Edinburgh—On Thursday night this old grimy stone city felt like a carnival. The leafy streets of Morningside kept their counsel behind drawn curtains, but in the working-class “schemes”—as the Scots call their public housing—of Leith and in the tattered, fly-posted area around George Square there were bright blue balloons and painted faces and Yes buttons in blue (Nationalist), red (Radical Independence Campaign), pink (LGBT supporters) and green (Greens). Knots of excited young people caromed through the Grassmarket while high up the hill, under the brow of the Castle, someone had hung a washing line with three white shirts bearing the letters Y, E and S next to a sheet urging “Vote With Clean Pants”—a puzzling message until I realized the reference was to underwear (and the need to maintain intestinal fortitude). Or as one of the swarm of visiting Catalans, here for a taste of the debate the Spanish government has so far refused to allow, might put it: Coratge!
By Friday morning, when Alex Salmond’s government had scheduled a post-referendum rally outside the Scottish Parliament, the birth of a nation had become a wake, attended only by an Indian television crew and a few sodden tourists. Edinburgh rejected independence by a wide margin—61 percent to 39 percent—but either the dreich (local weather somewhere between rain and fog) or good manners had kept the No camp indoors. In the end only four of the country’s thirty-rwo councils voted Yes. Overall the vote split 55/45 against independence and in favor of…. what?
The final two weeks of the campaign had seen Yes supporters subject to a continuous barrage of threats. There would be a run on the banks, a collapse in house prices (and the pound), employers and jobs would leave the country, while prices on everything from petrol to peanut butter would skyrocket. The former head of the army, Gen. Sir Richard Dannatt, even wrote an article in the Sunday Telegraph saying a Yes vote would be letting down the families of soldiers who died in British uniforms. It was an ugly tactic, but it worked.
“Just too risky,” said Tim, a singer-songwriter from Elgin who came up from London to vote. “Can’t take the chance,” said a woman I met under a bus shelter in Cowgate. “My heart said Yes but my head said No, and I voted with my head,” the twentysomething desk clerk of my hotel told me.
Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s pledge, signed by all three pro-union party leaders, that a No vote would trigger a tight timetable for new legislation granting Scotland expansive new powers over taxes and welfare spending—the same “devo-max” option an overconfident David Cameron had ruled off the ballot—also probably helped. Yet it is Cameron who benefits the most from Friday’s result.
He has to keep his promise, of course. But his remark on Friday that it was also only fair that in future “English legislators should vote on English laws” put the so-called “West Lothian question”—a poison pill for the Labour party—firmly on the agenda. At the moment MPs from Scottish and Welsh constituencies vote on all laws passed at Westminster, even when—as in the case of charging tuition fees at English universities—their own constituents aren’t affected. One way to change this would be for England to have its own devolved legislature, like the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly. There are plenty of Tories who favor such an approach—which also happens to be the policy of the far-right UK Independence Party—though some object to the cost of an extra layer of government. Ed Miliband, knowing that Labour would likely be a permanent minority in such a body, has never been enthusiastic.
But the alternative, which is for non-English MPs to abstain from votes on English matters, is even messier. Under such an arrangement if Labour win the next election it might still lose its majority every time Scots and Welsh MPs have to abstain. And since England has 84 percent of the UK’s population, and an even greater share of the economy—and the bureaucracy—such abstentions could be frequent enough to paralyse any Labour administration. Miliband’s call on Friday for a “Constitutional Convention” after the next election to consider changes outside Scotland was an attempt to decouple the promise made to Scots from the far more contentious question of how to rebalance British democracy. But it was also an attempt to stall for time.
The referendum result may have settled the question of Scottish independence—at least, as an optimistic writer I know put it, for a wee while. The cost of winning it, however, was to release forces that, though they may not mean the end of the United Kingdom, have exposed the ramshackle nature of the whole country’s constitutional arrangements.
Which comes as some consolation to Yes campaigners otherwise too stunned by sorrow to think about the road ahead. “We’ve forced constitutional change for the whole of the UK,” Brian, who described himself as a “gutted” Yes voter, told me over breakfast on Friday.
Within hours of the votes being counted Alex Salmond announced his resignation. So is that the end of the story? Wandering back from the Parliament on Friday, I found myself standing outside the Scottish Storytelling Center, a sleek modern building down the street from the statue of Adam Smith. Carved into the stone façade is a quote, attributed to the writer Alasdair Gray: “Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation.”
Inside I asked Donald Smith, the center’s director, what he thought the next chapter might be. Smith, a Yes voter whose own baptism in Scottish politics came in the failed 1979 referendum on devolution, said he was “disappointed, but not surprised” by the result. “This isn’t going to go away because of the balance of the vote at this juncture,” he said. “Now we’ll see what the Westminster system will deliver. Meanwhile the cultural, social and political work goes on.” Or as somebody else once said, “Don’t mourn. Organize.”
Read Next: Andrew Ross explains why the UK lives—for now.
Every good movement needs its music. This weekend, in New York City and around the world, environmental activists are making their voices heard days before President Obama and world leaders attend a Climate Summit at the United Nations. This playlist is presented in tribute. The list is highly debatable—songs about ecology, nature and the environment cut across musical genres and generations—and the category is a bit reductive, if not trite. But there’s nothing trite about the people in the streets this weekend. These songs are for them.
1. Marvin Gaye, Mercy Mercy Me
2. Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi
3. Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, This Land is Your Land
4. John Prine, Paradise (Muhlenberg County)
5. Mos Def, New World Water
6. Malvina Reynolds, What Have They Done to the Rain?
7. Ziggy Marley, Dragonfly
8. Eliza Gilkyson, Before the Deluge
9. REM, Fall on Me
10. Lou Reed, Last Great American Whale
Bonus Track: Stevie Ray Vaughan, Texas Flood
Ken Burns’s fourteen-hour series The Roosevelts is giving a big ratings boost to PBS. And even with George Will rather gently criticizing FDR, the show makes a persuasive argument for more government involvement in the lives of the nation’s citizens.
But PBS is not so sympathetic to New Deal policies that it would ever welcome the hatred of malefactors of great wealth. In fact, it has often caved to the wishes of rich conservatives, most notoriously when it pulled Citizen Koch, a public television documentary that took on the Koch brothers. David Koch sits on the board and helps fund PBS flagship station WGBH in Boston; last year, he noisily resigned from another flagship, WNET in New York, after a different Koch documentary squeaked through and aired.
In her fascinating piece, “PBS Self-Destructs: And what it means for viewers like you” in this month’s Harper’s (subscription required), Eugenia Williamson finds that PBS has been kowtowing to the right and the powers that be long before Nixon or Newt tried to defund it, or David Koch silenced it by funding it:
In the end, though, it doesn’t matter that the Republicans couldn’t defund PBS—they didn’t really need to. Twenty years on, the liberal bias they bemoaned has evaporated, if it ever existed to begin with. Today, the only special-interest group the network clearly favors is the aging upper class: their tastes, their pet agendas, their centrist politics. This should surprise nobody who has taken a long, hard look at PBS’s institutional history. Yes, it’s tempting to view the last couple of decades as a discrete epoch of decline, with the network increasingly menaced by a cartoonish G.O.P. hit squad, helmed by Newt Gingrich as Snidely Whiplash. But the present state of PBS was almost an inevitability, the result of structural deficiencies and ideological conflicts built in from the very start.
Much of it started with LBJ, who signed the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) into being, but then punted:
Yet this spirit-enriching initiative hit some immediate procedural potholes. Johnson, responsible for choosing the corporation’s board members, neglected his task for months. Ostensibly this was due to some unfortunate developments in Vietnam—indeed, it was the height of the Tet Offensive. But John W. Macy Jr., whom Johnson appointed as CPB president, suspected other reasons for LBJ’s dithering. “The media and the academic community had increased the volume of their protest against the conduct of the war,” he wrote. “Would this extension of the media with federal backing add new sights and sounds of opposition?”
As it happened, it did.
Williamson follows up on the Citizen Koch incident with the grassroots climate-change group Forecast the Facts, which unsuccessfully tried to expel David Koch from the WGBH board:
Refusing to give up, they started a social-media campaign, chipping away at WGBH’s Facebook rating. They rented a billboard directly across from the WGBH complex in Boston to denounce David Koch, and projected KOCH FREE on various Boston landmark buildings. When the station hosted a climate-change panel in March, Forecast the Facts submitted questions about Koch’s presence on the board; a video of the event shows WGBH’s frantic efforts to keep the scientists from answering.
Then came the PBS annual meeting in May. The organization sent several operatives to try to deliver another 300,000 signatures at a WGBH breakfast. Southard was confident that such an enormous number would finally force the station’s hand. “They’d be ignoring the people who’d signed the petition,” she said. “PBS has a sterling reputation, and that should be important to them.”
But when [Forecast the Facts campaign director Brant] Olson got up onstage to deliver the signatures, wave a banner, and yell into the microphone, the sound was immediately cut. Security chased him down and handcuffed him, even as a PBS staffer held up a notebook to block any photography.
Read Next: Katrina vanden Heuvel on how we’ve been fighting to get money out of politics since FDR
On Tuesday, San Francisco became the first US city to go on record in opposition to bans on sex-selective abortion, when its board of supervisors approved a measure urging the state legislature not to pass such a law. The measure also “calls upon other cities, states and the federal government to likewise reject these discriminatory measures.”
Critics say sex-selective abortion bans, which have passed in eight states and been introduced in twenty-one states and Congress in recent years, are a solution in search of a problem—that they rely on unfounded assumptions that Asian-American families have a preference for boys and so will disproportionately choose to terminate pregnancies that will result in the birth of a girl. In reality, these bans—like those on laws dictating the amount of time a woman must wait before she can obtain an abortion, and other sneaky attempts to chip away at access—are yet another effort to undo Roe.
San Francisco Supervisor David Chiu introduced the proposal and said Tuesday that his efforts were supported by a coalition of two dozen organizations from around the country, including the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum. Shivana Jorawar directs the reproductive justice program at NAPAWF and hailed the proposal’s approval as a victory.
“For women in my community, it gives us an opportunity to talk about this issue on our own terms and to say that we are the ones who know what’s best for us and our own families,” Jorawar said via e-mail. “It helps us have a conversation that exposes these deceptive abortion bans to lawmakers across the country and shows them that when this crosses their desk, they need to see it for what it really is and vote ‘no.’”
This summer, Jorawar’s organization was involved in the release of a report on these bans, which found:
Immigrant communities in the United States are not disproportionately terminating pregnancies based on expected gender. According to the report, “The key empirical support for sex-selective abortion bans in the United States comes from a study of census data that is now almost 15 years old… In analyzing more recent data from the 2007 to 2011 American Community Survey (ACS), we found that the sex ratios at birth of foreign-born Chinese, Indians and Koreans are not male-biased when all their births are taken into account. In fact, foreign-born Chinese, Indians and Koreans have proportionally more girls than white Americans.” The report argues that sex-selective abortion bans don’t take into account other ways families can select the sex of a child, such as preconception and preimplantation techniques.
Where these bans have gone into effect, there’s been no change in sex ratios. According to the report, “Two states passed laws banning sex-selective abortion over 15 years ago: Illinois in 1984 and Pennsylvania in 1989… Our empirical analysis of sex ratios at birth five years before and after sex selective abortion bans were enacted in Illinois and Pennsylvania indicates that the bans were not associated with changes in sex ratios at birth.”
Legislators who support these bans often talk about rampant gender preference within Asian immigrant communities and practices in these communities’ countries of origin. But some European countries rank higher in terms of abnormal sex ratios. According to the report, “Thirteen countries have sex ratios at birth that are skewed in favor of males above the standard range. Six of these countries with higher than normal sex ratios at birth are in Europe… The countries with the highest male-biased sex ratios in the world are Liechtenstein and Armenia. Both countries have higher sex ratios than India and China.”
So if this is a really a conversation better suited for the international reproductive health community, why is San Francisco weighing in? A Republican legislator introduced a ban on sex-selective abortion in California’s assembly earlier this year that never made it out of committee. Despite the lack of political urgency in the city or state, Chiu’s proposal was approved without much debate Tuesday. More than one supporter argued during public comment that the enforcement of such bans rely on “racial profiling in the doctor’s office,” where a health provider might become suspicious of the motives behind a patient’s decision. The proposal did cause some controversy on the San Francisco Chronicle’s op-ed pages. That’s where columnist Debra J. Saunders advanced the kind of rhetoric used by the bans’ proponents, who expect that some observers will view these laws as fighting anti-girl bias and thus inherently feminist.
Jorawar says she expects to see a new wave of bans introduced in state legislatures after the midterm elections and points out that conservative strategist Ralph Reed has been reported as urging anti-choice candidates to talk about the prevalence of sex-selective abortion.
“This is not going away any time soon,” she said via email. Perhaps the organizing behind the introduction and approval of the San Francisco proposal sets a precedent for how to push back.
The NFL’s reaction to two of its players’ off-the-field misconduct has sparked some important national debates about domestic violence and, most recently, child abuse. And because these players—Ray Rice, caught on video beating his wife, and Adrian Petersen, accused of beating his son—are black, it has also prompted us to examine how these issues intersect with race.
Let’s take the corporal punishment of children. Spanking kids as a form of discipline is not unique to black American culture. That’s an obvious statement, but it still needs saying. However, there is a certain justification for spanking that is a reaction to the specific experience of being black in a racist American society.
In his New York Times op-ed on the subject, Michael Eric Dyson writes:
Adrian Peterson’s brutal behavior toward his 4-year-old son is, in truth, the violent amplification of the belief of many blacks that beatings made them better people, a sad and bleak justification for the continuation of the practice in younger generations. After Mr. Peterson’s indictment, the comedian D. L. Hughley tweeted: “A father’s belt hurts a lot less then a cops bullet!”
The idea here is that a child who is properly disciplined is less likely to incur the wrath of an armed police officer. Brittney Cooper expands on this type of thinking in her piece at Salon:
The loving intent and sincerity of our disciplinary strategies does not preclude them from being imbricated in these larger state-based ideas about how to compel black bodies to act in ways that are seen as non-menacing, unobtrusive and basically invisible. Many hope that by enacting these micro-level violences on black bodies, we can protect our children from macro and deadly forms of violence later.
But she also adds:
The thing is, though: Beating, whupping or spanking your children will not protect them from state violence. It won’t keep them out of prison. Ruling homes and children with an iron fist will not restore the dignity and respect that the outside world fails to confer on adult black people.
Corporal punishment is an extension of respectability politics, the idea that with the correct behavior one can avoid the harshest aspects of American racism. This line of thinking has not and will not ever protect any black person from state-based racist violence, but it continues to hold weight as legitimate counterpoint to dismantling racism. It speaks to a collective idea that the problem is not a country beholden to racist policies but rather a deficiency among black people and within black culture.
But how much discipline would have been required so that the black women allegedly sexually assaulted by Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw never would have been targeted? How many switches should Rekia Boyd have fetched to have been able to dodge Chicago’s Officer Dante Servin’s bullets? How many whippings did Marlene Pinnock need to endure in her fifty-one years so she could avoid California Highway Patrol Officer Daniel Andrew’s fists?
We continue to place the responsibility of correcting racism and avoiding racist violence on those who are victimized by it, and our black children continue to the pay the biggest price, at home and in the streets. It may engender helplessness to believe that you cannot protect your child from harm, but it’s no more helpful to inflict that harm yourself under the belief that spankings at home will shield them from racism outside.
Read Next: “The 2014 NFL: Where Racketeers Condemn Child Abusers”
There has been no peace in Ferguson, Missouri, since the shooting death of the unarmed Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson. Now community members are saying that as long as the justice is both delayed and denied, it is obscene for the games to go on in St. Louis as usual. A call has gone out by Ferguson community organizers to protest outside this Sunday’s game between the St. Louis Rams and the Dallas Cowboys at the Edward Jones Dome. They are also trying to get tickets donated to them so they can make their way inside the stadium to let their voices be heard.
One protestor, Umar Lee, taped the call to action on YouTube, where he says, “This is about a message. There is no business as usual. There is no drinking and being merry while there is no justice for Mike Brown…. All of those St. Louis Rams fans who love justice, who are with the people, I ask you to contact me and to donate your St. Louis Rams tickets so protestors can get in the dome.”
Using the hashtag #nojusticenofootball, Mr. Lee is also directly contacting Dallas Cowboys players directly, referencing the league’s recent scandals and asking them to join the protest. For example: to Cowboys running back to DeMarco Murray, Lee wrote, “NFL players in the news for bad things. Do something good. Join the #MikeBrown protests in #stl Sunday.”
I spoke to Charles Modiano, who spent weeks demonstrating in Ferguson and is also a freelance sportswriter. He said to me, “I love this idea. We have to keep the protests alive. Darren Wilson has not been arrested. The police chief has not resigned. The militarization continues. As long as there is no justice, there’s no time for games.”
Umar Lee also sent out a tweet thanking the St. Louis Rams fans who have already donated tickets to the protest. The Rams have been atrocious this season, and the Cowboys haven’t been much better. Given the poor quality of play as well as the widely publicized revelations that the NFL is an empty moral chasm of coverup and abuse, the specter of in-stadium demonstrators might actually be the only thing that makes this Sunday’s game worth watching. The chief of St. Louis’s police says that they are aware of these efforts and will be prepared to defend NFL Sunday against the threat of rightful assembly. Let the games begin.
You may have heard that what is expected to be the largest rally for an environmental cause in US history is happening this Sunday, September 21, in Manhattan. More than 100,000 people are planning to join a historic march for climate action two days before President Obama and world leaders attend a Climate Summit at the United Nations.
In Europe and Australia growing numbers of people are joining the Fossil Free divestment movement. In Asia and Africa groups are organizing for a new development paradigm powered by renewable, community-based energy, not coal. In Latin America communities are resisting fracking and the vested interests opposing progress on climate change. And in the Pacific, nonviolent warriors are rising up to blockade the largest coal port in the world. Now activists in the US are calling on America to get with the program.
The march begins at 11:30 am at 59th Street, Columbus Circle. The front of the march is expected to reach the end of the route at about 2 pm. At the end of the day, in keeping with the day’s emphasis on inspiration and resilience, a massive climate block party on Eleventh Avenue between 34th Street and 38th Streets will commence. At the center of the close will be a massive tree installation created by Brooklyn-based artist Swoon.
Get all the info you need about Sunday’s events and how you can get involved at the People’s Climate site.
There are also a host of actions, events, educational events and protests being planned across New York City this weekend.
The good folks at The New School are hosting a climate action week featuring not just Naomi Klein’s US book launch but also a diverse set of programming directed towards the university and wider community showcasing the creativity, solidarity and collective action of the growing climate movement, and highlighting the New School’s longtime committment to supporting climate justice and action. Check out the offerings.
On Saturday, September 20 at 8 pm, the All Souls Unitarian Church in Manhattan will host a forum on the way forward in fighting climate change with Senator Bernie Sanders, Naomi Klein, Kshama Sawant, Bill McKibben and Chris Hedges.
On the morning of the climate rally, Naomi Klein will be interviewed about her new book on climate and capitalism by Nation executive editor Betsy Reed to kick-off the annual Brooklyn Book Festival. (The talk is at 10 am and the nearby A train can get you to the march in thirty minutes.)
My colleague Muna Mire has been researching the more grassroots events of the week and suggests taking part in these ten actions over the next few days.
1) FRACK OFF: Indigenous Women Leading Media Campaigns to Defend Our Climate
2) Decolonize Climate Justice: A Free University
3) Climate Justice Teach In: Harlem/Uptown Manhattan
4) Rockaway Climate Justice Bash!
5) Queer Planet: A Participatory Art Project
6) Reporting on Climate Justice: A Workshop for Journalists
7) Cowspiracy: Film Screening
8) Climate Satyagraha: Revolution on the Ecosocialist Horizon
9) On the Geneaology of Patronage in Museums
10) Grassroots Solutions From Peter Yarrow and Nahko Bear
If you’re not in NYC this weekend, there’s an open-source action to provide people around the world who can’t be at a march in person with an easy way to show solidarity and join the masses in telling world leaders it’s time to #walkthewalk on climate change. Post a video of yourself walking wherever you are and say why you #walkthewalk on climate change. Personal testimony can be a powerful organizing tool. Organizers will be pulling in the video content in real time to create a virtual march experience living across social media.
It’s also useful to click here to tell President Obama and Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern to support the goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2050 at the Climate Summit. Whatever you do this weekend, do something!
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but the Ebola crisis shows this lesson is still lost on the institutions that control the global public health agenda.
By the time West Africa’s Ebola outbreak has run its course, as many as 20,000 lives will be extinguished. But not by the disease alone; people are dying from neglect: neglect by the intergovernmental bodies that were their last lifeline; neglect by the bureaucratized international aid and financial institutions that have by turns enchained and abandoned the Global South.
The weight of Ebola on the hardest-hit countries, Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, has now left those at the front lines of the epidemic facing unprecedented pressure, laboring around the clock to fill the resource gaps that enable the virus to thrive.
Facilities often lack the most basic protective gear. David Boys, deputy general secretary of Public Services International (PSI), a union federation representing 20 million public workers, says via e-mail: “the current level of resources is totally inadequate, staff are not trained to handle this type of infection.” Amid institutionalized impoverishment, “Many health workers are not being paid their wages, and those wages are too low to begin with.”
The occupational hazards of this care labor sows an ethical crisis: doctors and nurses are being forced to choose between protecting their own lives, and providing the care to which they are professionally committed. Back in July, Baryou Wallace of the Collaborating Civil Society & Trade Union Institutions of Liberia warned of a fatal lack of coordination in the government response, complaining publicly that the health ministry “cannot find the time to discuss with health workers leaders about a way of resolving the crisis, so that together we can all join the fight against the Ebola disease.” Today, it is both tragic and understandable that critical personnel in Liberia and Sierra Leone have been pushed to strike in desperation.
At the embattled John F. Kennedy hospital in Monrovia earlier this month, spokesperson John Tugbeh told The Guardian that workers had decided to stop work until provided standard protective suits: “From the beginning of the Ebola outbreak we have not had any protective equipment to work with. As result, so many doctors got infected by the virus.… We need proper equipment to work with [and] we need better pay because we are going to risk our lives.”
This risk was not inevitable. The current epidemic reflects the historical scars left by pervasive poverty, conflict, corruption, and dependency on volatile foreign aid regimes. An underlying crisis is the “brain drain” of doctors and other critical personnel who have left for better-paying jobs in richer countries. Liberia has a population of 4 million but “only 200 doctors and 1,500 nurses, most of whom are in and around the capital of Monrovia,” according to Academics Without Borders.
The hazards now facing the medical workers who have remained reflects the shortsightedness and mismanagement of the World Health Organization (WHO). According to The New York Times, during the financial crisis, WHO sliced some $1 billion from its already strapped budget, leaving the agency at the mercy of “[t]he whims of donor countries, foundations and individuals [who] greatly influenced the WHO’s agenda, with gifts, often to advance specific causes, far surpassing dues from member nations, which account for only 20 percent of its budget.”
The infrastructure capacity needed to check Ebola’s spread is further strained by the migration of the outbreak into remote, under-resourced villages, while dense cities are overwhelmed by contagion. Meanwhile, other chronic issues, such as malaria, are being left to fester while Ebola consumes precious resources. And some earnest ongoing efforts by officials to strengthen the regional hospital infrastructure have now been shattered by the outbreak.
The violent clashes in Monrovia and the lockdown of Sierra Leone show that corrosive mistrust and tension between communities and government has sparked a secondary crisis of social strife and alienation.
The Western media have added insult to injury by training a lurid lens on the outbreak and drawing on racist tropes of backward, irrational mobs. Left outside the frame are the deeper, structural humanitarian issues that stoke public panics.
Evoking facile stereotypes of Africa as a primitive basket case ignores the enduring influence of colonization, which lives on in the form of multinational extractive industries and foreign aid dependency, and the current piecemeal crisis response from the chief donors, France, Britain and the United States.
The labor movement has been one of the few voices that has decisively communicated the plight of the local health workers at the core of the response. PSI has launched a global campaign to push for an infusion of personal protective equipment for health workers. In addition to calling for more emergency assistance from overseas, the group has pledged to “[w]ork with national governments to ensure appropriate social protection systems are in place, including for the families of workers killed in the line of duty.”
For the workforce, Boys says, international labor groups should support local unions’ efforts to secure equitable collective bargaining agreements and in the long term, apply “pressure for appropriate health policies and budgets to ensure universal health coverage.”
The grim prognosis for regional healthcare under Ebola’s shadow can only be addressed proactively, according to Lawrence Gostin, faculty director of Georgetown’s O’Neill Institute for National & Global Health Law. In a recent Lancet commentary, he asks, “[W]hat could states and the international community do to prevent the next epidemic? The answer is not untested drugs, mass quarantines, or even humanitarian relief. If the real reasons the outbreak turned into a tragedy of these proportions are human resource shortages and fragile health systems, the solution is to fix these inherent structural deficiencies.”
A first step would be a $100 million workforce “contingency fund”—which the WHO sought previously but never materialized. As a global reserve for emergency care and for building long-term infrastructure, such a fund, Gostin argues, would provide the resources to “rebuild broken trust, with the returns of longer, healthier lives and economic development far exceeding the costs.”
Ebola’s monstrous spread and the sluggish global response reflect the warped priorities of unsustainable, inequitable global healthcare institutions. By listening to workers, however, officials and international agencies can start to build more resilient systems, through democratic engagement, rather than spasms of charity. Doctors and nurses know what it takes to protect their communities, because they cannot abandon their posts. They stand firm, even as the world turns away.
To get involved with the labor movement’s Ebola aid effort, check out the fundraising campaign launched by National Nurses United to provide personal protective equipment for healthcare workers in the affected region.
Read Next: Michelle Chen on international solidarity with Cambodian garment workers
Edinburgh, Scotland—Five days before the Scottish independence referendum, one of the larger demonstrations of a long and intense campaign was held in Glasgow. It wasn’t a rally for a “yes” or a “no” vote. It was a protest outside the Scottish headquarters of the BBC.
Thousands of independence supporters showed up to object to the coverage of the campaign by the broadcaster in particular, and media in general.
At a point when polling suggested Scotland was closely divided on the issue of independence, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond said, “I think there’s real public concern in terms of some of the nature and balance of the coverage.”
Well beyond the Scottish borders, there was recognition of the concern. English commentator George Monbiot ripped into media coverage that frequently referred to “the threat” rather than the prospect of independence, compared the democratically elected Salmond to a dictator and dismissed Scottish complaints about austerity as a demand for a “something for nothing society.“ Monbiot’s important essay was headlined, “How the media shafted the people of Scotland.”
Salmond’s “yes” side ultimately lost, as Scots decided Thursday by a convincing 400,000-vote margin to remain a part of the United Kingdom.
But the debate about media coverage carried forward after the count was finished, with Iain Macwhirter, a veteran Scottish political commentator and the author of the book Road to Referendum, asserting on a post-election television panel, “Anyone who reviews the press coverage of this campaign will not be able to come out with any other conclusion than that it was extremely one-sided.”
Political campaigns often produce complaints and concerns about media coverage. And in an age of radically transforming media landscapes, the debate itself is changing—as analysts seek to weigh the impact of social media as an alternative to traditional media. Yet author and activist Tariq Ali noted after speaking to a pro-independence rally Monday in Glasgow, “Yes, yes, people should be concerned about the media coverage. The newspapers have been appalling when it comes to covering the story of what’s been happening in Scotland.”
Major media outlets remain powerful forces in our democratic life. They are not always definitional—as any newspaper editorial writer will tell you—and it is important to recognize that in Scotland and beyond a great many factors influence election results.
Still, there are those moments that illustrate the extent to which major media outlets tend to echo one another rather than the range of popular debate.
That has been evident in the United States on a number of high-stakes issues in recent decades. When the US was weighing whether to approve the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993, polls suggested that the country was deeply divided, and the House split 234-200. Yet the chattering classes were overwhelmingly pro-NAFTA, and newspaper editorial pages were very nearly universal in their support for the controversial pact. It wasn’t just the editorial pages; an analysis by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting found that pro-NAFTA sources highlighted by major media outnumbered opponents by more than 3-to-1. When matters of war and peace are in play, as was the case before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, FAIR has found even more overwhelming patterns of media turning up the volume on pro-war voices while dismissing those urging caution.
In Scotland, on the morning after Thursday’s vote, discussions of the media coverage became an important part of the overall analysis of the result.
Macwhirter and others argued that the media fueled a sense that a “yes” vote would lead to economic disaster—despite the fact that Nobel Prize–winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and others had dismissed key elements of the “no” campaign as “a bluff.”
Referring to the “no” campaign, Stiglitz said before the vote, “I’ve been a little bit shocked how much of it is based on fear, trying to get anxiety levels up and how little of it has been based on vision.”
The BBC rejected complaints that it hyped claims about economic challenges that might be faced by an independent Scotland. And, notably, the broadcaster covered what Stiglitz had to say.
Yet there was no debating the imbalance in the positions taken by the newspapers that circulate in Scotland.
Scottish-based daily newspapers, which are widely read and influential, were overwhelmingly opposed to independence—with just one major newspaper, the Sunday Herald, urging a “yes” vote. The British national dailies, which circulate widely in Scotland, were even more determined in their opposition—offering up intense criticism of the idea of independence and of independence campaigners.
That was especially true after a key poll published almost two weeks before the vote suggested that the “yes” side had moved into a narrow lead. Jim Sillars, a former deputy leader of the Scottish National Party and an outspoken independence campaigner, said the numbers “rattled the cages” of economic and political elites in London.
It was at that point that the papers turned up the “no” volume.
There will be books written on the overall character and the content of the coverage. But what was most striking was the stances taken by the newspaper editorial pages of the Scottish papers. No one expected them to be universal in their support for independence. But their opposition was exceptional.
“Perhaps the most arresting fact about the Scottish referendum is this: that there is no newspaper—local, regional or national, English or Scottish—that supports independence except the Sunday Herald. The Scots who will vote yes have been almost without representation in the media,” wrote Monbiot, one of the UK’s most prominent and media-savvy campaigners on environmental and democracy issues. “There is nothing unusual about this. Change in any direction, except further over the brink of market fundamentalism and planetary destruction, requires the defiance of almost the entire battery of salaried opinion. What distinguishes the independence campaign is that it has continued to prosper despite this assault.”
At the start of the referendum campaign, support for a “yes” vote was estimated at roughly 30 percent. In the end, 45 percent of Scots voted for independence. Much of the credit for the shift goes to effective use of social media and grassroots campaigning by “yes” supporters. Ultimately, however, as Monbiot reminds us, “Despite the rise of social media, the established media continue to define the scope of representative politics in Britain, to shape political demands and to punish and erase those who resist.”
Monbiot could have removed the words “in Britain” and been just as accurate in his observation.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, testified before a grand jury this Tuesday, September 16. Wilson testified for four hours and was “cooperative,” a source told the Post-Dispatch. At the direction of St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch, the grand jury will have until January 7 to decide whether to indict Wilson on criminal charges. As of now, Wilson is still on paid administrative leave.
With each day that passes without Wilson being arrested, the citizens of Ferguson become (rightfully) more angry. Witnesses keep coming forth, the evidence continues to pile up, and yet Wilson still walks around free. More and more it looks as if no one will be held accountable for killing Michael Brown.
And we should all prepare ourselves for such an event. Police officers are rarely arrested for on-the-job killings—from 2005 to 2011, only thirty-one were—let alone convicted. Brown’s family may file a civil suit, and perhaps they could win. But even with a victory there, Michael Brown would still be dead, and black children in Ferguson, St. Louis, and all over the country would still have to live in fear that they could be next.
Brown’s individual death matters, because all lives matter, but it’s what his death represents that will be of greater significance the further Ferguson recedes from the news cycle. Brown’s death represents America’s failure. For the entirety of its existence, this country has failed to respect black people’s humanity. Our laws and customs have aggressively denied black people the full rights of American citizenship. And worse, when black people have stood up to demand equal treatment, this country has pretended that there was nothing wrong.
Michael Brown died because we failed to deal with all of this when it happened to… pick a name. We failed them all.
And we will fail more black children if we don’t find a way to confront some basic truths. We can start with this one: America routinely criminalizes black youth. Whether it’s the disparities in drug arrests despite similar rates of drug use as white people, or the rates of school suspensions and arrests, or arresting kids for dancing on the subway, one thing America does not fail at doing is making it illegal to be young and black in public spaces. And that’s why the police can get away with killing so many young black people. Everyone thinks they’re a bunch of criminals receiving their just desserts.
In the weeks and months to come, the details of the investigation into Michael Brown’s killing will likely continue to infuriate anyone who wants Darren Wilson arrested. The “justice system” will fail (or succeed, if you see, as I do, the purpose of the American justice system as the maintenance of racism, white supremacy, and black people’s second-class citizenship). But we can’t allow that to dampen the fight. America must be pushed to account for its failures. This country has to admit to itself not only its past sins, but its current ones as well. Then it has to reverse course.
Continuing to fail all the Michael Browns out there can no longer be an option.