Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Sunday, December 8, 2013
Philip Hickey had a good, thorough post at Mad in America this week - “Neuroleptics for Children: Harvard’s Shame.”
Hickey details the extraordinary rise in the bogus diagnosis of pediatric bipolar disorder and the concomitant increase in the use of hugely harmful neuroleptic drugs on children:
Most of the increase in mood disorder frequency was for bipolar disorder. In the period studied, admissions for children for depression rose 12%, but admissions for bipolar disorder rose 434% (from 1.5 per 100,000 population to 8.2). For children in the age group 5-9, the increase was 696%! – a seven-fold increase.No single individual is entirely responsible for any social problem. The driver of the psychiatric coercion, stigmatization, and drugging of millions of people, including children, is capitalism. The companies profiting from the manufacture and sale of drugs attain the cooperation of governments (which themselves share an interest in social control), universities, medicine, and other institutions that will ensure the system’s maintenance and expansion. Hundreds of thousands of people working in these companies and institutions contribute to the outcome. In any paricular story of institutions coming to serve the interests of capital rather than - or in opposition to - human (or other animal) needs and rights, though, we can identify individuals whose choices and actions have contributed most significantly.
So, over the last decade or two, we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of children being hospitalized for bipolar disorder and in the number of children being prescribed neuroleptics in office visits.
In this case, one name stands out. Hickey suggests that “most of the responsibility for that increase can, in my view, be laid at the door of one person: Joseph Biederman, MD, of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. Dr. Biederman will go down in history as the inventor of pediatric bipolar disorder.” You probably couldn’t find a better example of the corporate corruption of academic medicine and how it has arrogantly and unapologetically caused the suffering and deaths of thousands of people than Biederman. Hickey tells the story of how Biederman pushed the pediatric bipolar diagnosis and the prescription of damaging neuroleptic drugs to children and adolescents, concealing his relationship with the drug companies while promising Johnson & Johnson favorable research results.
There are few areas of science with as weighty an ethical responsibility as pediatric medical research. The exposure of Andrew Wakefield’s misdeeds has justifiably made him a pariah. Even honest carelessness can result in children’s lives needlessly lost, suffering, or permanent harm. Scientists need to be relentlessly honest and careful, making sure that their methods are solid and unbiased and that their conclusions and recommendations don’t recklessly reach beyond the fairly obtained data.
But here’s a case of an influential physician researcher at an elite university openly flouting even minimal standards of scientific integrity in order to promote the diagnosis and drugging of children. And, as Hickey describes, Biederman was (rather mildly) “disgraced” not for scientific misconduct (or, of course, for harming children) but for failing to disclose $1.6 million he’d received from the drug companies. When his actions were exposed, he received the most minimal sanctions. These days, “Dr. Biederman is fully rehabilitated and is back in business. He’s receiving research funding from ElMindA, Janssen, McNeil, and Shire, and is once again churning out research papers on topics such as ADHD and, guess what? – pediatric bipolar disorder.” He’s “still at MGH, where he is Chief of the Clinical and Research Programs in Pediatric Psychopharmacology and Adult ADHD, and at Harvard, where he is a full Professor of Psychiatry, a position, which, by his own account, ranks just below God!”
And the “research” continues to be treated seriously. Hickey quotes Joanna Moncrieff:
Neither Harvard nor Massachusetts General Hospital nor any other psychiatric or medical institution has commented on the fact that prominent academics were found to be enriching themselves to the tune of millions of dollars through researching and promoting the use of dangerous and unlicensed drugs in children and young people. Although some individual psychiatrists have expressed misgivings…academic papers continue to discuss the diagnosis, treatment and outcome of bipolar disorder in children as if no controversy existed, with more than 100 papers on the subject published in Medline-listed journals between 2010 and 2012. Notwithstanding…the disgrace of Joseph Biederman, the practice of diagnosing children with bipolar disorder and treating them with antipsychotics remains alive and kicking.Hickey offers that “Harvard is hallowed ground – America’s Oxbridge. It has acquired an image as a center of learning where educational and research standards eclipse all other considerations.” Given this reputation, he asks:
Why do Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital stand for this kind of blatant corruption and deception in the upper echelons of their psychiatry department?There’s reason to hope that Harvard and other prominent universities will take a stand for scientific integrity, academic independence, and children’s health in this important context. Sure, there’s the involvement with imperialism and slavery; the opium money; the history of racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, and classism; the connections with eugenics; the cooperation with government efforts to silence opposition; the promotion of ideologies of oppression; the happy collusion with corporations in general; the...
…Has Harvard’s Psychiatry Department, in concert with their pharmaceutical allies, crossed this line? Have they now, implicitly or explicitly, adopted the ethical standards of the business world? Have they subordinated their sense of decency and shame to considerations of prestige and revenue?
And what of the MGH/Harvard leadership? Do they actually believe that the sanctions imposed on Dr. Biederman and his colleagues are adequate? Or do they reckon that the years of past and future pharma revenue are worth the cost? Have they crossed the line into the shady realm of business ethics?
Oh never mind.
Speaking of academics, Chris Clarke’s reposting of his What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts? The Graphic Novel makes for a good moment to mention the latest Templeton news:
Texas Tech University’s Free Market Institute received a $1.7 million, three-year grant from the John Templeton Foundation to study the origins of economic freedom and prosperity, according to a Tech news release.Administrators are thrilled:
The grant also will fund post-doctoral fellowships, visiting professors, doctoral student fellowships, guest lecturers, summer research stipends and a major conference.
“This will be the largest grant the Free Market Institute has received since the initial pledge of $4 million that founded the institute,” said Benjamin Powell, director of the institute.
…“We won’t just be learning more about how to make societies prosperous, but about the deeper culture and values that will sustain freedom and prosperity long into the future,” he said. “The main research project funded by the grant will study what causes countries or U.S. states to adopt institutions that support an environment of economic freedom that causes prosperity.”
How economic freedom is improved is much less understood than the benefits that freedom provides, Powell said, and the research project will address this major gap in that understanding.
…Texas Tech President M. Duane Nellis said understanding economic questions such as the one covered in the grant make Tech’s FMI stand out as a research institute and can have far-reaching applications that impact millions of people.I’m fascinated by how open they are about the Institute’s agenda, the celebration of external funding regardless of source or purpose or what it makes of the university, and the neoliberal politics of the administrators themselves.
“It will be interesting to see what Dr. Powell and others uncover as they work toward a better understanding of how economic freedom and prosperity interact,” Nellis said. “I appreciate Dr. Powell’s continued efforts to secure external sources for funding.”
…“In its first year since opening, the Free Market Institute at Texas Tech is already making a tremendous impact on our students, faculty and campus,” said Tech Chancellor Kent Hance. “This $1.7 million grant is just another example of the institute’s excellence, and we are proud of Dr. Powell and his team’s efforts to highlight the importance of free market thinking and economic freedom.”
Saturday, December 7, 2013
Looking again over the articles I mentioned last night, I clicked on a link to a letter from a Berkeley math lecturer, Alexander Coward, to his students explaining why he would be crossing picket lines to teach his class. It makes for an even better contrast with Jacques Monod.
The letter has gone viral and received a good deal of praise. It would be funny (and sad) in any context, if only for its presentation of political stupidity and ignorance as insight and sophistication:
Whatever the alleged injustices are that are being protested about tomorrow, it is clear that you are not responsible for those things, whatever they are, and I do not think you should be denied an education[! - SC] because of someone else’s fight that you are not responsible for….How true. Fascism, democracy, Sweden, Afghanistan,... – just different ways of doing things, winners and losers in each, no point in opposing any one system or fighting for another. It’s all frightfully complicated, and who’s to say what’s better or worse? Who are we to claim that it’s better when workers receive decent pay and benefits and are treated with respect, or that this is a human right worth fighting for?
…Beyond practical matters, I think it’s also worth reflecting a little on the broader relationship between politics and your education, and I think I have some important things to share on this topic that may be helpful to you.
…If I’ve learned one thing about politics since I was your age, it is this: Politics, like most things in life worth thinking about, including mathematics, is very big, very complicated, and very interconnected. I’ve lived and worked in four countries on four continents, all with societies set up differently both politically and socially. I’ve discovered that there is no unique or obviously best way of setting up society. For every decision and judgement you reach, there are people who benefit and people who lose out.
As responses have noted, Coward’s own working conditions and the students’ access to affordable public education (as well as the fact that they have the choice to speak out about political issues on campus) are the result of previous struggles and acts of solidarity. But no matter to Coward. He encourages students to put all of their focus on their education (which he defines to exclude participation in social justice movements, apparently):
And do not fall into the trap of thinking that you focusing on your education is a selfish thing. It’s not a selfish thing. It’s the most noble thing you could do.He could ask these scientists how people’s focusing on their own education and work panned out.
Society is investing in you so that you can help solve the many challenges we are going to face in the coming decades, from profound technological challenges to helping people with the age old search for human happiness and meaning.
But what struck me most was the contrast between Coward and Jacques Monod, whose actions are described in Brave Genius. Monod delayed and interrupted his scientific work repeatedly to involve himself in social causes: to lead Resistance struggles, for example, to help Agnès Ullmann and Tamás Erdös escape from Communist Hungary, to support the student uprisings of ‘68,… It didn’t stop him from Nobel-worthy work, but it easily could have – he risked his life many times. Completely foreign to him was the idea that scientists or students were a special category of elites who were excused from struggles to end oppression and exploitation because of need to dedicate themselves to intellectual pursuits for the hypothetical good of future society, or that this was a noble path. What a difference from people like Coward.
Relevant to my last post about rightwing destabilization efforts in Venezuela is a recent Occupy.com investigation of the activities of Serbian activist leader Srdja Popovic, which
reveals that Popovic and the Otpor! offshoot CANVAS (Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies) have also maintained close ties with a Goldman Sachs executive and the private intelligence firm Stratfor (Strategic Forecasting, Inc.), as well as the U.S. government. Popovic’s wife also worked at Stratfor for a year.Specifically,
These revelations come in the aftermath of thousands of new emails released by Wikileaks’ ‘Global Intelligence Files’. The emails reveal Popovic worked closely with Stratfor, an Austin, Texas-based private firm that gathers intelligence on geopolitical events and activists for clients ranging from the American Petroleum Institute and Archer Daniels Midland to Dow Chemical, Duke Energy, Northrop Grumman, Intel and Coca-Cola. [links removed]
Stratfor saw Popovic’s main value not only as a source for intelligence on global revolutionary and activist movements, but also as someone who, if needed, could help overthrow leaders of countries hostile to U.S. geopolitical and financial interests.These of course include Venezuela, and CANVAS apparently trained people in how to oust the country’s democratically elected president Hugo Chávez in 2007.
In response to critics, Popovic attempted to defend his actions:
Popovic…said CANVAS would speak to anyone and everyone—without any discrimination—about nonviolent direct action.If this isn’t ridiculously naïve, and I don’t believe for a second that it is, it’s an admission that he lacks a political conscience. An activist mercenary, he’ll sell his tactics and, just as important, popular-movement whitewashing to anyone willing to pay, and for the past several years corporations and the US government have been his best customers. They’re expecting that people will continue to be misled by the rhetoric of nonviolence, democracy, and grassroots activism and fail to recognize what’s happening and who’s behind it.
‘CANVAS will present anywhere — to those committed to activism and nonviolent struggle, but also to those who still live in the Cold War era and think that tanks and planes and nukes shape the world, not the common people leading popular movements’, he said.
‘If we can persuade any decision maker in the world, in Washington, Kremlin, Tel Aviv or Damascus that it is nonviolent struggle that they should embrace and respect – not foreign military intervention, or oppression over own population – we would do that’.
“The aim...is ‘regime change’": British leading figures publish statement opposing destabilization efforts in Venezuela
British politicians, artists, and activists have signed a statement calling for vigilance of and opposition to ongoing rightwing attempts to destabilize Venezuelan democracy (a list of signers is provided at the link). Here's the full text of the statement:
STATEMENT: Opposing destabilization in Venezuela
Mayoral elections will be held across Venezuela on 8 December.
These are the first elections following the violence and destabilisation unleashed in April by sections of the Venezuela’s right-wing opposition in response to Nicolas Maduro being elected President.
This was an attempt by the right-wing opposition to unseat Maduro even before he was sworn into office. They immediately alleged fraud despite providing no evidence and having themselves signed off a dozen audits prior to the election. They continued to make these baseless allegations even after a 100% recount, that they had demanded, confirmed the results and after governments across Latin America, the UK, France, Spain and others in the EU recognised the results.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, emboldened by a US refusal to acknowledge the election results, used claims of fraud as a pretext to encourage opposition supporters to “vent their anger”. A wave of opposition political violence followed leading to the death of 11 innocent people and dozens injured as well as petrol bombings and arson of government funded health centres, National Electoral Council buildings and headquarters of parties supporting Nicolas Maduro.
Today, destabilisation attempts are ongoing. There is growing concern of the use of sabotage to exploit and create difficulties in the economy and damage key infrastructure. This has worrying echoes of US President Richard Nixon’s strategy to “make the economy scream,” initially used to try to overthrow the progressive government of Salvador Allende in Chile in the 1970s.
The aim of this destabilization is ‘regime change’ to replace the legitimate, elected Maduro government. In that context, we are especially alarmed by the recent statement by 45 Venezuelan retired military officers, including a dozen generals and admirals, and a former defence minister, supporting a military intervention to replace the Maduro government.
The elections in December should be another opportunity for Venezuelans to express themselves at the ballot box as they have done in 17 elections, all declared free and fair, since Hugo Chavez opened up a new political era in Venezuela in 1999. But there are fears that sections of the US backed opposition are already planning to use these elections as a focal point for further destabilisation.
We deplore the use of violence and other anti-democratic means to target and overthrow legitimate governments, elected in free and fair elections. We believe that respect for democracy requires accepting the outcome of legitimate elections even when you lose. We urge vigilance at this time against those who seek to abuse Venezuela’s democracy for their own ends.”
Friday, December 6, 2013
Corey Robin has a great, hilarious piece about a University of Chicago professor’s reactionary response to graduate student unionization (the article he discusses is also indispensable). It’s a perfect illustration of the authoritarian mindset:
We also submit meekly to the administration, and if you don’t it will call attention to our feudal obedience.…I found your co-signed letter to be naive, unconvincing, and, quite frankly, kind of offensive. It is naive in that you seem to really think a union would not change relationships between graduate students and the faculty. I don’t know if either of you have ever been members of a union or worked in a unionized environment, but unions inevitably alter the relationships between union members and the people the interact with, be they management, clients, customers, or what not. The formalization of such relationships is, in fact, the central goal of a union. Your letter says “Our goal is simply to gain a voice in the decisions that affect our working conditions.” Well, these decisions are largely made by the faculty. Thus, if you want a collectivized voice in these decisions, you will be unavoidably shaping your relationships to faculty members.We make all the decisions around here. Check.
Jacques Monod makes for an illuminating comparison…
I’d enthusiastically hoped that Sean Carroll’s Brave Genius* might, in its discussion of the exchange of ideas between Camus and Monod, talk about how biology informed philosophy, politics, and ethics for the better.** And it does, somewhat, in the final chapters about Monod’s writing and activism after Camus’ death. But it also illustrates how, as they’ve entered the cultural vortex, important parts of biology’s message have been distorted and lost.
Carroll describes the central arguments in Monod’s 1970 book Chance and Necessity. He says that “Monod sought to establish the new biology’s place at the philosopher’s table, as well as in the minds, if not the hearts, of thinking people.” Monod was influenced by his friend Camus’ existentialist philosophy, particularly the ideas expressed in The Myth of Sisyphus. But, Carroll contends, while Camus drew only on philosophy, Monod “began with new empirical scientific facts” which he rightly believed had something important to contribute to our understanding of the human situation.
Monod’s argument had four “essential points,” which Carroll describes in turn. The first is that “Biology has revealed that the emergence of humans is the result of chance, and therefore not a matter of any preordained plan.” The second, that “All belief systems that are founded on a special place or purpose of man in nature are no longer tenable.” Religious and secular claims about a special status or cosmic purpose for humans are in fact, as James Rachels argues, shattered by biology.
So far, so good. But the trouble comes when Monod elaborates on the meaning of biological discoveries. In a surprising shift owing nothing to science and everything to culture, Monod interprets the recent advances in biology as confirming our alienation and isolation from the rest of the universe as part of our existential condition:
The common flaw in all of these systems, Monod underscored, is that they assume ‘between Man and the Universe, between Cosmology and History an unbroken continuity, a profound immanent alliance’. However, Monod argued, ‘the scientific approach reveals to Man that he is an accident, almost a stranger in the universe, and reduced the “old alliance” between him and the rest of creation to a tenuous and fragile thread’.No, I say. No. We’re not strangers, isolated, alien, alone, with no imminent connection to the rest of life and the cosmos. Precisely the opposite. Monod’s own discoveries, and all of the biological and other discoveries preceding them from Darwin on, and all of those that have followed – including Carroll’s! - have only confirmed and deepened the human understanding of our relatedness to the rest of the natural world. Far from contributing to an appreciation of our supposed condition of alienation, they’ve chipped away at the notion of our separateness or isolation.
Moreover, Monod asserted that molecular biology had snapped the last thread: ‘It remained for modern Biology…blossoming into Molecular Biology, to discover the ultimate source of stability and evolution in the Biosphere [DNA and mutation], and thus blow to shreds the myth of the old alliance.”
…‘Man must wake out of his millenary dream…wake to his solitude, his fundamental isolation’, Monod urged. ‘Now does he at last realize that, like a gypsy, he lives on the boundary of an alien universe. A universe that is deaf to his music, just as indifferent to his hopes as it is to his suffering or his crimes’.
…[Monod argued that:] “The ancient covenant is in pieces; man knows at last that he is alone in the universe’s unfeeling immensity, out of which he emerged only by chance’. [emphasis added]
Science has destroyed old and arrogant myths about our place in the universe, “overturn[ing] all previous, long-cherished notions of humans’ special significance in the universe,” but has replaced them with real knowledge about our deepest relationship with the rest of nature. Scientists have shown that we’re wholly natural stuff. We’ve evolved, as have all of the other forms of life on the planet. We’re animals. The processes through which we develop are shared, as Monod himself recognized, with other living beings. There are no walls separating us, in any aspect, from the rest of life or nature. Science shows a deep connection, not a separation.
This reality is enormously consequential. It doesn’t just dislodge self-serving myths about our situation and relationship to the rest of nature. It also informs the conclusions that follow from the abandonment of those myths. If people believe that their only relationship to others in their community is that they’re living under the same absolute monarchy, and that monarchy falls, they might feel isolated and alone. But if they realize that they’re in fact an ancient community of common origin, sustained by a shared nature and characteristics, and united by action, they’ll find a community of truth to replace the mythic vertical identity.
The idea that our existential situation is one of abandonment and alienation is a sad relic of belief in a cosmic deity and human specialness. It was damaging to existentialist philosophy and morality, and has hobbled philosophy and morality ever since. Scientific reality contests it.
Monod felt, in his words, that “the most important results of science have been to change the relationship of man to the universe, or the way he sees himself in the universe.” And it’s true that modern biology has forever upset mythical views about a human-centered cosmos. But it has never challenged a vision of the cosmos in which we form a part and from which we emerge in every element of our being.
* I’ll probably post a full review in the future.
** This is territory covered, as I’ve discussed, by James Rachels.
I’ve just finished Sean B. Carroll’s new book Brave Genius: A Scientist, a Philosopher, and Their Daring Adventures from the French Resistance to the Nobel Prize
about the friends and heroes Albert Camus and molecular biologist Jacques Monod, their work, and their activism.
One section is highly relevant to current oppressions and events. Following Catholic dogma, hospitals and laws around the world have denied women life-saving information and medical care. Women and organizations have long fought back, and now there are new legal challenges to this criminal intrusion of religion into medicine. In the US, the ACLU has filed suit on behalf of a woman denied abortion care at a Catholic hospital. In El Salvador, several groups have filed suit against the government for the criminalization of abortion and specifically the treatment of Beatriz, also refused an abortion in a life-threatening situation:
Feminist organizations assert that Beatriz’s story reflects the consequences of the absolute criminalization of abortion and the institutional violence that is exercised against Salvadoran girls, adolescents, and adult women. According to data gathered by the Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion, between 2000 and 2011, a total of 129 women in El Salvador have been charged with abortion or aggravated homicide, with sentences ranging between two and 40 years in prison. Currently there are at least 30 women serving prison such sentences, the majority having suffered the loss of their pregnancies for various obstetric complications.These examples of organized resistance point to the desperate situation for women’s reproductive rights in the US and elsewhere.
In the final chapters of Brave Genius, Carroll discusses Jacques Monod’s social justice activism after his receipt of the Nobel prize in 1965. One of the first political acts of Monod and his co-Nobelists François Jacob and André Lwoff after being awarded the prize was to speak out in support of the French Movement for Family Planning (MFPF).
He relates that in the 1960s in France, the availability of contraception and education about contraception were banned. The ban was supported not only, as would be expected, by the Catholic Church, but also by the French Communist Party (PCF)* and the medical profession. This led, naturally, to hundreds of thousands of illegal back-alley abortions, and in turn to untold suffering and deaths.
Approached by the MFPF’s founder Dr. Marie-Andrée Lagroua Weill-Hallé, the three scientists rallied to the cause of reproductive rights. They explained their endorsement:
Because of scientific and technical developments, the laws which govern relations among men [sic] can no longer be founded on an ethic dating back more than twenty centuries. One of the fundamental values of a modern, advanced society is the liberty of the individual under the law. Such a society cannot allow that women live as slaves to outdated principles.Carroll writes that “Thanks in large part to the campaign by the MFPF, the ban on contraceptives was lifted by passage of the Neuwirth Act in late 1967.”
When the movement that you lead reaches its objectives, many women and men will know a more harmonious and balanced existence, many tragedies will be avoided, in particular thousands of secret abortions, even the existence of which is a condemnation of a society.
Those who oppose you and ignore the hard reality, the tragedies, the mutilations and deaths, carry a heavy responsibility. No one should have the right to sacrifice the happiness, the health or the life of another human being to their own personal principles, however sincere and noble they may be.
* A note: If your politics involves policing women’s reproduction or clothing, it isn’t a politics of liberation. You’re an authoritarian.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Monday, December 2, 2013
John Cornwell’s Hitler’s Pope (1999) has been subject to criticism since its publication, especially from representatives of the Catholic Church. I’ve long thought that many of the criticisms, focused on particular questions about a direct relationship between Pius XII and Hitler or whether Pacelli was personally anti-Semitic, distracted from a central argument of the book, one with both historical and sociological importance.
It’s been about a decade since I read it and I don’t have a copy at hand, but as I recall a key theme in the book was the hierarchical, authoritarian relations Pius established in the Catholic Church and promoted in wider society. As Cornwell argued, “More than any other Vatican official of the century, [Pacelli] promoted the modern ideology of autocratic papal control, the highly centralized, dictatorial authority...”. This ideology paralleled fascist visions of social order and gave support to authoritarian movements during and after the war. It formed part of and gave voice to a longer rightwing tradition in the Church – beyond the conservative, authoritarian nature of Catholicism itself – and had powerful repercussions for Catholic leftwing movements like liberation theology and their work in local communities.
It’s a pivotal moment for Latin America. In Venezuela and Honduras in particular, popular social justice movements and politicians allying with them contend with rightwing oligarchical powers backed by the US government. So much depends on the outcome of these struggles: democracy and popular sovereignty, military power, corporate power, poverty, inequality, human health, education, the environment, women’s rights, indigenous rights, LGBT rights, the rights of other animals,… Millions of lives and futures are at stake.
In this ongoing struggle, the political Right has long been able to rely on the collaboration and support of the established church and its newspapers for their authoritarian and neoliberal projects. And over the past few weeks, they’ve continued to demonstrate their obedience, implicitly and explicitly appealing to the religious powers. Rightwing Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who lost Venezuela’s presidential elections in April to Nicolas Maduro,* flew to the Vatican just a few weeks ago to meet with the pope and ask for his intervention in Venezuela:
“‘This is a government that feeds off fear, hatred and lies, and aims to make all Venezuelans live in darkness and division’, Capriles said in an open letter he left with the pontiff on Wednesday, urging his mediation.”He was hopeful and even confident that the pope, like the US, would be an ally in his continuing campaign to destabilize Venezuelan democracy and return power to the wealthy few.*
Conservative political candidates in Honduras have similarly acted on the assumption that the Church would be supportive of their projects. A campaign leaflet for military candidate General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez listed one of his qualifications for presidential office as a “great fear of God,” illustrating a politics of fear and hierarchy. Supporters of National Party candidate Juan Orlando Hernández produced and distributed a fake LIBRE flier featuring their caricature of the party’s plans for governance in order to scare voters. The program points range from those projecting the conservatives’ own existing authoritarian actions and fantasies onto the opposition to articles that are reasonable and just. The section on “Freedom of Expression and Religion,” for example, reads:
“Given that we the socialists don’t believe in the existence of any God, we will create a Law in which we will have the freedom to believe in the God the sovereign wishes, and we will completely Eliminate any relation between the church and the Government, since the church should not have any relation to the state due to its links to coupism and the bourgeoisie of this country ….”This is actually quite fascinating (beyond the tactic of using the prospect of secular government to stoke fear), as it seems a clear admission of the reality of the collaboration of the Honduran church with the coup and the larger neoliberal and authoritarian projects of the oligarchy. Again, we see the Right confident in the unwavering support of the church. In the days before the election, Orlando Hernández pledged (like the police chief in Montgomery, Alabama) to give churches political power in enforcing obedience to the social order:
Involving the Churches as part of a plan to prevent young people from becoming involved in criminal activities is one of the key parts of the security plan of the National Party presidential candidate, Juan Orlando Hernández.Declaring his victory in the recent elections, Orlando Hernández and his supporters launched into a public prayer session so repetitive and prolonged that the reporters on teleSUR cut away from the video.
The candidate asserted that these groups dedicated to inculcating moral and Christian values in people must strengthen and lead programs that distance boys, girls, adolescents, and young people from the clutches of criminality.
‘The Catholic and Evangelical churches are fulfilling a very important role in prevention programs in very many of the country’s neighborhoods and districts. For me it’s critical that community leaders create a link with the priests and pastors in these prevention programs’.
He emphasized that if young people are raised with a base of Christian principles, it becomes more difficult for them to decide to join criminal groups.
All of these efforts are as much about appealing to the church as about demonstrating their rightist aims – identified with church authority - to one another and to the population. On the other side, there’s a long tradition of leftwing Catholic activists, and the movements and parties of the Left in the region are largely Catholic. Francis’ previous public remarks about capitalism and the recent apostolic exhortation enter the scene at this crucial moment.
The Vatican had no public comment about Capriles’ request for Francis’ “mediation via the church.” But even if there are efforts behind the scenes that work with Capriles’ agenda, and even if the Honduran church hierarchy continues to side with the Right, the pope’s explicit condemnation of capitalism and neoliberal and authoritarian ideology and his calls for political leaders to work against its depredations and on behalf of the poor leave no doubt that he stands publicly against their political and economic projects.
I’ve argued elsewhere that for the Left, including atheists and secularists, this publicly stated position should be welcomed as a political opportunity. That doesn’t require a celebration of the church. It doesn’t mean an end to criticism of the pope, Christianity, religion, or faith. It doesn’t necessitate allying ourselves with the Vatican or with Catholicism, whatever that would even mean in practice. It doesn’t mean abandoning skepticism about his motives or nonpublic actions. It simply means appreciating that this statement changes the situation fundamentally for the better.
What’s more, since these aren’t religious ideas, we don’t need to engage in the sort of condescending sophistry used by atheists who champion theistic evolution. What’s remarkable is that these are secular arguments about well being, ethics, and compassion (and even economic reality) that have been given only the thinnest religious gloss. We can remove or ignore that gloss and find basic agreement about the principles themselves.
Francis’ moves toward decentralization in the church itself and his statements about capitalism will empower leftwing Catholics within the church to organize and mobilize and to keep pushing for further change. Because oppressions are linked, an invigoration of poor people’s movements, especially to the extent that it’s accompanied by real reductions in poverty, inequality, and authoritarianism and an increase in social security (and we know where that leads…), can strengthen the position of currently marginalized groups in the church and beyond, even when their goals go against church doctrine.
In any event, the key possibilities the statement offers relate to the breakup of elite alliances. It’s not that the Left has gained an ally, but that the Right has, in an important sense, lost one. It’s an explicit rejection of the ideology and politics of people like Capriles, Vásquez Velásquez, and Orlando Hernández and the movements they represent. The “Christian principles” and “good Christian morals” advocated by Francis are worlds from those Orlando Hernández wants to see at the center of anti-crime programs. In fact, the exhortation specifically addresses so-called security efforts based on authoritarian principles, rejecting them in favor of the compassionate programs to reduce poverty, inequality, and marginalization championed by the Left. The Right in the Americas can continue to push their agenda, but they can’t continue to claim publicly that they’re acting in the name or with the approval of the church.
It would be a shame if the Left, in the face of the (for once) rational fear of conservative authoritarians, lost this valuable political opportunity.
*Capriles still hasn’t recognized the results of the April presidential election. His destabilization campaign receives continuing support from the US government and its media lackeys.
This is an online campaign that has some chance of success.
George Monbiot wrote the other day about the BBC’s failure to follow its own stated guidelines about publicly disclosing the relevant funding received by interviewees:
…It's bad enough when the BBC interviews people about issues of great financial importance to certain corporations when it has no idea whether or not these people are funded by those corporations – and makes no effort to find out. It's even worse when those interests have already been exposed, yet the BBC still fails to mention them.At the end of the article, he calls on people to complain to the BBC and gives information on where to direct your complaints.
…Here's what the BBC's editorial guidelines say about such matters:
3.4.7: “We should make checks to establish the credentials of our contributors and to avoid being ‘hoaxed’.”
3.4.12: “We should normally identify on-air and online sources of information and significant contributors, and provide their credentials, so that our audiences can judge their status.”
4.4.14: “We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased, and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”
Every day people from thinktanks are interviewed by the BBC's news and current affairs programmes without any such safeguards being applied. There is no effort to establish their credentials, in order to avoid being hoaxed into promoting corporate lobbyists as independent thinkers. There is no effort to identify on whose behalf they are speaking, “so that our audiences can judge their status.” There is no attempt to make it clear to the audience that contributors are funded by the companies whose products they are discussing.
I would have no problem with the BBC interviewing people from these thinktanks if their interests were disclosed. If these organisations refuse to say who funds them, they should not be allowed on air. Their financial interests in the issue under discussion should be mentioned by the presenter when they are introduced.
Sunday, December 1, 2013
The blog Honduras Resists has provided an English translation of the LIBRE press conference the other day detailing allegations of electoral fraud (the most interesting part in my view was the summary of the report from the Juan Bosch Foundation).
Here’s coverage from the Guardian.
Today there were marches in Honduras.
Joining many other voices, Argentine Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel has published an open letter to OAS General Secretary José Miguel Insulza charging fraud in the elections, calling for a recount, and situating these events within the longer struggle for democracy and social justice in the region.
Pablo Larraín’s No, starring Gael García Bernal:
The trailer gives a somewhat misleading impression – the film itself has a more nuanced sensibility about the use of advertising and marketing in politics than it implies. (In this, I suppose it’s perfectly suited to the subject of the film. :))
I also loved the music: