Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion 2020-03-31T05:37:10Z https://www.juancole.com/feed/atom WordPress Juan Cole http://juancole.com <![CDATA[Trump admits that Easy Voting would Defeat Republicans. That’s because they’ve made Their Base White and Evangelical]]> https://www.juancole.com/?p=190012 2020-03-31T05:37:10Z 2020-03-31T05:37:10Z Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Colin Kalmbacher at Law&Crime surveys reactions to Trump’s admission in an interview on Fox News that a mail-in ballot program that made it possible for the public to vote with ease and increased turnout would keep Republicans from ever being elected again.

Voter suppression has not always been a purely Republican policy. The Democratic Party, back before 1964, dominated the South, and whites during the Jim Crow era systematically denied African-Americans the right to vote. They used techniques like literacy tests. Since some African-Americans at that time voted Republican, this was in part a way of maintaining the American Apartheid, but it also functioned to make sure the Democratic Party machine was not challenged. With the Nixon strategy of the 1970s, after the Democrats passed the Civil Rights Act, Southern whites were largely enticed into the Republican Party, which then turned around and began championing voter suppression of African-Americans and other minorities. Evangelicals in the latter part of the 20th century were about a quarter of the US population, and they became enormously influential in the Republican Party.

The Nixon strategy was at first enormously successful for the GOP. From 1981 to 2008, Republicans had the White House 20 out of 28 years. But then the party developed a problem. It had tied its fortunes to Southern whites and to the evangelicals, along with its staple of the business classes.

The composition of a country’s population changed over time, and generations differ from one another in attitudes. The racist Nixon strategy is not working any longer.

What has changed?

First, Hispanics are now 18 percent of the US population, up from about 6 percent in 1980. In order to win fairly, Republicans needed to gain a significant proportion of that vote. The Bush’s knew this, and cultivated that constituency. George W. Bush typically attracted 40 percent of the Hispanic vote. But the dominance of Evangelicals and xenophobic southern and rural whites turned the party increasingly xenophobic and anti-immigrant. (Most Hispanic Americans are not immigrants, but many whites coded them that way). The increasingly vitriolic racism of the Tea Party and the Republican base against Hispanics drove some of them out of the party. Trump only got 28 percent of the Hispanic vote, very substantially off from Bush’s percentages. His favorability ratings by late last fall had further fallen among Hispanics to only 25 percent.

Then, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders now make up 6 percent of the US population, up from 1.6 percent in 1980. They now comed to over 20 million people. Many were conservative and business-oriented and the old Republican Party had a shot at them. But the racism has also caused many of them to flee. They heavily now favor the Democrats and they really don’t like Trump..

Further, according to Pew, white evangelicals as a proportion of the population have plummeted from 23 percent in 2004 to only 16 percent today. Pew finds that among white Protestants, evangelicals have retained their proportion, but not in the general population (i.e. many fewer Americans identify as Protestants or as religious at all). So white evangelicals could help put Bush in the White House, but just don’t have that kind of moxie any more.

And another thing: the proportion of whites in the population has fallen to only 60 percent from 75 percent in 2000. The number of counties that are majority non-white is rising. So since some significant proportion of whites vote Democratic, you can’t get elected just with what’s left of the white vote. Trump got in only because a few tens of thousands of traditionally Democratic whites in the Midwest switched to him because he said he’d bring jobs back from China and because there was a significant fall-off in the African-American vote, at least a point in Michigan, for instance.

So the lesson is that Republicans can now only win by poaching whites from the Democrats and by suppressing the minority vote.

They succeeded in 2016 (and the lackluster campaign of Hillary Clinton helped). But in the electoral college, Trump’s victory was by the skin of his teeth in three Midwestern states. The old saying attributed to circus impresario P. T. Barnum is that “A sucker is born every minute.” But the opinion polling in Michigan, at least, does not support the notion that white workers are likely to be suckered again.

So if Trump can’t steal some white Democrats this time, that really does leave only one hope, which is to find ways of preventing African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asians from voting.

The Republican Party has obviously made some very bad choices. Gravitating to the Neo-Fascist Breitbart crowd, the nativist crazies, the rapidly declining evangelicals, and generally old white people has been stupid policy. But it is in many ways Nixon’s legacy. What worked in the 1980s may not work in the 2020s. And if the numbers are any indication, the Republicans could become a long-term minority in the near future, as there were from 1931 until 1952.

The arc of history may or may not bend toward justice but it sure as hell bends toward reality.

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Bonus video:

Trump openly admitting if we made voting easier in America, Republicans wouldn’t win electionsTrump

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Asa Winstanley <![CDATA[The Israel Gov’t is taking advantage of Pandemic to Heighten Military Dictatorship over Palestinians]]> https://www.juancole.com/?p=190005 2020-03-31T04:17:23Z 2020-03-31T04:05:45Z The populations of many countries the world over are right now living under unprecedented quarantine measures and restrictions on movement.

The threat of the rapidly spreading coronavirus pandemic has changed the world for the foreseeable future.

It is true that most people who contract COVID-19 (the disease caused by this new coronavirus) will suffer only mild symptoms and will soon recover.

It is also true that the number of deaths from those contracting the disease is low in percentage terms (current estimates range between 1 and 6 percent).

However, the threat from COVID-19 is its alarmingly high infection rate, and the rapid speed with which it had spread around the world.

At the beginning of the current national emergency in the UK, people close to the prime minister talked about aiming to reach “herd immunity” – a crackpot, borderline psychopathic idea in my view.

This thankfully now-abandoned plan at one stage was actively aiming for as many as 60 per cent of the UK’s population to contract the disease.

If this had been seen through, it would had led to unimaginable suffering, with deaths in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions.

The UK’s population is more than 66 million. 60 per cent of that would have meant 39.6 million Britons contracting COVID-19. Even a 1 per cent mortality rate of this would have meant just under 400,000 deaths.

Mortality of 6 per cent would have meant 2.3 million dead.

Either chilling scenario would have almost certainly led to the collapse of the NHS.

Thankfully, there was a sharp reversal of policy, and a national lockdown has now been imposed. We can only hope that this is not too little, too late.

Israel fights with coronavirus fears – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

. . . With such alarming figures, it is no wonder that people around the world have accepted unprecedented curtailments on their individual liberty and freedom of movement in order to urgently curb the spread of the virus.

Israeli measures to curb the virus are no different in this regard.

But Israel’s coronavirus policies are quite different this way: they are accelerating and heightening their military dictatorship against the Palestinians.

For example, the limited number of Palestinian workers who are permitted jobs outside the West Bank – with virtually no rights and protections inside “Israel proper” – are being made to separate from their families for two months. Their families are not permitted to live in Israel due to their apartheid regime.

In one particularly shocking incident, seen in a video passed around social media earlier this week, Israeli occupation forces expelled a Palestinian worker, and dumped him on the side of a road in the West Bank near a checkpoint.

Technology of death: The not-so-shocking report on Israeli weapons exports

Israel’s regime of military occupation continues unabated, with attacks on the Palestinian civilian population, night-time arrests, killings and other abuses. The only change to these seems to be that the soldiers are now wearing masks.

It is not as if any of these measures are being put in place to protect the public health of either Palestinians or Israelis.

Indeed, several Palestinian prisoners – forced to live in dire and abusive conditions in Israeli dungeons – have been reported by human rights groups to have been put under quarantine due to contact with Israeli prison workers who have tested positive for COVID-19.

With multiple national crises in progress around the world, and an unprecedented global pandemic raging, authorities everywhere instinctively understand that this a good time to bury bad news, and to escape scrutiny.

With major new government powers in place, could Israel now have an even freer hand than usual to expand their illegal military occupation of Palestine?

As I wrote in my last column, one Israeli liberal recently accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of instigating “the first coronavirus dictatorship.”

Israeli forces stand guard at checkpoints within the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic precautions ahead of the Friday Prayer in Jerusalem on 20 March 2020. [Mostafa Alkharouf – Anadolu Agency]

This was perhaps rather hyperbolic, and in any case, Israeli liberals have never shown the slightest concern for the real-life military dictatorship that Israel has imposed on Palestinians since 1948.

As of this week, Israel’s political deadlock after its recent third election, now appears to be over. The main Israeli opposition list is to split, with the faction led by its leader Benny Gantz to join an “emergency” unity government led by Netanyahu.

Gantz had previously sworn not to join a government led by the brazenly corrupt Netanyahu, who had been due to go on trial at the beginning of March.

With Netanyahu’s power once again cemented, what could he do under cover of the coronavirus crisis?

A little noticed private member’s bill put forward in the Knesset earlier this month gives a chilling indication. The bill has been crafted by politicians from Netanyahu’s Likud party.

It calls for the annexation of large parts of the West Bank. The new Israeli government appears to clear the way for this bill to pass.

READ: Palestinians manufacturing masks for Israel instead of clothing as coronavirus spreads

In 1948, Israel forcibly expelled some 800,000 Palestinians from Palestine.

They used the cover of the war against the neighbouring Arab states to distract from these crimes (despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had already been expelled by Zionist militias before 14 May 1948 when the Israeli state was declared, the day before the Arab armies finally intervened).

Under cover of the 1967 war too, Israel expelled more Palestinians and occupied vast new swathes of Arab land.

Let us hope that they are not able to get away with more such new crimes during the current crisis.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor or Informed Comment.

This work by Middle East Monitor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

The Real News: “Palestine Is Occupied, Segregated, And About To Face COVID-19”

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The Conversation <![CDATA[Pandemic will cause another Housing Crisis, and Without Strong Long-Term Gov’t Policy it Will hit Workers Hardest]]> https://www.juancole.com/?p=190003 2020-03-31T03:47:33Z 2020-03-31T04:04:27Z By Roshanak Mehdipanah and Gregory Sallabank | –

Millions of Americans are suddenly out of work as the financial and economic crisis sparked by the coronavirus pandemic deepens. Without an income, most of these people will have a hard time covering their expenses, including keeping a roof over their heads.

But even before the current crisis, tens of millions of Americans struggled to pay for housing, spending more than 30% – or even half – of their income on housing-related expenses. This leaves less money for other essentials such as food, health care and savings.

Governments have offered a variety of plans to support those hurt by the coronavirus pandemic, from direct payments and higher unemployment checks to eviction freezes and mortgage relief.

We are researchers who study the intersection of housing and health. While these measures may tide over many Americans, we don’t believe they will be enough to help the most vulnerable endure the crisis or prevent many people from losing their homes.

Unaffordable housing

Lower-income households were already on the verge of a housing crisis before the pandemic thanks to a chronic shortage of affordable housing in the U.S.

Housing affordability is largely measured as the ratio between housing-related expenditures and household income. Households that spend 30% or more of their income on rent or mortgage, property taxes, utilities and other expenses associated with their homes are considered “cost burdened” because it means they have insufficient financial resources for other basic needs including food and medicine.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates 38 million, or over a quarter, of U.S. households were cost burdened in 2018. Of these, an estimated 12 million were spending over half of their annual income on housing costs, making them severely burdened.

Households earning US$35,000 or less made up 63% of these cost-burdened households. In 2019, a family living on one full-time minimum wage income was not able to afford local fair-market rent for a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the U.S.

Even worse, research by us and others shows that housing insecurity can be harmful to one’s mental and physical health.

And in a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers found that people who were worried or stressed about having enough money to pay their rent or mortgage – described as housing insecure – were twice as likely to postpone medical treatment due to associated costs compared with people who felt secure.

A grim unemployment picture

Post-pandemic, we can only speculate about the impact, but we believe it’s going to get a whole lot worse for the poor.

In terms of employment, the situation is grim. A record 3.28 million people filed for unemployment insurance in the week ended March 21, more than four times the previous high.

And that figure may underestimate the ultimate toll with early surveys indicating that about 1 in 5 households have been affected by unemployment due to the pandemic. The US Private Sector Job Quality Index estimates that up to 37 million jobs could be lost in the short-term, or about 23% of the U.S. workforce.

The poorest Americans are expected to be hit the hardest, millions of whom will be at risk of losing their homes through eviction and foreclosures. An increase in homeless populations will in turn put more pressure on already overrun shelters.

Or it may lead people to accept poor housing conditions with no electricity or water – at a time where hand-washing is deemed the most effective preventive measure against coronavirus.

Creative but temporary solutions

Local, state and federal officials have been scrambling for creative solutions to address these issues, but most of them are short-term.

States such as Washington, North Dakota and New York and cities like San Diego and Miami have ordered temporary halts to evictions and, in some cases, foreclosures. The federal government ordered lenders to let homeowners suspend mortgage payments for up to 12 months. And dozens of cities have suspended utility shutoffs – and some have ordered houses that have already lost service to be reconnected.

While these interventions have reduced a source of anxiety and stress for households, they are temporary, ranging from a month to a year, or the duration of the crisis. Once they expire, these people will still have the same debts, same housing costs and the same bleak financial picture – and that’s only if the bailout packages support them. Millions of Americans may not get the help they need.

That’s why we believe longer-term strategies are needed, such as finding ways to end America’s widespread shortage of affordable housing, as well as focused short-term measures to prevent homelessness and more cash assistance to the neediest.

[Get facts about coronavirus and the latest research. Sign up for our newsletter.]The Conversation

Roshanak Mehdipanah, Assistant Professor in Public Health, University of Michigan and Gregory Sallabank, Clinical Research Project Manager, University of Michigan

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Democracy Now! “Housing Is Health”: Calls Grow for California to Give Vacant Homes to Unhoused People Amid Pandemic

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William J. Astore <![CDATA[How My Dad, Born just before the Spanish Flu, Predicted the Decline of America]]> https://www.juancole.com/?p=190001 2020-03-31T03:31:04Z 2020-03-31T04:03:08Z ( Tomdispatch.com) – My dad was born in 1917. Somehow, he survived the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919, but an outbreak of whooping cough in 1923 claimed his baby sister, Clementina. One of my dad’s first memories was seeing his sister’s tiny white casket. Another sister was permanently marked by scarlet fever. In 1923, my dad was hit by a car and spent two weeks in a hospital with a fractured skull as well as a lacerated thumb. His immigrant parents had no medical insurance, but the driver of the car gave his father $50 toward the medical bills. The only lasting effect was the scar my father carried for the rest of his life on his right thumb.

The year 1929 brought the Great Depression and lean times. My father’s father had left the family, so my dad, then 12, had to pitch in. He got a newspaper route, which he kept for four years, quitting high school after tenth grade so he could earn money for the family. In 1935, like millions of other young men of that era, he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a creation of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal that offered work on environmental projects of many kinds. He battled forest fires in Oregon for two years before returning to his family and factory work. In 1942, he was drafted into the Army, going back to a factory job when World War II ended. Times grew a little less lean in 1951 when he became a firefighter, after which he felt he could afford to buy a house and start a family.

I’m offering all this personal history as the context for a prediction of my dad’s that, for obvious reasons, came to my mind again recently. When I was a teenager, he liked to tell me: “I had it tough in the beginning and easy in the end. You, Willy, have had it easy in the beginning, but will likely have it tough in the end.” His prophecy stayed with me, perhaps because even then, somewhere deep down, I already suspected that my dad was right.

The COVID-19 pandemic is now grabbing the headlines, all of them, and a global recession, if not a depression, seems like a near-certainty. The stock market has been tanking and people’s lives are being disrupted in fundamental and scary ways. My dad knew the experience of losing a loved one to disease, of working hard to make ends meet during times of great scarcity, of sacrificing for the good of one’s family. Compared to him, it’s true that, so far, I’ve had an easier life as an officer in the Air Force and then a college teacher and historian. But at age 57, am I finally ready for the hard times to come? Are any of us?

And keep in mind that this is just the beginning. Climate change (recall Australia’s recent and massive wildfires) promises yet more upheavals, more chaos, more diseases. America’s wanton militarism and lying politicians promise more wars. What’s to be done to avert or at least attenuate the tough times to come, assuming my dad’s prediction is indeed now coming true? What can we do?

It’s Time to Reimagine America

Here’s the one thing about major disruptions to normalcy: they can create opportunities for dramatic change. (Disaster capitalists know this, too, unfortunately.) President Franklin Roosevelt recognized this in the 1930s and orchestrated his New Deal to revive the economy and put Americans like my dad back to work.

In 2001, the administration of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney capitalized on the shock-and-awe disruption of the 9/11 attacks to inflict on the world their vision of a Pax Americana, effectively a militarized imperium justified (falsely) as enabling greater freedom for all. The inherent contradiction in such a dreamscape was so absurd as to make future calamity inevitable. Recall what an aide to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld scribbled down, only hours after the attack on the Pentagon and the collapse of the Twin Towers, as his boss’s instructions (especially when it came to looking for evidence of Iraqi involvement): “Go massive — sweep it all up, things related and not.” And indeed they would do just that, with an emphasis on the “not,” including, of course, the calamitous invasion of Iraq in 2003.

To progressive-minded people thinking about this moment of crisis, what kind of opportunities might open to us when (or rather if) Donald Trump is gone from the White House? Perhaps this coronaviral moment is the perfect time to consider what it would mean for us to go truly big, but without the usual hubris or those disastrous invasions of foreign countries. To respond to COVID-19, climate change, and the staggering wealth inequities in this country that, when combined, will cause unbelievable levels of needless suffering, what’s needed is a drastic reordering of our national priorities.

Remember, the Fed’s first move was to inject $1.5 trillion into the stock market. (That would have been enough to forgive all current student debt.) The Trump administration has also promised to help airlines, hotels, and above all oil companies and the fracking industry, a perfect storm when it comes to trying to sustain and enrich those upholding a kleptocratic and amoral status quo.

This should be a time for a genuinely new approach, one fit for a world of rising disruption and disaster, one that would define a new, more democratic, less bellicose America. To that end, here are seven suggestions, focusing — since I’m a retired military officer — mainly on the U.S. military, a subject that continues to preoccupy me, especially since, at present, that military and the rest of the national security state swallow up roughly 60% of federal discretionary spending:

1. If ever there was a time to reduce our massive and wasteful military spending, this is it. There was never, for example, any sense in investing up to $1.7 trillion over the next 30 years to “modernize” America’s nuclear arsenal. (Why are new weapons needed to exterminate humanity when the “old” ones still work just fine?) Hundreds of stealth fighters and bombers — it’s estimated that Lockheed Martin’s disappointing F-35 jet fighter alone will cost $1.5 trillion over its life span — do nothing to secure us from pandemics, the devastating effects of climate change, or other all-too-pressing threats. Such weaponry only emboldens a militaristic and chauvinistic foreign policy that will facilitate yet more wars and blowback problems of every sort. And speaking of wars, isn’t it finally time to end U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan? More than $6 trillion has already been wasted on those wars and, in this time of global peril, even more is being wasted on this country’s forever conflicts across the Greater Middle East and Africa. (Roughly $4 billion a month continues to be spent on Afghanistan alone, despite all the talk about “peace” there.)

2. Along with ending profligate weapons programs and quagmire wars, isn’t it time for the U.S. to begin dramatically reducing its military “footprint” on this planet? Roughly 800 U.S. military bases circle the globe in a historically unprecedented fashion at a yearly cost somewhere north of $100 billion. Cutting such numbers in half over the next decade would be a more than achievable goal. Permanently cutting provocative “war games” in South Korea, Europe, and elsewhere would be no less sensible. Are North Korea and Russia truly deterred by such dramatic displays of destructive military might?

3. Come to think of it, why does the U.S. need the immediate military capacity to fight two major foreign wars simultaneously, as the Pentagon continues to insist we do and plan for, in the name of “defending” our country? Here’s a radical proposal: if you add 70,000 Special Operations forces to 186,000 Marine Corps personnel, the U.S. already possesses a potent quick-strike force of roughly 250,000 troops. Now, add in the Army’s 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions and the 10th Mountain Division. What you have is more than enough military power to provide for America’s actual national security. All other Army divisions could be reduced to cadres, expandable only if our borders are directly threatened by war. Similarly, restructure the Air Force and Navy to de-emphasize the present “global strike” vision of those services, while getting rid of Donald Trump’s newest service, the Space Force, and the absurdist idea of taking war into low earth orbit. Doesn’t America already have enough war here on this small planet of ours?

4. Bring back the draft, just not for military purposes. Make it part of a national service program for improving America. It’s time for a new Civilian Conservation Corps focused on fostering a Green New Deal. It’s time for a new Works Progress Administration to rebuild America’s infrastructure and reinvigorate our culture, as that organization did in the Great Depression years. It’s time to engage young people in service to this country. Tackling COVID-19 or future pandemics would be far easier if there were quickly trained medical aides who could help free doctors and nurses to focus on the more difficult cases. Tackling climate change will likely require more young men and women fighting forest fires on the west coast, as my dad did while in the CCC — and in a climate-changing world there will be no shortage of other necessary projects to save our planet. Isn’t it time America’s youth answered a call to service? Better yet, isn’t it time we offered them the opportunity to truly put America, rather than themselves, first?

5. And speaking of “America First,” that eternal Trumpian catch-phrase, isn’t it time for all Americans to recognize that global pandemics and climate change make a mockery of walls and go-it-alone nationalism, not to speak of politics that divide, distract, and keep so many down? President Dwight D. Eisenhower once said that only Americans can truly hurt America, but there’s a corollary to that: only Americans can truly save America — by uniting, focusing on our common problems, and uplifting one another. To do so, it’s vitally necessary to put an end to fear-mongering (and warmongering). As President Roosevelt famously said in his first inaugural address in the depths of the Great Depression, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Fear inhibits our ability to think clearly, to cooperate fully, to change things radically as a community.

6. To cite Yoda, the Jedi master, we must unlearn what we have learned. For example, America’s real heroes shouldn’t be “warriors” who kill or sports stars who throw footballs and dunk basketballs. We’re witnessing our true heroes in action right now: our doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel, together with our first responders, and those workers who stay in grocery stores, pharmacies, and the like and continue to serve us all despite the danger of contracting the coronavirus from customers. They are all selflessly resisting a threat too many of us either didn’t foresee or refused to treat seriously, most notably, of course, President Donald Trump: a pandemic that transcends borders and boundaries. But can Americans transcend the increasingly harsh and divisive borders and boundaries of our own minds? Can we come to work selflessly to save and improve the lives of others? Can we become, in a sense, lovers of humanity?

7. Finally, we must extend our loveto encompass nature, our planet. For if we keep treating our lands, our waters, and our skies like a set of trash cans and garbage bins, our children and their children will inherit far harder times than the present moment, hard as it may be.

What these seven suggestions really amount to is rejecting a militarized mindset of aggression and a corporate mindset of exploitation for one that sees humanity and this planet more holistically. Isn’t it time to regain that vision of the earth we shared collectively during the Apollo moon missions: a fragile blue sanctuary floating in the velvety darkness of space, an irreplaceable home to be cared for and respected since there’s no other place for us to go? Otherwise, I fear that my father’s prediction will come true not just for me, but for generations to come and in ways that even he couldn’t have imagined.

A retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and professor of history, William Astore is a TomDispatch regular. His personal blog is Bracing Views.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlands series) Frostlands, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Copyright 2020 William J. Astore

Via Tomdispatch.com

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

CNBC: Coronavirus: Outlook for U.S. health-care system worsens, according to new data model

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Martin Powers <![CDATA[The Real Danger behind Trump’s “China Virus” Mantra]]> https://www.juancole.com/?p=189989 2020-03-31T03:06:11Z 2020-03-31T04:02:22Z Ann Arbor (Special to Informed Comment) –

The “China-Virus” mantra illustrates well this administration’s habit of responding to challenges by branding people as ethnic, religious, or political types ranked good or bad, us or them. Not a few have dismissed this practice, rightly, as racist, scapegoating, or just off the point, but the administration’s groupthink is more dangerous than these labels suggest. Groupthink was the standard approach to government in many premodern societies, such as the Old Regime. It is a holdover from premodern times that could lay the ideological groundwork for a Neo-feudal oligarchy.

Recently I researched political debate in preindustrial China and England and discovered that groupthink appears in both traditions as a method of rule. During China’s medieval period rival religious groups blamed and persecuted one another, using groupthink to manipulate the masses. After medieval times, even the emperor normatively yielded to expert committee reports, and groupthink rarely appears in policy documents. In England of course, one of the main achievements of the Enlightenment was to show that the Old Regime style of rule generated endless wars, irrational policies, and widespread poverty, so Enlightenment radicals promoted the use of facts and logic in the public interest.

Those radicals were resisting standard practices of the time. In the 17th and 18th centuries, English statesmen regularly blamed the Catholics or the Dutch or the French for just about everything, just as the French or Dutch blamed the English. Within England, the same logic applied because the humiliation of rival groups was a key feature of aristocratic rule. Political power back then was imagined as a “quality” adhering to groups, not individuals. Privileged groups could demonstrate their authority by humiliating outsiders. Surprisingly, this strategy often won the support of working people. Seeing others being treated more brutally than they, the exploited poor would rally around figures who showed power by brutalizing minorities.

This strategy went hand-in-hand with open contempt for facts. In the infamous “Popish Plot” affair (17th century), Whig propaganda warned that Tories working with the Pope would burn London to the ground, with “troops of Papists ravishing your wives and daughters and dashing your little children’s brains out …” There was of course zero evidence for such a claim, but seeing as the facts didn’t support their case, reckless mendacity was required for success. Parallels to Fox News come to mind, but the role of the Right Wing media in the Covid coverup is not so much a parallel as a revival of one of the most favored tactics of the old aristocracy.

But there is no reason to tolerate the revival of discredited systems. Knowing that rational alternatives to groupthink evolved at least twice in history suggests that we have a choice. In modern times, reality-based policy-making had largely replaced groupthink, at least as a norm, by the 1960s, with both U.S. parties dedicated to procedure and a reality-based style of debate. All that has changed in just a few years, and so the recent debate over the federal response to Covid 19 was split along the lines of groupthink versus expertise. Democratic statesmen cited testimony from experts, while Republican statesmen repeatedly parroted the president’s false claims.

Along with groupthink, other premodern practices have now become standard. Only days ago, Senator Sanders asked Republican senators why wealthy men should feel the need to punish the poor? Of course, punishing minority groups is a typical feature of premodern governments. This pattern helps us to comprehend Trump’s disastrous trade war as well. Even his own cabinet was opposed to the idea, but he had to do it because the Chinese are, well, Chinese, and so must be humiliated in order for Trump to demonstrate his power. Following the same logic, Trump punishes blue States by withholding resources. This directly violates the most basic principles of Democratic governance, but Democratic citizens are not citizens in a world where a subject’s first duty is loyalty to the king.

The humiliation strategy was an intrinsic feature of many premodern governments. Images of kings humiliating inferiors can be found in ancient Egypt, China, and Rome, and in European art through the 18th century. In Berlin is a statue showing the Prussian Elector dominating from horseback four slaves chained to the ground. One of them looks up in terror. Commoners passing by were meant to have thrilled to seeing this image of a powerful leader.

The president’s verbal abuse of those he deems inferior, as well as their actual abuse through policy, follows exactly the same playbook and thrills his followers in much the same way. In both China and England, intellectuals identified this style of government as irrational and recommended instead careful deliberation founded on facts. That is the kind of system most Americans grew up with, but now one party is dead-set on establishing groupthink and humiliation as the basis for political rule. Understood this way, party differences are no longer about policy at all; the debate is about modern versus premodern styles of government. Citizens had best be aware of what is at stake.

836 words

References:

Israel, Jonathan. A Revolution of the Mind: Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010.

Powers, Martin. China and England: the preindustrial struggle for justice in word and image. London: Routledge, 2019.

Winters, Jeffrey A., Oligarchy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Martin Powers has written three books examining the theory and practice of administration in China. Two of these won the Levenson Prize for best book in pre-1900 Chinese Studies. Formerly Sally Michelson Davidson Professor and Director of the Center for Chinese Studies, he is currently Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan.

References:

Israel, Jonathan. A Revolution of the Mind: Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010.

Powers, Martin. China and England: the preindustrial struggle for justice in word and image. London: Routledge, 2019.

Winters, Jeffrey A., Oligarchy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

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Featured Photos:

Monument to Frederick Wilhelm I, the Great Elector of Brandenburg in the courtyard of the palace at Charlottenburg, West Berlin. Designed by Andreas Schluter (1659 or 1660 -1714) between 1700 and 1708. Photo by Martin Powers.

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Navid Pourmokhtari <![CDATA[Presence-as-Resistance: Iranian Women and the Politics of Social Contestation]]> https://www.juancole.com/?p=189996 2020-03-31T04:12:37Z 2020-03-31T04:02:17Z Alberta (Special to Informed Comment) –

Introduction

As a concept and analytical reference point for examining contentious politics, oppositional social movements are by and large a Western construct (Tilly, 1978). They are perhaps best understood, moreover, as parcels of collective action that present an “organized [and] sustained … challenge to existing authorities” (Tilly, 1984, p. 304). In the “politically open and technologically advanced Western societies” (Bayat, 2013, p. 20) in which they have emerged, they operate, more or less, as formal business-like enterprises, whose success is contingent upon resources, financial or otherwise, centralized leadership, a clearly defined division of labour, and a high degree of professionalization and strategic planning—all factors having to do with technical expertise and often referred to as “mobilizing structures”.

But what of those political settings where such mobilizing structures are non-existent, rudimentary, severely handicapped by authoritarian states, and /or where the political channels for effecting meaningful change are controlled by factions exercising a monopoly over the levers of power?

Home to several states where “mobilizing structures” can be ruled out, the Middle East can serve as an ideal laboratory for addressing this question. Moreover, while each of these states possesses distinctive structural/societal features and modes of governance, one can discern common approaches to dealing with oppositional movements that are bestunderstood as, what I call, the art of repression. The latter consists of shrewd calculations, refined skills and practical know how, macro/micro techniques and nuanced measures, an intuitive grasp of the psychology of fear, and paramilitary forces all at the ready to silence dissenting voices in the name of perpetuating the status quo.

When confronted by this art of repression, oppositional actors invariably turn to less dramatic and hence less risky forms of collective action, except in those cases where such action is grounded in the ordinary practices of life—what Nancy Fraser calls the “politics of everyday life” (1989, p. 18). The latter, which aims to contest and negate governmental rule, finds its ultimate manifestation in the everyday activism of diverse social strata, committed to bringing about social and political change and nowhere is this more evident than in Iran where women’s groups have played a leading role, as evinced by ubiquitous and everyday acts and modes of political contestation.

This paper traces the history of everyday public resistance on the part of women’s movements in Iran, and in particular their everyday modes of activism, that aimed to bring about social and political change during Mohammad Khatami’s second administration (2001-2005). In the absence of anything resembling a formal organizational structure or recognizable leadership, and denied the political rights, freedoms and opportunities available to oppositional groups operating in Western democratic polities— the right of assembly, the right to lobby and petition government, freedom of expression—Iranian women, it will be shown, engaged instead in the everyday politics of negation and subversion as an alternative avenue to winning sociopolitical rights, and by implication, bringing their counter-power tobearagainstthe authoritarian rule of the Islamic Republic, thus laying the foundation for a new style of political thinking bent on claiming civil rights.

The principal strategy for resisting, subverting and negating state power employed by Iranian women to win social and political rights will be examined here under the rubric of what I call presence-as-resistance, by which I mean an everyday mode of resistance, one public and therefore visible for all to see, on the part of subordinated and marginalized women that involved making their presence felt by performing in public spaces the everyday life practices—singing, performing music, engaging in sports, among others—normatively, and hence governmentally, reserved for the private sphere of the home. Presence-as-resistance, and the everyday life practices that were its life-blood, contributed in no small measure to instilling among women a sense of what I call everyday solidarity—a solidarity reinforced by an awareness of common interests and objectives that would lay the foundation for a counter-politics and foster a new consciousness that would impel them to fight for gender equality and civil rights.

Moreover, presence-as-resistance functioned based on two interrelated modalities. First, as a strategy of defiance, presence-as-resistance worked to de-subordinate the subordinated, in this case women, by transforming them into agents committed to contesting the established order by making their presence felt in public spaces, principally by conducting within the latter those everyday life practices normally reserved for the private sphere of the home. What amounted to a public discourse on the negation and subversion of official norms and codes was intended to undermine the efficacy of state power predicated on the government’s ability to marshal governmentalized bodies in public spaces, which for any government represented a top priority, and precisely because nothing is more crucial to the survival of the state than the ability to control the streets and other public domains.

Second, and at the same time, presence-as-resistance may and can embody a mode of visibility that communicates to the authorities in no uncertain terms that we are here, we are active, we are alive.This phenomenon is to be understood as a form of the corporeal presentation of collective actors bent on using public spaces to engage in acts normally reserved for the private sphere of the home, and for the express purpose of resisting and negating norms, codes and rules of conduct dictated by officialdom. In this way, presence-as-resistance is, for the disaffected, no mere mode of visibility; rather, it has the “consequential effect [of] mirror[ing], invert[ing], subvert[ing], [and] reproduce[ing] spaces of power and domination”—something possible only when enormous numbers of people engage in doing “similar, though contentious, things” (Bayat, 2013, p. 21). And as will be shown shortly, presence-as-resistance can create and/or make visible “an immense new field of possibility for resistance” (Nealon, 2008, pp. 107-108) by fostering among resisting, subjugated bodies a new awareness of their civic rights.

Presence-as-Resistance: Iranian Women and the Everyday Politics of Negation and Rejection

On May 23, 1997, Mohammad Khatami was elected fifth president of the Islamic Republic. With the advent of a new government bent on social and political reform, or islahat, a titanic struggle erupted between the supporters of the new president’s political faction, i.e., the reformists, and traditional conservatives— a political rivalry that to this date informs and divides Iranian politics. What emerged from this struggle wasthe so-called politics of everyday life, conducted by women and aimed at bringing about fundamental social and political change. In order to grasp the historical significance of this development, one need look no farther than the events that transpired in 2001.

During the course of that year, Iranian women began pressuring the Khatami administration to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), a United Nations initiative hailed by feminists as an international bill of rights for women. If adopted, CEDAW would have directly challenged a host of laws and practices that had long worked to marginalize and subordinate women. Following a press campaign by Iranian feminists aimed at pressuring the government to adopt CEDAW, the Khatami administration, in December 2001, drafted the requisite legislation and submitted it for ratification to a reformist-dominated parliament, the Majlis. However, immediately prior the final vote, the enabling bill was placed on hold owing, according to the then speaker of the Majlis Mehdi Karoubi, to concerns on the part of conservative clerics serving in the judiciary and elsewhere, regarding its compatibility with Shari’a law (Tohidi, 2006; Pourmokhtari, 2017). Under pressure from activists, reformist deputies demanded, over the course of the following two years, an official enquiry, but to no avail. Finally, in August 2003, the Islamic Republic’s Guardian Council, a body tasked to approving legislations, announced that CEDAW would not be ratified (Feminist News, 2013).

The rejection of CEDAW emboldened the conservative clerics and their supporters to mount a campaign aimed at discrediting women guilty of crossing what they referred to as red lines. Thus, for example, in the city of Rasht the Friday prayer leader, Zein-al Abedin Ghorbani, condemned all who “questioned religious authorities on … Shari’a;” he went on to warn “not to cross the red line, not to dismiss the Qur’an and Islam” (cited in Bayat, 2007, p. 79). At the same time, women among the conservatives, most notably Monireh Noubakhat and Marzieh Dastjerdi, motioned to have feminist debates in the press censored for “creat[ing] conflict between women and men” as well as undermining Shari’a and the fundamental principles of Islam (Bayat, 2007, p. 79).

This initiative was followed by a crackdown on the press and other print media aligned with feminists that, along with the failure to close legal loopholes allowing for gender discrimination, consigned women to the margins of social and political life. However, rather than a deterrent, this formal/institutional backlash only politicized women further, thusempowering them to pursue alternative strategies,embedded in everyday life practices, as strategies as well as modes of defiance directed at asserting their collective will to counterpower, and by implication, to bringing about social and political change.

Thus, no longer able to advance a reformist agenda through official channels, masses of disaffected women turned to an everyday, albeit unconventional, social mode of defiance. This was an everyday mode of resistance, public and therefore visible for all to see, on the part of the subordinated and marginalized, which involved making their presence felt by performing in public spacestheeveryday life practices normally, and hence governmentally, reserved for the private sphere of the home. It was this strategy that eroded the efficacy of the Islamic Republic’s governmental power, which was very much contingent on marshalling human bodies in public spaces. By way of operationalizing it, and in the absence of anything resembling a formal leadership or organizational structure, disparate movements of women transformed spatial domains— streets, squares, parks, alleyways, university campuses, classrooms, whatever was at hand—into venues where grievances might be aired and discursive interests and objectives communicated, demands made, subjectivities enabled, everyday solidarity fostered, and the social and political status quo contested, negated and subverted.

For their part, the authorities, though backed by a battery of laws and regulations for controlling public spaces, were loath to intervene to restore order, for to do so meant turning public spaces into virtual militarized zones, effectively curtailing the normal, everyday sequence of life (Bayat, 2013). That this brand of activism was infused with ordinary life practices further complicated, and made more unpalatable, state intervention.

Presence-as-resistance, and the everyday life practices that were its life-blood, assumed disparate forms. Thus, for example, women in unprecedented numbers entered the universities where they acquired specialized knowledge in a broad range of academic fields, in the process building solidarity with their peers, both male and female. This great influx into the halls of academe prompted the Majlis in 2007 to publish a report, which drew a comparison between the proportion of female students admitted to universities in the 1980s with that in the 2000s. The report concluded that this figure had risen from 32% in 1983 to 65% by 2007 (Amir-Ebrahimi, 2008). The dramatic increase in the presence of women on campuses had the effect of nurturing campus subcultures of educated women and youth whose members saw themselves as active agents working to undermine the political and social status quo. All this was, of course, an anathema for a conservative establishment that had set its sights on raising a generation of obedient and docile housewives, mothers, sisters and daughters.

Other like-minded women took up the arts or music, much to the consternation of a conservative establishment for whom such pursuits were tantamount to crossing yet another red line (Khabar Online, 2013). Conservatives were dismayed to discover so many women attending vocal/singing classes, while others studied traditional Persian musical instruments, such as the tombak, taar, ney and santoor, in addition to piano, guitar and other Western instruments, often taking advantage of public classes open to all.

Still others took up sports, in particular rowing and cycling, which necessarily took them out of the private sphere and into public spaces monopolized for the most part by men, in one stroke eliminating a formidable barrier to gender inequality (Rezaei, 2015; Peyghambarzadeh, 2016). Others simply appeared in the streets, making their presence felt by revealing heavily made up faces and/or wearing brightly coloured monteaus or diminutive hijabs from which spilled scandalous amounts of hair (Amir-Ebrahimi, 2006)—all an affront to the establishment’s brand of Islam. Consequently, by transgressing dominant norms, codes and rules, hundreds of thousands of women from diverse social strata transformed public spaces into domains of subversion, resistance and defiance.

The express purpose of these public displays—in and of themselves acts of empowerment, assertions of a collective will and expressions of everyday solidarity—lay in resisting, and by implication de-authenticating and de-moralizing, the state-sanctioned subordination and marginalization of women’s lives. The strategy employed to this end was one of exploiting ordinary life practices, thereby challenging the authorities in ways that could only be met by violently disrupting the tenor of daily life—something they were not prepared to do. As so often happens, this strategy of everyday life resistance would manifest itself in subsequent modes and forms of sociopolitical contestation, in this case in the seminal 2006 Women’s One Million Signature Campaign.

The 2006 Women’s One Million Signature Campaign: The Everyday Politics of Social Contestation

It was the everyday public acts of resistance and solidarity, grounded in ordinary life practices, that in the waning years of the Khatami administration inspired and empowered women to launch what came to be popularly known as the Women’s One Million Signature Campaign. One of the most seminal events of the post-revolutionary period, the later was initiated in August 2006. Its single objective laid in repealing family, civil, and criminal laws discriminating against women through petitioning the Majlis (Rezaei, 2015; Tahmasebi, 2012). The changes proposed would result in equal marital rights for women, including the right to divorce spouses; abolition of polygamy and temporary marriages; the right of women to pass on their nationality to their children; gender equality with respect to dieh, orcompensation for bodily injury or death; equal inheritance rights; the reformation of laws relating to honour killings, the objective being to increase their deterrent value; and equal weight given testimony provided by women in courts of law (Peyghambarzadeh, 2015; Rezaei, 2015).

Women’s One Million Signature Campaign was initially conceived by a group of 54 activists, including several distinguished journalists and feminists of all political stipes, e.g., secular, religious and otherwise, among them Shirin Ebadi, Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani, Narges Mohammadi, Parvin Ardalan and Zhila Bani Yaqoub (Tavaana, 2016). In order to facilitate recruitment, the campaign sponsored workshops, initially in Tehran and later in most major Iranian cities, which quickly metamorphosed into loosely-coordinated cells, where canvassers and other workers could be trained as well as educated regarding women’s rights and the legal issues pertaining to them (Peyghambarzadeh, 2015; Rezaei, 2015). Many future activists, however, were recruited in public spaces and during the passing minutes of everyday life, i.e., while engaging with campaign workers or through friendship networks, comprised mainly of urban youth (Abdi, 2015).

What created among these disparate elements a sense of solidarity and willingness to engage in collective action directed against the status quo was their everyday experience of misrule and misconduct, a point articulated by Ali Abdi, a former campaign member, who opined what united women was the conviction “that the status quo [was] unjust with regard to women” and that “collecting signatures constituted a pragmatic way of addressing the discriminatory laws against [them].” It was this deep-rooted conviction that fostereda sense of everyday solidarity among the campaigners and fired them with a determination to engage in collective forms of activism of an everyday kind, i.e., by way of operationalizing presence-as-resistance as the principle strategy of resisting governmental power.

In this sense, presence-as-resistance represented a localized mode of everyday resistance whereby women could challenge, negate and subvert the prevailing gender codes, norms and taboos underwriting the status quo, by making themselves visible in public urban centers. For example, one tactic much favoured by the campaigners involved gathering in crowded public spaces—streets, parks, alleyways and subways—in groups numbering anywhere from three to a dozen and then engaging in discussions aimed at raising public awareness of patriarchal laws and their consequences, not only for women but for the whole of Iranian society (Peyghambarzadeh, 2015; Rezaei, 2015). They then encouraged their interlocutors to sign the petition. All this played out in the context of performing ordinary life practices, such as shopping, socializing, engaging in sports, picnicking with families or simply strolling along alleyways, streets, and boulevards (Peyghambarzadeh, 2015).

At the same time, as a strategy of defiance, presence-as-resistance laid the foundation for a counter-politics in public spaces by fostering among women a new consciousness that impelled them to fight for gender equality. In this sense, and once more, urban spacesbecame sites of contestation, wherein the campaigners performed certain negating strategies that entailed every day subversive acts. Thus, for example, in one especially popular skit, two activists, supposedly married to the same man, engaged in a heated argument, sometimes accompanied by mock fisticuffs, during which each revealed how a polygamous relationship had worked to undermine her rights, dignity and authenticity as a woman (Peyghambarzadeh, 2016; Rezaei, 2015). Performed in public domains, this became the campaign’s signature sketch (Abdi, 2015). So realistically staged were these performances that they drew large crowds, at which point other activists appeared on the scene and proceeded to engage the audience on the subject of legally sanctioned gender discrimination and the need for reform (Abdi, 2015). Theirs proved to be an easy sell as the performances so precisely mirrored the reality of everyday life for so many women making up the audiences.

For the campaigners, however, things reached a head inearly 2008 when the state security forces began a systematic crack down, banning meetings and workshops, arresting members and shutting down the campaign website (Peyghambarzadeh, 2015). By the end of 2008, “over 50 members ha[d] been arrested … while hundreds more … had [had] their passports revoked or … been barred from the education system,” thereby forcing the campaign underground and thus rendering it inoperable (Tavaana, 2016, para. 19).

Despite failing to garner the requisite number of signatures, the campaign may, according toFarhad Khosrokhavar, be viewed as “the most prominent feminist [initiative] in [post-revolutionary] Iran” (2012, p. 65), and precisely because it employed everyday life strategies that worked so “effectively [to] raise[] ordinary peoples’ awareness of women’s rights, promote[] the idea of societal equality, and publicize[] women’s demands,” such that the latter could no longer be ignored (Tavaana, 2016, para. 8). It did so specifically by “creat[ing] [an everyday public] discourse on women’s rights” to which the authorities had to respond (Tahmasebi, 2012, para. 10). That response came in the form of “the movement’s [sole] practical achievement[]” (Tavaana, 2016, para. 8): pressuring the Majlis to repeal, over the course of 2008, two patriarchal laws and replace them with gender-neutral legislation. Specifically, women were granted the right to inherit a husband’s property and to receive equal blood money in the event of an accident covered by an insurance company (Rezaei, 2015; Tavaana, 2016).

By adopting presence-as-resistance as both its principal strategy and mode of definance, moreover, the Women’s One Million Signature Campaign succeeded in challenging gender discrimination embedded in a legal system informed by a state-sanctioned patriarchy. And though it was to produce little in the way of practical gains for women, it, nonetheless, galvanized them into reinventing themselves by opening up a new dimension in their social lives, in the process empowering a generation of rights-bearing women committed to asserting themselves on the social and political scene as citizens determined to claim basic civil rights.

Conclusion

The foregoing discussion chronicled how, during the period 2001-2006, Iranian women challenged, defied and negated the state sponsored order by conducting everyday life practices in public spaces. What has been referred to here as presence-as-resistance worked to transform public spaces during this time into sites of discontent and contestation where the politics of everyday life collided head-on with the rules, regulations and norms of the dominant order. It was this everyday politics of resistance, enabled by an everyday solidarity binding together the disparate women groups, that fostered a determination to secure fundamental rights. For the authoritarian state to have turned a blind eye to presence-as-resistance and other expressions of opposition would have run the risk of losing its grip on power. This explains why the Islamic Republic drove the 2006 Women’s One Million Signature Campaign underground. Despite these apparent reverses, however, the hegemonic frame did in fact shift, if only minimally, as evinced, for example, by amendments to the marital law providing for greater gender equality. More important for the future, the Women’s One Million Signature Campaign would play a decisive role in developing a new social and political consciousness among Iranians, who increasingly came to see themselves as rights-bearing and politicized citizens determined to assert their collective will. In an authoritarian setting collective action of any kind on a mass scale constitutes a corporeal challenge to dominant attitudes, values, norms, knowledges and rules of state power and, by implication, to the status quo itself. It is, moreover, the expression of a collective will to contest power at a thousand points on the part of a people shaped by specific relations of marginalization and subordination. In such settings, resistance to processes of governance, thus, assumes the form of disparate and ubiquitous arts, technologies and tactics of contestation, that mirror not just the enabling aspect of state power, by which I mean its propensity to induce resistance, but the power and potential of the subjugated masses. This was particularly true in the case of women’s groups whose resistance to the status quo was bound up in ordinary life practices and unfolded in public spaces by means and strategies enabled by making their presence felt in public spaces.

List of Interviews

Abdi, A. (2015). Interview with Ali Abdi, former member of the One Million Signature Campaign.

Peyghambarzadeh, Z. (2015). Interview with Zeynab Peyghambarzadeh, former student activist, former member of the One Million Signature Campaign.

Rezaei, S. (2015). Interview with Sabra Rezaei, former member of the One Million Signature Campaign.

Farsi Reference

Khabar Online. (2013). Aya khanandegiye zanan haram ast? Nazar-e ayatollah Khamenei va ayatollah makaarem. Retrieved from

&lt;http://www.khabaronline.ir/detail/320418/culture/religion&gt;.

English References

Amir-Ebrahimi, M. (2006). Conquering enclosed public spaces. Cities, 23(6), 1-7.

Amir-Ebrahimi, M. (2008). Transgression in narration: The lives of Iranian women in cyberspace. Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies, 4(3), 89-118.

Bayat, A. (2007). Making Islam democratic: Social movements and the post-Islamist turn. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

Bayat, A. (2013). Life as politics: How ordinary people change the Middle East. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

Feminist News. (2013). CEDAW rejected in Iran. Retrieved from

&lt;http://www.feminist.org/news/newsbyte/uswirestory.asp?id=7996&gt;.

Fraser, N. (1989). Unruly practices: Power, discourse and gender in contemporary social theory. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Khosrokhavar, F. (2012). The Green Movement in Iran: Democratization and secularization from below. In R. Jahanbegloo (Ed.). Civil society and democracy in Iran. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books.

Nealon, J. (2008). Foucault beyond Foucault: Power and its intensifications. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

Pourmokhtari, N. (2017). Protestation and mobilization in the Middle East and North Africa: A Foucauldian Model. Foucault Studies, 22, 177-207.

Tahmasebi, S. (2012). The One Million Signatures Campaign: An effort born on the streets. Amnesty International, Middle East and North Africa Regional Office. Retrieved from

&lt;http://amnestymena.org/en/Magazine/Issue20/TheOneMillionSignatureCampaigninIran.aspx?articleID=1101&gt;.

Tavaana. (2016). One million signatures: The battle for gender equality in Iran. Retrieved from

&lt;https://tavaana.org/en/content/one-million-signatures-battle-gender-equality-iran&gt;.

Tilly, C. (1978). From mobilization to revolution. Addison-Wesley Pub. Co.

Tilly, C. (1984). Social movements and national politics. In C. Bright, &amp; S. Harding. State- making and social Movements: Essays in history and theory (Eds.). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Tohidi, N. (2006). “Islamic feminism”: Negotiating patriarchy and modernity in Iran. In I. M. Abu-Rabi. The Blackwell companion to contemporary Islamic thought (Ed). Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing, pp. 624-643.

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

The Struggle for Women’s Rights in Iran | TIME

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Juan Cole http://juancole.com <![CDATA[Trump bashed Immigrants, but Nearly 1/3 of US Doctors are Foreign-Born, on Pandemic Front Lines]]> https://www.juancole.com/?p=189981 2020-03-30T17:36:36Z 2020-03-30T05:37:55Z Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – It turns out we need those foreigners after all, despite what Trump thinks.

On Sunday British investigative journalist Iain Overton tweeted,

The significance is that all those names are Muslim. After the boorish PM Boris Johnson spoke of Muslim women as “letterboxes” and broke Britain with Brexit to keep out immigrants, it is those immigrants who first gave their lives for the UK, on the front lines of fighting for the country’s health in the face of the coronavirus onslaught.

Overton’s point should chasten Trump’s America as well.

Trump has spent three and a half years dumping on immigrants to the United States, imagining them as rapists, gang members, and welfare moochers. He has even attempted to punish legal immigrants who ever fell on hard times and had to take public assistance by making it impossible for them to get citizenship.

Trump’s own complete uselessness has been revealed, as he frittered away January, February and early March being a coronavirus denialist. It is a hoax, he said. It is a nothing. We had 15 cases. It will just go away. It is like the ordinary flu. It shouldn’t interfere with the stock market or Trump’s reelection. All that time, he wasn’t warning the mayor of New Orleans to cancel the Mardi Gras festivities, wasn’t warning the mayor of New York of the coming disaster. He wasn’t ordering companies to make the masks and gloves and filters and ventilators that would be needed. Quite the contrary, he and his surrogates were telling people there was no problem here. He is worse than useless.

Now that the problem has hit, guess what? It is the physicians and nurses and other medical professionals who are on the front lines, struggling with a lack protective gear and key equipment because of Donald Johnny-come-lately Trump.

And guess what? Nearly nearly one third of American physicians are foreign-born. And about a quarter of nursing aides are first-generation immigrants. They are on the ramparts, our first line of defense, risking their lives every day during the pandemic.

Quite apart from immigration, the medical profession is not just Trump’s kind of white people. About 17 percent of US physicians are Asian-Americans. These are the same Asian-Americans against whom Trump fomented beatings and harassment by calling Covid-19 “Chinese.”

About 6 percent of our physicians are Hispanic. Fully one percent of them are Muslim, which is proportional to the Muslim-American population. Trump has been trying to keep Muslims from immigrating to the US, but we’d be lucky to have more devoted and courageous Muslim physicians right about now, from banned countries like Iran.

In fact, some of us would gladly trade Trump in for them. Maybe Tehran needs a tacky ostentatious hotel.

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Bonus video:

The Guardian: “US health workers on the coronavirus frontline”

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David Faris <![CDATA[Maybe that Imperial Presidency Idea wasn’t so Great: The Coronavirus Reveals that America Long Since Fell Apart]]> https://www.juancole.com/?p=189977 2020-03-30T02:45:40Z 2020-03-30T04:03:19Z Chicago (Special to Informed Comment) – If you were asked three months ago, when news of the novel Coronavirus we now call Covid-19 was just emerging from China, which rich country in the world was the most defenseless against a global viral pandemic, would you have said anything but the United States? The Coronavirus crisis has, just a month into our national nightmare, exploded the increasingly unsustainable mythology that America is a country superior in anything but sheer military prowess. It has been like starting the rehab on a gorgeous old house and discovering that termites have gobbled up the support beams, the walls and the roof. One false move and you’ll plunge clear through to the basement.

This is a country in an accelerating freefall. The United States is already the world leader in total number of Covid-19 cases, and it will likely only be a few weeks before we take the lead in deaths from Italy. Given that roughly half the country is still not taking the kind of serious measures needed to flatten the infection curve, and that millions of credulous imbeciles, mostly Republicans, still don’t believe this is a serious threat, we are probably only at the end of the beginning of our ordeal. Everything that is wrong with American politics and society will not only prolong our suffering, but make its aftermath more difficult to recover from.

The virus almost immediately exposed advanced sclerosis in a number of critical administrative and social processes. Our health care system was, seemingly, equipped for no more than a week-long fight against any kind of deadly airborne pathogen. We operate by far the most expensive and wasteful medical system on the face of the Earth, and as it turns out, disappearing trillions of dollars into insurance companies rather than investing them in human beings did not build much resiliency at all. The heroic selflessness of the country’s doctors, nurses and support staff is not an inexhaustible resource.

Our hallowed sense of solidarity is so fundamentally broken that Congress just recessed for weeks after cutting people stimulus checks that won’t even cover a single month’s rent or mortgage payment for millions. 3.3 million newly unemployed and newly insurance-less Americans will descend upon a collapsed medical system, many of them with the virus. Uninsured and underinsured Americans and undocumented immigrants will either crash ERs or, worse, refuse to seek treatment at all. Who or what will pay for the ones who seek care is anyone’s guess, and Congress could not be bothered to ask.

Covid-19 also put another nail in the coffin for presidentialism as a political operating system. As other countries took decisive action both to contain the virus and to cushion the blow to their citizens, the United States dithered for weeks. Much of that wasted time can be laid at the feet of the petulant, conspiracy-mongering ineptocrat in the White House, a man whose name is now destined to be synonymous with ignorance, greed, stupidity and corruption until the end of time, whose ghoulish indifference to human suffering and total lack of interest in governing the country he was elected to lead will to tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths.

But precious time was also wasted with negotiations between branches of government controlled by different parties. What took weeks to achieve here could have been dispensed with in days in any functioning parliamentary system. Instead of coordinating the effort to stand up additional medical resources in the states, the federal government instead decided to pit governors against one another, throwing everyone at the mercy of the “free market.” The only person with the power to commandeer industries in the service of a great national effort to fight the virus decided instead to fritter away more time feuding with longtime nemeses like the country’s largest automobile manufacturer.

The onset of the pandemic also revealed that millions of Americans are selfish, ignorant fools, being led to their ultimate doom by a conservative movement that long ago chose the pursuit and preservation of political and economic power over any obligation to the common good. There is no reaching many of these people because the infection long ago migrated to the brain. How else can you explain why so many people, to this day, are still gathering together in public like they want to be infected? How else can you explain the empty posturing of the American right in February and the first weeks of March? After China locked down its citizens in January, anyone with two eyes and an Internet connection could see that something dreadful was this way coming. The seriousness of the situation was certainly not lost on the mostly Republican vultures who sold off stock portfolios after getting a private briefing on January 24th.

Yet the institutional Republican Party and all of its attendant propaganda organs, spent those critical weeks not feverishly scrambling to prevent onrushing disaster, but instead trying to prop up the almighty stock market, convincing a gullible base that the Coronavirus was not a mortal threat to the United States but rather a plot to undermine President Trump himself. The usual villains were trotted out to take incoming – the sensationalist “Fake news” media was overhyping it, the scientists were more interested in grant money and doom-and-gloom notoriety than the truth, Democrats were rooting for an economic crash so they could finally undo the results of the 2016 election, and so on.

This Covid-19 denialism has many causes. One is, I think, a natural refusal to believe that something so decisively foreign to the lived experience of nearly anyone alive today could truly happen, and what has been revealed as a blind faith that science had made this kind of pandemic an impossibility. Looking back now, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2002-2003 and the swine flu pandemic in 2009 almost certainly made ordinary people overconfident that even when pathogens break out, that plucky scientists and determined policymakers can shut them down.

SARS in particular should have been an instructive lesson, and a much more dire warning. It shouldn’t be lost on anyone that the technical name for Covid-19 is SARS-CoV-2. In other words, it is a closely related virus, probably produced by the same chain of zoonotic events. While SARS “only” killed about 774 people worldwide, it was a terrifying disease, a full-on assault on the human respiratory system with a case fatality rate of 15%. But it was containable by virtue of a lucky fluke. “Symptoms tend to appear in a person before, rather than after that person becomes highly infectious,” wrote David Quammen about the disease in his 2012 book, Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic. “That order of events allowed many SARS cases to be recognized, hospitalized, and placed in isolation before they hit their peak of infectivity.”

SARS was effectively contained. But Quammen saw this all coming in 2012. He warned that the next big viral pandemic wouldn’t be that way. It will be characterized by “high infectivity preceding notable symptoms. That will help it move through cities and airports like an Angel of Death.” SARS CoV-2, thankfully, does not have such a high case fatality rate – if COVID-19 were killing people at a clip of 15% it would be much more of a human civilization-threatening event than it is, something like the plot of Contagion, except worse, since the authorities in that film appear to know what they’re doing and to be operating in good faith.

Covid-19 is spread largely by people who are asymptomatic – that is, they can infect others before they even know they have the disease. And none of this should have been a surprise to policymakers. Indeed, the Obama administration’s National Security Council produced a 69-page document with detailed recommendations for what to do should something like this crisis unfold, and it was of course casually binned by the Trump people.

But America’s coming nightmare wasn’t produced solely by a failure – shared by much of the global community – to properly prepare for a more easily transmissible version of SARS or something like it. When Covid-19 first arrived on these shores, it found itself staring at every virus’s dream – a country teeming with hapless Republicans whose minds have been completely and dangerously warped by the right-wing outrage machine, people who have been taught by their huckster media overlords to distrust all forms of scientific knowledge and expertise, trained to dismiss credible warnings of doom as just more nattering from “blue checkmarks” and inured to the consequences of their ignorance by little more than good fortune.

Most consequentially, this form of aggressive psychological decay, catalyzed by the runaway negative partisanship cooked up in the political weapons labs at Fox News and The Federalist, gradually spilled over from the closed-circle conservative media circus into the halls of actual governance around the country, producing an outbreak of unqualified, cartoonish quislings catapulted into executive power in red states all around the country by the sheer force of President Trump’s cult of personality. This is how you end up with a 4th-rate middle manager called Ron DeSantis in charge of the country’s third most-populous state, and a truly repugnant lickspittle named Tate Reeves as the governor of Mississippi, who overrode local shelter in place orders and invited the very worst case scenario to visit his state.

The president, unsurprisingly, is doing everything in his power to jam the Coronavirus catastrophe into the only framework his shriveled little mind is capable of processing: a map of the infernal Electoral College, in which evil “Dem” governors in blue states are trying to destroy his presidency and mooch off the federal government, while scrappy red-staters remain open for business. He has attacked New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. He has repeatedly lit into Michigan Gov. Gretchen Wittmer, who of course has the misfortune in Trump’s world of being born a woman. He has feuded with Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker. All of them are, unsurprisingly, Democrats. We’ve seen this film before, because it’s exactly how he dealt with public officials in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Not enough people cared back then because….well, you know why.

With some notable exceptions, like Ohio’s Mike DeWine, many Republican-governed states have taken their cues from the president’s poll-fueled denialism and remain in a state of almost complete unpreparedness today. Only 26 states have issued partial or statewide stay-at-home orders – most, though not all led by Democratic executives. Many of the red state governors burying their heads in the sand about this pandemic happen to lead some of the poorest populations in the country. “Y’all, we are not California, we’re not New York, we aren’t even Louisiana,” said Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, in words that will surely haunt her for the rest of her days and beyond. All of it is going to lead not just to human and economic disaster, but also potentially to an ugly political reckoning.

You can already see President Trump laying the groundwork to blame blue states and their cities for this crisis. He’s talking about quarantining New York, New Jersey and Connecticut – but not, unsurprisingly, deep red Louisiana, which has a much worse per capita problem than Connecticut today. Not Florida, an important swing state. The way he talks about Florida is telling. “Restrict travel, because they’re having problems down in Florida, a lot of New Yorkers going down. We don’t want that.” According to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the president is playing dangerous games with federal resources, and it isn’t hard to imagine him directing critical assistance to states where he has an active political interest, or to governors who are sufficiently obeisant to him. In fact, he has already said this is how it will work.

After such a betrayal, it is hard to imagine who or what could heal these wounds. If blue states are starved of resources while bearing the early brunt of this crisis, only to see unprepared red states showered with assistance when their pandemics rage out of control, you can start to see some cracks forming in the national foundation. By late summer, it will be clear that the Republican President of the United States and his amoral toadies are responsible for tens of thousands of unnecessary American deaths, possibly the worst and most tragic mismanagement of a crisis in all of American history. If red America is determined to return this man, a mass murderer, to power in November, can the union itself survive? In the midst of an ongoing pandemic, might blue state governors (and the handful of states governed by sane Republicans) not ask whether they might be better off pooling their resources and going their own way?

Remember, the case fatality rate for Covid-19 goes up significantly for older victims.

America is 233 years old. Say your prayers.

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Trump Tries To Rewrite History After Delayed Coronavirus Response | The 11th Hour | MSNBC

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John Buell <![CDATA[Coronavirus: Corporate Media ignores how Privatization of Hospitals explains Lack of Beds, Ventilators]]> https://www.juancole.com/?p=189979 2020-03-30T03:32:58Z 2020-03-30T04:02:47Z Southwest Harbor, Maine (Special to Informed Comment) – The escalating total Covid 19 deaths in New York City and the frantic quest to obtain life saving medical gear has rightly captured media attention. New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s impassioned plea for more federal assistance and a need-based system for allocating aid among the states was covered by CNN and other major corporate media. Nonetheless, they omitted the backstory, the grave decline in NYC hospital capacity over the last two decades, continued and endorsed by leadership of both political parties.

Though much attention was focused on how short of ventilators, masks, and beds the hospitals were there was almost no attention to how the city fell ino this crisis. It was as though only the virus was to blame. Over many years now Medicaid and healthcare activists have made hospital closures an intensely contested issue. In the last two decades NYC hospital beds have gone from 73,000 to 53,000. Democracy Now co-host Juan Gonzales and guest Sean Petty, an emergency room nurse in the Bronx, point to the role that a market mentality creeping into private and even many nonprofit hospitals has played in this decline. “During the years Cuomo has been in office, the number of beds available per patient in the United States in many states has declined dramatically, mostly because hospital managers see empty beds as not money-making, so they want to reduce the number of empty beds as much as possible, so they staff fewer and fewer beds.” Beds in short are subject to the same just in time principles that govern any other supply chain in the modern market economy. Applying just in time metrics to all key resources purportedly maximizes efficiency.

Efficiency, however, is a concept that deserves more critical scrutiny. Writing in the Atlantic Helen Lewis argued: “The tech sector’s overarching philosophy remains bent towards treating the human brain and body like a machine that can be tweaked and perfected until it is running at peak efficiency,” the journalist Lux Alptraum wrote for Quartz in 2017. This is, however, a fundamentally inhuman philosophy. People aren’t machines. We are inherently inefficient, with our elderly parents and sick children, our mental-health problems, our chronic diseases, and our need to sleep and eat. And, as the past few months have demonstrated, our susceptibility to novel viruses.…

Humans and the ecosystems of which they are a part are volatile and not always predictable. The decision to forego back- up systems and ample inventories is analogous to a homeowner’s choosing not to insure his/her house because a fire is unlikely and insurance premiums consume after- tax income. Fortunately most homeowners don’t or are not allowed to think that way. In the public arena, however, things are different.

Governor Cuomo has been generally supportive of the neoliberal development model that includes tax cuts for business and fiscal austerity for the public sector to fund those cuts. He shares the centrist faith in markets as perfect information processing systems and strives to remove the public from active participation in such decisions. When the state budget mandated multi billion dollar cuts in spending for hospitals he attempted to deflect attention to his role by creating a commission comprised disproportionately of health industry insiders.

Those industry insiders seem to object even to discussion of this backstory. “Focusing on closed and consolidated hospitals does nothing to help the task at hand,” said Brian Conway, spokesman for the Greater New York Hospital Association. “All that matters is rising to the current challenge, and the hospital community is deeply committed to doing exactly that.

This is the familiar line of an institution in crisis. When the crisis is in full force now is not the time to explore its history. That would be fine except for two facts. Knowing how we arrived at this potentially catastrophic point is one key to a more humane resolution of it. Major media, including NPR, sadly have done little to explore the deeper background of the NYC shortages. Activists and alternative media must fill the void. Secondly even in the face of corporate healthcare’s many tragedies and inequities, its proponents and beneficiaries continue to push for its preservation and extension of a market dominated health system from which they profit.

Recent sociological studies aimed at locating and finding the backgrounds of the most influential leaders in both private and nonprofit healthcare indicate that MBAs are replacing those who primary focus is in health delivery, public health, and biomedical research. Thus if these players get their way, potential vaccines to prevent a future Covid19 pandemic will be patented and thus limited to those who can afford their inflated prices. The politics of healthcare and Covid19 provide ample reasons for anger—toward corporate healthcare and the corporate media so oblivious to their exploitation.

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Democracy Now! “Frontline NY Nurses Lack Protective Masks & Ventilators, Say Worst Yet to Come as COVID-19 Spreads”

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