/lawyer-slates-mcaleese-report-as.html

http://www.irishleftreview.org/2013/02/06/mcaleese-report-magdalene-laundries-2013/

http://www.paddydoyle.com/category/magdalen-women-forgotten-voices/

http://www2.ohchr.org/English/bodies/cat/docs/followup/JusticeforMagdalenes_Ireland_CATFollowup.pdf

The Testimony of the survivors by Justice for Madgalenes http://www2.ohchr.org/English/bodies/cat/docs/followup/JusticeforMagdalenes_Ireland_CATFollowup.pdf

http://www.irishexaminer.com/analysis/opinion-maeve-orourke-laundries-apology-is-now-needed-221772.html

Democracy/Hypocrisy in Egypt

 So by now it should be clear to every  Western  and Arab citizen, that  western  governments don’t support the will of the majority; otherwise known as democracy-they  support “their man”.

The removal  of Mohammed Morsi  as the legitimately elected President of Egypt by  the US funded  Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of Egypt, Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, on the 3rd July after one year in office, with  scarcely a murmur of concern from  any Western  “democracy” is indicative of the contempt the governing Western powers have for the will  of the people.

It can  certainly be argued that  Morsi , whose Muslim Brotherhood renaissance was largely funded by  Qatar, did not deliver on  the promises he made in  the pre-election process last  year.  However if that rule of thumb for instituting a  coup  were to be used against  every  democratically elected leader in  this world, there would be  few remaining in  power after their first year in   office!

Certainly  Morsi  changed his political  agenda frequently  over the past year based on  the  likelihood of funding becoming available from the US or Saudi Arabia or Qatar. But again, if that yardstick  were used against elected leaders  to  define legitimacy,  there are currently  few “un-bought” leaders in  democracies who  would pass that  measure.

Dodge
Dodge van

Don’t get me wrong , I am not an apologist for any kind  of religious based political agenda; whether Christian, Buddhist Muslim or any other sectarian  view of the world. By definition, those sectarian  views breed intolerance,  fear, hypocrisy and violence. But then  again  we have many apparently non religious Western leaders whose non-religious sectarian  views breed that  same intolerance and fear.

No, the most significant  issue is the breathtaking hypocrisy  of those Western leaders who  regularly call  for “democracy”  in  this or that state (usually with some natural  resources they want) ,  but whose agenda is now manifestly clear: ” regime change” is all that matters as long as the new regime is “our”  regime.

Secondly what  is also  breathtakingly clear is the total  corruption and fawning of the mainstream western media to  the powers-that-be.  No  headlines on  why  the UK and US and its European “allies’  are supporting a  military  coup  over democracy,  in what  has been trumpeted for so long as the new democratic “arab spring” ;  no hint of dissonance expressed…..

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Postscript

The Grand Scam: Spinning Egypt’s Military Coup: Exposing the Hypocrisy of ElBaradei and His Liberal Elites-  Counterpunch

Richard Falk’s as always, great  analysis  in his Egypt: Extreme Polarization and Genocidal Politics

 

Everything is secret about us and nothing secret about you…

A  disturbing article by Cyrus Safdari  of Iran Affairs about the rights of US citizens where ‘state secrets’ just  could be involved…

The (Reuters article on Iran winning legal  battles about blocking the activity  Iranian banks)   article goes on to mention the procedure used in the UK to present classified information as evidence in the court whilst minimizing the risk of disclosure by allowing the judge to see the “secret’ evidence privately. In this case the judge was apparently not terribly impressed by the quality of this evidence since he still ruled in favor of Iran.

The US has a similar procedure ( limited to criminal prosecutions) but I don’t know if any such lawsuits in US court would be as successful, for a variety of reasons not the least of which is the State Secrets Privilege, which once invoked by the govt has the effect of ending all lawsuits because the govt can prevent the disclosure of any evidence during the trial that it claims would risk exposure of national security secrets. All the govt lawyers have to do is say “State Secrets Privilege” and usually that’s the end of the case since crucial information is then prevented from being considered by the court.

Tilly the kitten
Tilly the kitten

 

Tilly the kitten

Read the rest here

And a wonderful  little piece  here by  Peter Lee at  Asian  Times Online  about three earlier NSA whistleblowers and what  Snowden  can expect in  terms of US justice..

And a lovely piece by  William Pfaff on  the US’s indefatigable attempts to  undermine the rule of international  law here

Or read that  always acerbic Australian  John Pilger here on ‘Understanding the Prism leaks is understanding the rise of a new fascism’

Or, another great cutting article about secrecy and  corporatism  from  Arthur Silbur entitled  “Intelligence, Corporatism, and the Dance of Death”

Or an  erudite article on Snowden by David Bromwich at  London Review of Books

Or this great little article by  Digby  at  Hullabaloo analysing  what  is already  very  clear:-that  these “spymasters” are about as incompetent and basically just  as stupid  as you can possibly  imagine..

Or this authoritative article on  international  law by  Richard Falk  entitled Misreading the Snowden Affair

This post is a revised and modified version of an essay published as an Op/Ed two days ago by Al Jazeera English; it attempt to reflect on the significance of the Snowden disclosures, and why governments did not rebuff the American efforts to take Snowden into custody as an accused criminal by the simple assertion that ‘political crimes‘ should never be the subject of cooperative inter-governmental efforts to achieve the enforcement of criminal law in a foreign country. The world benefits from the safety valve of such sanctuary, as does the country that is seeking to arrest and punish the whistleblower even if most of its leaders and opinion makers do not realize this.

An interesting Wikipedia note on Russ Tice, NSA whistleblower in  2005, who  noted  the very  same issues that  Snowden refers to. ( note that Tice’s allegations were dismissed by the Inspector General , who  stated in  an unclassified report that found “no evidence” to support Tice’s claims.[4]