While attacks against refugee homes dominate the headlines, a new movement to aid asylum seekers is taking root in Germany. From medical care to security services, locals are organizing what the state won't.
. . . The day has only just begun, but the phone in Anja Damerius' office at the University of Siegen is already ringing off the hook. An elderly woman wants to read books to refugee children: "Yes, of course!" Damerius says into the receiver. "When are you available?" A family from the neighborhood wants to distribute food. "Come over." Toys? "Please drop them off at the church, our garage is full."
. . . Siegen University rector Holger Burckhart, who is also vice-president of the German Rectors' Conference, says that given their status as public institutions, universities have a responsibility to help. "We are part of social life and can give something back to society here." According to Burckhart, the students are getting a clearer sense of the scale of the world's crises.
. . . The University of Siegen is an example of a popular movement taking place across Germany. From Munich to Berlin, Dresden to Hanau, tens of thousands of people are standing up to help refugees: high school and university students, workers, retirees.
. . . Reports about extreme-right attacks on refugee shelters have been heaping shame upon Germany for months. The Federal Criminal Police Office has counted 199 attacks against refugee housing in the first half of this year -- almost three times as many in the first six months of 2014.
The helpers from Siegen and other cities and regions embody a different Germany: solidary, empathetic, happy to lend a hand. The volunteers are less visible and less loud than the agitators and arsonists. But they are efficient, and there are lots of them.
In 2014, researchers at Berlin's Humboldt University and at Oxford University polled 460 volunteers along with 80 aid organizations that work with refugees. They found that roughly 70 percent more people have been volunteering for projects in recent years. According to the research, over one third of the volunteers invest over five hours per week.
. . . It's a Thursday afternoon in August and Hagen Kopp, a 55-year-old warehouse worker, is sitting in a stuffy room in an office building in Hanau, in the central German state of Hesse. He is wearing an earring in his ear and a T-shirt reading "No person is illegal." The eight-hour Alarm Phone shift has only just begun.
For two years, Kopp monitored the death of the refugees in the Mediterranean for the Watch the Med project. After 366 people drowned in a shipwreck near the Italian island of Lampedusa in October 2013, he no longer wanted to simply describe the catastrophe on Europe's outer borders. He wanted to put a stop to it.
Together with colleagues from Watch the Med, he founded Alarm Phone, an unofficial emergency number, last fall. The activists take emergency calls from refugees on the high seas who have become stranded on their odyssey to Europe. Other helpers are waiting for phone calls alongside Kopp: Noori, from Afghanistan, Newroz, a Kurdish woman and Asefaw, a man from Eritrea. Hundreds of volunteers are now working for the project, not just in Hanau but in different countries in Europe and North Africa.
Some of them at least are going to teach the rest of us how to take care of our fellow human beings.
Whether we like it or not. (Thanks, Jan!)
And back in the good-ole-U.S. . . . talk about commoditizing everything!
Leave it the good samaritans (or samaritans out for the goods?) in the USA USA USA!!!
29 August 15
he death of Freddie Gray in police custody in Baltimore and the ensuing protests brought the nation’s attention to the economic devastation that continues to grip the city. Now, new data shows powerful hedge funds are profiting off of struggling families in Baltimore by buying up debts as small as $250, charging high interest rates, and taking their homes when they fail to pay. A report just released by the research and advocacy group HedgeClippers documents how the Wall Street hedge fund Fortress Investment Group and the Los Angeles-based Imperial Capital bought up hundreds of these small liens this year — on everything from an unpaid water bills to delinquent property taxes — and could take property worth tens of millions of dollars if the families can’t pay.
Once the hedge funds buy up these small debts, they reap an 18 percent interest, according to the Baltimore-based research group The Abell Foundation. More fees pile up after four months, and if the families can’t pay, they lose their homes. An analysis of those impacted in 2014 found the families had been living in their homes an average of 21 years. Half were elderly, more than a third were disabled, and the majority were African American.
State Delegate Cory McCray, a Democrat who grew up in and represents Baltimore, told Think Progress he has gotten a handful of phone calls this year from constituents on the cusp of losing their home over an unpaid water bill.
The hedge funds reaping these profits in Baltimore are also major donors in national elections.
Imperial Capital’s directors have lavished money on Mitt Romney and other Republican candidates in past races. This year, Several employees of the Fortress Investment Group gave the maximum legal amount to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and its director Michael Novogratz has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into backing Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Charles Schumer (D-NY), and other Democrats in congressional races over the past few years.
When did education become so obvious a profit-making enterprise?
And who is behind these "socialism for the rich" efforts?
Saturday, 29 August 2015
By Eleanor J. Bader, Truthout | Book Review
Mikkel Thorup, Zero Books, 2015
Danish historian Mikkel Thorup's latest book skewers philanthropic capitalism. Whether criticizing individual businesspeople, celebrities, corporate-giving programs or sales that benefit a particular constituency or presumed social good, Thorup argues that philanthropy perpetuates inequality by deflecting efforts to distribute wealth and power more equitably.
He's absolutely right, of course. That said, the book is jargon-heavy and dense and would have benefited from concrete examples to illustrate exactly how philanthropies stoke injustice and serve the 1%.
Thorup is best on theory, and he begins by offering a definition:
Philanthropic capitalism is the idea that capitalism is or can be charitable in and of itself. The claim is that capitalist mechanisms are superior to all others [especially the state] when it comes to not only creating economic but also human progress; that the market and market actors are or should be made the prime creators of the good society; that capitalism is not the problem but the solution to all the major problems in the world; that the best thing to do is to extend the market to hitherto private or state processes; and, finally, that there is no conflict between rich and poor, but that the rich is [sic] rather the poor's best and possibly only friend.The prevalent notion that the rich are somehow deserving of the wealth they've acquired and are smarter, more creative, luckier and somehow better than the rest of us underpins these conclusions, and Thorup lambastes media presentations that fail to mention personal connections, as well as tax policies, "odious speculation," questionable business practices, low wages and the rank exploitation that governs most financial gain.
Take Donald Trump - vulgar, racist and rolling in dough - who is currently riding the high wire of public opinion, at least among Republicans. Although Thorup does not mention Trump by name, The Donald perfectly illustrates one of the book's central arguments: that there is less questioning of the economic system or its profiteers than there might be. Examples of men and women who've soared, moving from poverty to power and from dropout to CEO, abound as if they were the norm rather than the exception.
This brings us to the next fallacy: that government efforts to ameliorate poverty are bureaucratic, inefficient and ineffective. The flip side of this is that business, with its unwavering fixation on the bottom line, is the opposite, and that by applying market principles to social ills, society can be cured of what ails it. Indeed, this idea is repeated with such regularity that it is almost universally accepted throughout the United States and Europe.
Concomitantly, the belief that individual consumption can change the world - buy "green" and save the planet, buy "red" and help those with HIV/AIDS - in lieu of social movements, is similarly absurd. "Are people really suffering and dying of preventable diseases because affluent Westerners have failed to consume enough products?" Thorup snipes. "Is the environment, and the climate most of all, best served by 'smarter' consumption?" Or would the planet be in better shape if we shopped less and conserved more?
Thorup gives a resounding "yes" to this rhetorical question.
At the same time, he nurtures great skepticism, bordering on contempt, for celebrities such as U2's Bono, actress Angelina Jolie and music producer Bob Geldof, for using their wealth to draw attention to social problems. "They may criticize unrepresentative power," Thorup writes, "but are so themselves. They may criticize inequality but are dependent upon it themselves. They may ally themselves with the poor in campaigns but their lives are spent rubbing shoulders with the rich and mighty."
Thorup calls their actions "spectacle politics" and perhaps they are. But I'm not convinced since these folks are not obliged to do anything for anyone. Ever. And while their work is certainly not the solution to poverty, illness or want, I don't believe that it deserves the drubbing Thorup metes out. Still, this is a small criticism.
More important are facts, and Thorup reminds readers that the world's richest 85 individuals earn more than the bottom 50 percent of the world's people. Philanthropy is not poised to do anything about this obscenity. That's where community organizers and organizations, as well as government, come in. With its power to tax the rich, rein in corporate abuse and support the creation of necessary social and cultural institutions, government can work for the majority and enhance our lives.
Right now, however, state and city governments pander to corporations and the rich for money to build and maintain schools, endow museums and build housing for the poor. And community organizations, including the alternative press, are forced to follow suit, as well. In fact, if my inbox is representative, it's obvious that groups far and wide are constantly on the lookout for benefactors to keep them going, with no contribution too small to matter.
It shouldn't be this way, says Kim Klein, author of Fundraising for Social Change. "We have become a medieval patronage society in which we depend on the largesse and generosity of the super wealthy for way too much," Klein told "Truthout" in an email.
"Mark Zuckerberg's donation to the Centers for Disease Control [and Prevention] to help fight Ebola was very helpful, but do we really want one of the most major public health issues of the last few years to depend for resolution on the gifts and grants of private individuals and foundations? Ditto education. There needs to be much more conversation about the role of government, of taxes, of philanthropy - of what should be funded privately, what should be funded publicly, and what can be funded at a net gain by both?"
I am certain that Thorup would wholeheartedly agree.
I believe that the psychology/sociology behind the "charity-while-ensuring-poverty" contradiction is crucial for people to understand. To unravel the complex web we've woven and become tangled in, a prerequisite is always to clearly recognize what our behaviours/thoughts actually say about us as individuals and as societies.
The wealthy, many of which contribute greatly to charity, believe they are upright citizens behaving morally and justly. Assuming most/all of these wealthy are centrist voters, contributors to PACs and other political lobby organizations, it is clear that their political objectives DO NOT include the economic changes that will eradicate poverty. Unfortunately, it is not just the super wealthy that are in this group - anyone who has enough funds can add to the push for this continuation of poverty.
The refusal of these people to look in the mirror and clearly see this reflection is a root cause of this pervasive contradiction. Presumably the cognitive dissonance is unbearable. Likely too, their peers are also not fond of such reflections which challenge their self images, their social standing and superiority, and their debasement masquerading as leadership.
Examining centrist politics, this lack of actual integrity, of any real character which is wise, compassionate and loving is a root cause of so much suffering. This clearly IS human-caused suffering - there is no way to hide from this. Additionally, the intentional failure to bring the deepest and most socially beneficial realizations of world religions into the body politic, really constitutes a schizophrenia where the life actually lived is psychotic because it is detached from actual reality. This contradiction has become the norm.
The solution then is to demand real integrity in our politics, something that has never been tried. Our governments need to be swept clean. There will be no further progress on poverty reduction without the birth of political integrity. It all starts with the individual voter - we can't wash our hands of this mess until our vote reflects the policies of morality and social justice. Don't vote center. Don't cooperate with the politics that cultivates human suffering while pretending its a virtue. And I thank all of those who refuse to go quietly into the night.