Social Justice Matters – Aborigines Edition

This is a point I have been arguing in several posts: social justice is more incarnated in redistribution mechanisms (such as fishing rights) than in recognition of a particular identity or particular historical grievance. Having rights is not enough and can be meaningless in the absence of the opportunities to exercise these rights and corresponding resources.

In this case, the Aborigines gain control over the resources, which, of course, raises fear of loss of opportunities for other categories of the population: recreational fishermen. I would argue that there is a stronger case for control for people who depend upon a given resource for their livelihood, rather than those who exploit such resource for leisure (which, by itself, implies a power and wealth differential that social justice should balance). Similarly, the existing commercial fishing industry is likely to be hurt by this as they lose partial access to the resource. And as always, more powerful categories of the population get to have their concerns taken into consideration and heard:

"He sought to allay fears that the ruling would have an adverse effect on the non-indigenous fishing community. "A negotiated outcome will mean traditional owners around the Northern Territory’s coastline can jointly participate in the management and development of a sustainable fishing industry," he said. This would include the protection of fishing stocks as well as sacred sites, he said, rejecting suggestions that the ruling would endanger the Northern Territory’s billion-dollar fishing industry: "Traditional owners have developed a constructive relationship with commercial and recreational fishing representatives over the past year." Mr Wungungmurra said he looked forward to "obtaining a win-win outcome for all Territorians" in a negotiated settlement, with anglers and commercial fishing operators accorded temporary permits for at least a year."

It will be interesting to see how much redistribution actually gets done and whose interests (more or less vital) prevail.

What Kind of Punctuation am I?

Via Wicked Anomie .

You Are a Colon

You are very orderly and fact driven.

You aren’t concerned much with theories or dreams… only what’s true or untrue.

You are brilliant and incredibly learned. Anything you know is well researched.

You like to make lists and sort through things step by step. You aren’t subject to whim or emotions.

Your friends see you as a constant source of knowledge and advice.

(But they are a little sick of you being right all of the time!)

You excel in: Leadership positions

You get along best with: The Semi-Colon

Look Who’s Talking – World Bank Edition

Really, this is rich:

This is the same World Bank, which, along with the IMF, used to encourage countries to base their economic development on their comparative advantage (simply put, what do countries have to offer to the global market? Once such an advantage  – resource, skills, labor – has been identified, then, that is where the country should invest to fund its development).

Because, right now, there is no issue that all poor countries need to tackle and spend on, like, oh, say, food and fuel prices.

"The finance minister has said subsiding high food and fuel prices is essential to prevent instability.

But the Bank says it fears the subsidies may backfire, threatening economic stability, and creating uncertainty – all of which will make it much harder for Timor to wean itself off its reliance on oil and gas."

Emphasis mine: the Bank does not really know what will happen but its really successful models (snark) tells it that subsidies = bad, hence the letter. And, of course, substitute oil and gas for "welfare" and you have the usual conservative argument that government support and assistance = also bad because of dependency (it’s false for welfare).

And again, it is pure speculation. The World Bank does not know that this is what will happen. So, how about letting the government (which, according to the article, has not been a big spender so far) weather the food price crisis and then see what happens rather than jump the gun in a pavlovian fashion?

ASA Bingo

ASA Logo Like many of my fellow socbloggers, I will be in Boston for the weekend for the American Sociological Association meeting, all equipped with my ASA Bingo card (courtesy of uber socblogger, Kieran Healy), which I should be able to fill with zero trouble at all if past experience is any indication!

Hopefully, I’ll have some interesting stuff to report back here.

This year’s theme is Worlds of Work (yay!):

"The 2008 ASA program will focus on the interconnections between work—broadly conceived—and society. Work is one of the most basic of social activities and institutions and has far-reaching correlates and consequences. The title—Worlds of Work—points to two main sub-themes. First, it underscores the increasing diversity by which work is organized and experienced in societies. Work activities can: take place formally in organizations or informally between individuals; be labeled as illegal or legal; be unpaid, well-paid, or poorly paid; and involve considerable security for some or be unstable for others. People may also regard their work activities as more or less important to them at various stages of their lives. Second, the program title emphasizes the cross-national and historical diversity in work activities, work-related institutions, and the experience of work. Outsourcing of production, global human rights, immigration, and cultural differences all provide fertile ground for a comparative understanding of the many varieties of work.

The 2008 program will emphasize social change and the dynamic connections between changing patterns of work and social life. We will highlight how social, economic, and political forces are transforming the nature of work in society as well as the consequences—both intended and unintended—for social institutions and individuals. For example, we hope to learn how changing worlds of work affect and are affected by: social stratification and racial, ethnic, age, and gender inequality; immigration; migration; geographic mobility; crime; and the cultural meanings of work. We will assess the ramifications of these changes in work for diverse institutions such as families, schools, state policy, and communities. We will also consider how changes in work influence outcomes for individuals (e.g., mental health, identity, problems of caring, experience in low-wage and often “dead end” jobs, and coping with job insecurity and unemployment).

This wide-ranging focus on work and society is grounded in both classical and contemporary sociological concerns and draws upon many of our discipline’s theories and research traditions. Accordingly, the 2008 program theme embraces diverse sociological approaches, including political economy perspectives, organizational and occupational sociology, social psychology, and cultural and ethnographic studies. It also draws upon relevant insights from disciplines such as economics, psychology, history, and geography. The 2008 program especially seeks to demonstrate the relevance of social science research for public policy and for efforts to address social inequities and inequalities through activism around work-related issues—such as transnational labor movements, union-based movements, and community organizing. The program thereby attempts to contribute to the debates that are likely to surface in the 2008 U.S. presidential election and to promote the continuing emphasis on public sociology.

Arne L. Kalleberg, President, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill"

Hope to see some of you there!

New Criminology Tools – Bees as Crime Solvers

Now that is something you don’t read every day:

What are the discoveries so far?

Criminology is not my specialty so I wonder how much of this is actually new (paging Chris Uggen ). The direct application of bee behavior to criminal behavior works basically like this:

"Instead of using information about the distribution of flowers visited by bees to explain the insects’ behaviour, criminologists’ models will use details about crime scenes, robbery locations, abandoned cars, even dead bodies, to hone the search for a suspect."

It will be interesting to see if the model matches reality.

The Price of Social Stigmas

I have already posted on this.

Any physical difference from the norm can be seized upon and used against the individuals who can do nothing about them. These individuals, deviant because of a physical characteristic (in this case, one they do not control) are then subjected to dehumanization and violence, used as scapegoats and otherwise see their capacity for social participation drastically limited.

Case on point, via the BBC.

In this case, the combination of social stigma with traditional beliefs and possibilities of profits on both side of the transaction (witchdoctors and patients) and the inevitable police corruption create a deadly situation for many albinos in that region.

Sociology in the News – The Beginning of the End of Mass Incarceration?

Bruce Western

Another post as part of my social justice series.

Bruce Western – of Punishment and Inequality in America fame – hopes so (via Chris Uggen ) in this article in the Boston Review.

"The British sociologist T.H. Marshall described citizenship as the “basic human equality associated with full membership in a community.” By this measure, thirty years of prison growth concentrated among the poorest in society has diminished American citizenship. But as the prison boom attains new heights, the conversation about criminal punishment may finally be shifting.

For the first time in decades, political leaders seem willing to consider the toll of rising incarceration rates. In October last year, Senator Jim Webb convened hearings of the Joint Economic Committee on the social costs of mass incarceration. In opening the hearings, Senator Webb made a remarkable observation, “With the world’s largest prison population,” he said, “our prisons test the limits of our democracy and push the boundaries of our moral identity.”

[Emphasis mine] One should never have a discussion of mass incarceration without connecting it systematically to social inequality. We know the statistics: 2.3 million people in US prisons and jails, largest prison population in the world with a fourfold increase since the 1980s (thank you, War on Drugs). And this increase has as much to do with class and racial inequalities as it has to do with reducing levels of criminality. So, when we talk about mass incarceration, we should actually specify: mass incarceration of young black men with limited education.

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Illusion of Leadership and Democratic Impotence

Jeremy Seabrook has a very pessimistic but, I think, powerful column in the Guardian in light of Barack Obama’s world tour. It centers on Obama but has wider implications for the way we consider political leadership in the global context. For those of us who regularly read Seabrook, it is a well know fact that he is vehemently opposed to corporate globalization (he writes for the New Internationalist as well) and is a subscriber to the Habermasian school of Crisis of Legitimacy in the political sphere. This column is no departure from this.

His starting point here is the focus on personality politics:

"Why such obsessive concern with the "leaders" of the world, when these have never been of such indifferent quality, and their capacity to lead seriously undermined by globalisation? Is it because of their diminished power and lowered status that debate concentrates on character and idiosyncrasies, personal qualities, their charisma, or lack of it?

The contrast between aspirant Barack Obama and falling star Gordon Brown illustrates the point. So mediocre has the quality of leadership in the world been over the past two decades that Obama is hailed as a deliverer; a role he clearly does not repudiate.

The crowds that turned out for a self-consciously historic occasion in Berlin demonstrate both the hollowness of contemporary leadership and the yearning – never entirely banished – for someone to show us the way, to inspire and to move us.(…)

It may well fall to him to restore the "image" of the United States, especially among the poor, non-white majority of the world – an eloquent comment on the disreputable shabbiness of the Bush years. But it would be folly to imagine he will do anything that runs counter to US interests. The most we can expect is some skillful choreography, a"performance" to reconcile the peoples of the world with American supremacy once more."

Obama and Brown are not alone in that category: the focus on French President Sarkozy and his model / (lousy) pop singer wife, his oh-so visible divorce from his previous wife and their media shenanigans when they were still married, the focus on Silvio Berlusconi’s extravagances, etc. For Seabrook, these people are simply no longer perceived as representatives (or would-be representatives) but rather as flamboyant individuals with a good narrative. We are just their audience to their performance.

"People of meagre talent and modest imagination now pose as "world leaders", guides and instructors of an imaginary, shifting "international community"."

What is the imaginary in question and what do they pose for? What is the performance for? Well, like a lot of good performances, the point is not so much what you see that what you don’t see:

"Preoccupation with individuals, of course, deflects attention from the powerlessness of the people, the voiding of democracy, even in places where the most highly sophisticated "electoral process" prevails. Leaders are keen to display their control over events over which they have waning influence, an influence they have willingly ceded to the stark urgencies of globalism. (…)

The fascination with leaders is an alibi for democratic impotence. The tendency of people to disengage from electoral politics is not evidence of a terrible apathy, but is a perfectly understandable refusal to play their walk-on part in the farce of popular sovereignty. Whoever voted for globalisation? Where is the majority in favour of concentrations of wealth and power in a handful of individuals who control more wealth than the GDP of whole countries?"

Of course we already know that no significant alteration in the global arrangements will be made by leaders of the G8 countries. These elected leaders are part of the political branch of the Transnational Capitalist Class. As such, their job is to provide the necessary state support to the global capitalist system. As such, "leaders" are actually more "managers" of the global system they do not control(I need to post on the spread of management theory and practices to all spheres of social life at some point!).

The point of management is to keep us rubes quiet and relatively happy, and sometimes, inspired, anything but to let us question the workings of the system and push for more social and economic justice. So, they’ll agree to put a few patches here and there in terms of social policies but nothing radical, like universal health care in the United States. And if the political opposition is in sufficient disarray, as in France, then, it is a mandate to take down entire chunks of the welfare system or to make it more punitive (if you’re unemployed, you have to accept ANY job the unemployment agency finds for you or lose your benefits).

"It is the ignoble shabbiness of their role that has created a highfalutin language of "governance", "high office", "senior politicians", "veteran leaders", "statesmen and women"; as well as the global babble about "transparency", "accountability" and of course, the "empowerment" and "participation" of the people. The grandiose words are merely decorative. No one should be under any illusion about the emancipatory potential of Barack Obama, and nor should we be quite so vengeful over the shambling figure of Gordon Brown who strings together cliches much as our grandmothers knitted kettle-holders. Their destiny is to strut and fret their hour upon the stage, to exit and not mess with the decor."

Depressing but plain for all to see if one is paying attention.

Polygamist Sects Compared to Organized Criminal Networks

Via McClatchy,

"A Senate committee on Thursday heard appeals for the creation of a federal task force to combat polygamist sects that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid described as sophisticated organized crime rings.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, whose office has received nationwide attention for its investigation of a sect in Texas, was among those backing legislation sponsored by Reid, D-Nev. The bill would establish a task force in the U.S. Department of Justice and assist victims of polygamist groups.

The hearing, which included testimony from two former sect members, spotlighted the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Saints (FLDS) led by Warren Jeffs, who was once on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List. Jeffs and four of his followers were indicted Tuesday by a grand jury in Texas for felony assault of a child.

Abbott told reporters after the hearing that further action is likely as investigators sift through "boxes and boxes" of documents and examine other evidence. "I would say we’re in the early stages of our investigation," Abbott said.

Reid, who once took on mob bosses when he sought to clean up Las Vegas casinos as chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission, told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that polygamist sects are a "form of organized crime" that have spread into numerous states, as well as Canada and Mexico.

"I am not saying that they are the same thing as the crime syndicates that used to run Las Vegas," Reid said. "But they engage in an ongoing pattern of serious crimes that we ignore at our peril."

He cited a "web of criminal conduct that includes welfare fraud, tax evasion, massive corruption and strong-arm tactics." "

All I can say is "Geez, what took you so long." It’s not like there is not a wealth of evidence of the wrongdoings of the sect. What has been missing (and still might be, we will see) is the political will to go after a fundamentalist religious group for fear of being perceived as anti-religion.

Locally, the political problem is the presence of FLDS in current law enforcement agencies or of ancestors who practiced polygamy among criminal justice officials. Either way, the sect has enjoyed impunity thanks to this ambivalence.

On the one hand, you all the trappings of a cult in order to strictly control the members and have limited leaks into the outside world (with enforcers if necessary). On the other hand, you have an organization dedicated to the economic exploitation of its members as well as massive fraud on government money to finance the lavish lifestyles of the prophets and their cronies.

So, what are the odds of success this time?

"Abbott said Reid’s legislation is necessary because polygamist groups are becoming a national problem. The state’s current investigation may not have been necessary if a task force had been in place five or 10 years ago, he said.

But U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman of Utah said that a task force "may not be a good fit" in investigating polygamist sects. The communities are self-contained and hard to penetrate, and their members are frequently uncooperative with law enforcement, he said.

"In this context, a task force may be too blunt an instrument to accomplish an effective investigation," he said."

Well, there goes your political will right there. Maybe, just maybe, one could look at the strategies that have worked with organized criminal organizations and cults, so as to get a few ideas about how to proceed. From my readings, it seems that successful prosecutions against organized criminal organizations (especially in Italy) have combined "follow the money" strategies, along with recruiting informants (with promises of immunity) and patient gathering of evidence followed by massive raids against the heads of the organizations. How about starting with that?

Bad Times for Tax Cheats

In the book I reviewed yesterday on tax heavens, one of the reasons the authors gave for writing the book in the first place was that this is a topic that never quite absent from the news and never goes out of fashion. Der Spiegel illustrates how true this is.

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Book Review – Les Paradis Fiscaux

Paradis Fiscaux Christian Chavagneux and Ronen Palan’s Les Paradis Fiscaux is a great (and mercifully short) introduction to tax heavens, banking secrecy and the offshore financial world. And it’s in French. For my non-French readers, not to worry, hopefully, my review will give enough substantial information… or, y’all could learn French! However, I have preserved what I think are the best quotes in the original language so as to preserve their value.

The book’s central thesis is that the development of offshore financial centers since the 1960s is an integral part of the dynamics of contemporary globalization, both in the financial and productive sectors. Tax heavens are now a pillar without which contemporary economic globalization could not function.

And surprisingly, they have not been studied to the extent that they should have been. For orthodox economic literature, tax heavens are a product of overtaxation in industrialized countries or a simple manifestation of informal economies. Both views are faulty according to Chavagneux and Palan.

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Navanethem Pillay – New UN High Commissioner on Human Rights

Pillay UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon appointed a new UN High Commissioner on Human Rights to succeed outgoing Commissioner Louise Arbour: South African Judge Navanethem Pillay who currently serves at the International Criminal Court. She seems like the right person for the job, judging from her short bio on the ICC website:

"In 1967 Judge Pillay became the first woman to start a law practice in Natal Province, South Africa, and the first black woman to serve in the High Court in her country. She has presided over both criminal and civil cases. As a practitioner, Judge Pillay defended many opponents of apartheid. She was then elected by the United Nations General Assembly to be a judge at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, where she served for eight years, including four years as president. During her term, Judge Pillay was credited with turning the Tribunal towards a more positive course. She has written on and practised in international criminal law, international humanitarian law and international human rights law, and more particularly on crimes of sexual violence in conflicts."

I like her already. And of course, I appreaciate seeing another great woman as Human Rights Commissioner. Sadly, the Office of UN High Commissioner on Human Rights ranks pretty low on the complex UN hierarchy but it is still an important office and, hopefully, Judge Pillay will be able to make her mark. She certainly has her work cut out for her.

This appointment still needs to be approved by the General Assembly.

Bad Week for Sadistic Murderers

After the arrest of Karadzic , it seems it is getting harder and harder for mass murderers and torturers to get away with their crimes, even decades later.

The BBC link also has a lot of links on the way Argentina has been dealing with the Dirty War .